Fashion Friday: On Beauty

As I stood in the horrific light of the Gap dressing room yesterday trying on several bikinis I had a bit of a meltdown. After spotting one of them on a lithe, tan model in one of my many, many magazines I devour monthly (and being fresh off a sweat inducing yoga class and self-tanned to a decent color) I felt like I was ready for a little bikini try on time. You have to be “ready” to try on bathing suits, not in a “post-cheeseburger-pasty-white-and-pissed-off” mood. Like many women, I struggle fiercely with self-esteem. I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a very long time, but always feared what people would think (hello-self esteem 101, Erin) and if I could possibly put into words the incredibly complex emotions I feel about the importance placed on beauty these days and my personal relationship with my looks.  If I keep waiting for the perfect sentence and the perfect time, I will never write it. So here we are and here I go. No little outfits for you today, just deep thoughts….

I was not a cute adolescent. People who did not know me then like to argue with me on this. Let me assure you I was not. Let me assure you even further still with this assault on your eyeballs:

Me in fifth grade, I believe.

I’ll give you a minute to take it all in while I go wretch in a trashcan about the fact that I just posted that on the freaking internet for all the world (and my ex-boyfriends) to see.  But hey, Tina Fey put her not-so-flattering middle school photo on the back cover of her best-selling book (the whole thing an inspiration and a half to me, by the way) so I’m in good self-deprecating company. Where shall I begin? The walrus teeth? The unibrow? The extraordinary mullet topped off by the world’s ugliest headband? Or perhaps the collision of chubbiness and my spectacular 80’s clothing (I wore that sweatshirt in TWO professional photos that year, TWO!)  My mother still insists I was “cuuuuute” while my dad is more realistic in saying “people will think you’ve had plastic surgery.”  There are even worse pictures, one specifically involving a Debbie Gibson hat, brocade vest/plaid shirt combo and crash zoom lens- but I must have lit it on fire. Or perhaps it spontaneously combust from it’s own revulsion of itself.  Even my husband, who is the first to pay me lavish compliments, looks at photos from this era and stifles a laugh and thanks Baby Jesus I “matured”.

Want to know the funny thing though?  At this age I thought I was the shit. I believe I even told my mom I wanted to be a teen model and made her take “modeling” shots of me.  My confidence knew no bounds, and my mom deserves an Oscar for not dying of laughter while clicking away as I tried to get that mullet to flow in the breeze. I never thought about calories, clothing size, comparing myself to other girls or clearly waxing (even though I was more Teen Wolf than “teen model” material).  I wouldn’t think twice when absolutely crushing a Croissantwich at Burger King on Sunday mornings (as in every Sunday).  Or fret when I needed to go up a size in my Limited Too cranberry colored jeans. I was “me”, and there was no other “me” out there so why would I be worried? Appearance, beyond copying Blossom’s illustrious fashions, was not of the up most importance.  Puffy Painting everything within my grasp and finding my brother the perfect bridesmaids outfit to go with my dress up wedding gown were of more concern.

And one day things changed, and I don’t really know why or how. I could “blame the media” or my genetics or social pressure (there’s only so many times you can not be asked to dance by a boy at a school function until it starts hurting and changing you), but I can’t pinpoint a specific “a-ha” moment or traumatic taunt by a peer, but all of the sudden I started to worry, compare and diet.  I began to try to “fix” myself  and once it started, it spread through me like a flame on an oil slick.  I began to hate my body, hate my face, hate that I wasn’t cool, hate that I felt invisible, hate that I wasn’t perfect.  And that hatred fueled a near-death battle with anorexia that left me a ravaged shell of skin and bones and locked up in a mental hospital insisting I looked normal and that everyone ELSE was crazy. The hard part to explain (and fathom) was that I did think I looked totally fine and I did think that eating 250 calories a day was totally healthy.  At 5’9” and 95 pounds I assure you I looked anything BUT healthy (more “Crypt Keeper body double”-ish).

But this is where and when my Body Dysmorphic Disorder developed and I now have to admit, it’s never left (cut to me in the dressing room yesterday).  Recently I was asked to contribute to a great book by Aimee Liu about recovering from eating disorders and while reading it I realized in all honesty I am still not out of the woods. I feel so far less confident and happy with how I look now then when I was that pudgy little buck-toothed girl of twelve but I’m not sick like I was either. Inside I am still the girl no one asked to dance and I will always be no matter how much the outside of me changes. I assumed that the BDD had been beat alongside the anorexia, like two evil culprits linked arm in arm, skulking off in the night.  But these things do not exist exclusively together, one of them can linger and even hide for a while, only to resurface when it senses the slightest chink in the armor. So while I now eat with abandon, I still hate looking in the mirror because I cannot do it without the fiercest of criticism.  The reflection I see is vastly different from what others see- something many doctors have corroborated.  And the hardest part is that people think this is a case of false modesty or fishing for compliments, when really it comes from a far darker, sadder place.  I’ve turned down TV shows for this reason, shied away from photo-shoots and stopped posting the “What I’m Wearing” segment I know a lot of you liked.  The added attention placed on how I look sent me many, many steps back in my life-long goal of self-acceptance and valuing the internal over the external. It’s frustrating for those who care about me, and it’s torture for me to live with.  But I AM working on it. And I hope that someday not only will I like what I see, but more importantly, I WON’T CARE.

Not everyone has such an extreme relationship with their appearance, but I have yet to meet a woman 100% confident in every inch of their bodies or faces- just look at the money being made on cosmetics, creams, procedures and diets and make-over T shows.  Some of the most beautiful, famous women in the world have lower than low self-esteem- probably because once you’ve become “known” as beautiful, having to maintain that and feeling like it’s importance is so intertwined with your self-worth must be scary; especially in today’s society in which so much value is placed on outside appearances (“plastic surgery for EVERYONE!!!!”).  I know that so many people have issues with themselves they may not like to acknowledge or talk about with others.  But admitting them is the first step to overcoming them- so here I am, posting the picture that my family used to joke would be excellent fodder for UsWeekly if I ever became famous in an attempt to hold myself accountable to be stronger and work harder.

But you know what, I am grateful I went through that awkward phase, if only because it served as inspiration for what was the most epic father of the bride speeches ever given, in which my dad recounted getting a call from me from a pay phone at the middle school crying because no one would dance with me. He came to pick me up and took me home and promised me someday all the boys would want to dance with me, but until then he would dance anytime I wanted.  And as I stood there some 14 years later, finally a bride for real, next to man who wanted to dance all his dances with me, he pulled out a roll of “Daddy’s Dance Tickets with Erin” and handed them to Andrew saying he was the only man he trusted to be my dance partner. But as he handed them over he tore one ticket off and looked at me and said “but I get one last dance” (I am fucking sobbing at my computer right now writing this, by the way).  I would not have traded being the most popular and beautiful middle school girls in the world for that moment.  I wouldn’t trade anything for that moment, in fact, and as I look up at that picture I have hated and hidden for so many years I feel nothin’ but love for that silly bucktoothed girl and know that she is going to be okay. No, I know that she IS okay.

Now, where is that damn headband? I think I saw one like it on Etsy.

268 Responses to “Fashion Friday: On Beauty”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    this is one of my favorite blog posts. the last part with your dad made me get a little teary. my dad is the same way. <3

  2. kate says:

    i can’t even put into words how amazing this post is. raw and beautiful. and your dad is the bomb.

  3. snooze says:

    I have watched you for 5+ years and have seenyou bloom into a warm loving woman. Your hard work is paying off and you make my son extrodinarily happy.
    PS – your fabulous beauty comes from the inside out.

  4. CBO says:

    That was so beautiful and made me cry!! You are awesome.

  5. Annie says:

    I really relate to your experience. Thanks for telling your story.

  6. Marybeth says:

    Erin- I read alot of design blogs, but rarely leave comments. Today is different because of this amazing post. You are a truly gifted writer, and you are hilarious to boot. I admire you for these traits, but moreso because of your incredible bravery and honesty. Thank you for sharing your struggles…I can only imagine how many people this post has helped. Your husband is a lucky guy to be married to such a gem.

  7. karlee says:

    Really loved this post. That awkward, but adorable, little girl grew into a beautiful woman. God is smiling down on you.

  8. Lauren says:

    way to freaking go. You just outed yourself to yourself and to the whole world, and it is beautiful. I hope you write a book- I will be the first to buy it and then buy copies for all my women friends and my mom :)

    As someone who used to be bulimic (for the better part of a decade) and who then helped others recover, I want to assure you that full recovery (from the mindset, not just the behavior) is possible. May the day that you stand in front of the mirror without any of the lingering doubts be soon. And may the bikini be leopard print.

    Keep up the good work.

    if you ever want to see my recovery related videos, they’re on @bulimiabetty

    cheers!

  9. Kirstin says:

    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece. I look at that little girl’s precious face and I want to hug her. I hope you do too.

  10. Catherine Johnson says:

    Made me laugh out loud and cry. What a beautiful and brave person you are. Thank you for sharing this with your readers!

  11. {darlene} says:

    simply an amazing post. it takes guts to share, but sets others free…
    I love your blog, which I just found today. I will be following along! great style, my dear!!
    - {darlene}
    fieldstonehilldesign.com

  12. Snails says:

    don’t normally post comments. But have to commend you for writing this. you’re a strong woman, and your style and your personality light up a computer screen! (didn’t know that was possible). Your dad is a special man, and you were adorable!! Good for you for meeting the past with the current. keep it up woman.

  13. Julia says:

    I love the post. And I think you were really cute. Seriously – I was straight up Frida Kahlo as a kid. I hope you beat the BDD entirely. Life is too short and you are too lovely. (I wrote you an email eons ago asking how you got so ‘ripped’ and stay so buff).

  14. Mary Lee says:

    I bow down…to you!

  15. Aimee Piper says:

    Thank you. I think this is important for everyone to read… because we’ve all been there – or know someone who has.

  16. Lisa says:

    Loved this post! Cried and laughed (at the etsy headband comment!) Love your website!!!!!!!!!!

  17. emily says:

    Though I just might have a childhood pic to rival yours (or several of them, for that matter) I find so much more to relate to you in your post than just the awkward moment captured on film. (And by awkward I mean awesome.) You are on your way to such wonderful things, and already have brought so many people humor, style, wit, and happiness with your insights and writing. Keep up the fantastic work–on all fronts.

  18. katherine says:

    Loved this. As the mother of two daughters, I am printing it and saving it. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Ally says:

    What an incredible post. I am also fucking sobbing at the last paragraph involving your dad. What a beautiful, unforgettable moment for you.

  20. Elizabeth says:

    Wow. I’ve never left a comment on a blog, but this post is phenomenal. You are a brave woman to open up and express yourself so openly.
    How do I teach my daughter to have your strength and humor?
    Thank you for posting this.
    EH
    p.s. I have photos that I have hid for years too, but now I will look at them now in a new light.

  21. Christine says:

    I have no doubt in my mind that you will be able to love yourself unconditionally again because you already have – when you were that “silly, bucktoothed girl.” That love will come back to you, especially because you send so much love out into the world in the form of your creativity, empathy and joy. Thank you for sharing your talents and opening yourself up so that others can begin healing, too.

  22. em says:

    thank you. that is all…just thank you.

  23. Anna says:

    Thank you so much for your rigorous honesty! Your timing is impeccible, perhaps even divinely-timed. I was struggling with the mirror this morning. And although I’m sober in my disordered eating behaviors, the negative self- talk still gets the best of me sometimes! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  24. Nicole says:

    Thank you so much for your candidness. I know that was not an easy post to write, but a very needed one for many young women in this world who suffer with self-esteem issues. Let me tell you girl you are fabulous and your dad rocks! Being daddy’s little girl is something that you will never give up. Praise God for awesome fathers!

  25. Ilene S. Lion says:

    Erin, thank-you for bringing your presence, honesty, talent, beauty and light to the table each and every day. You are funny, unique and have such great instinctive way of communicating to all who are lucky enough to have discovered your blog. I so appreciate your verbal recount of your meltdown while trying on the bikini. Until this article I imagined you to have beyond human power, star power, if you will, because of your amazing talent, style, effortless ease in communicating and beauty that comes across your awesome and informative blog , which i am a huge fan!
    I hadn’t thought of it, till now, but you have become my style and design guru. I am a bit in awe of your talent, which is to steal a word you used recently, amaze balls!
    I too, have never responded to a blog until now. I want and need to thank-you for sharing your dressing room catharsis. You touched me deeply as you described so vividly all that you have held deep inside, all these years. I felt a deep sense of sadness for the little girl whose innocence somewhere along the way was lost, to a harsh inner critic. I don’t know you Erin, but I love you and thank-you and am ever so grateful that you have the courage, grace, strength and perseverance to share so eloquently, with people like me, each day. You are a blessing! I just became a grandma, Feb.22 to a beautiful baby girl. Her name is Scarlett Rae Lion and because of your article, you have heightened my level of awareness and sensitivity to these issue that run deep in our veins and lives. I will make an effort to guide her to always be aware of, the beautiful light, that shines from within. Namaste, Ilene Lion

  26. ana antunes says:

    I am fucking sobbing at my computer right now after reading this amazing piece of your heart. What an amazing human being and gorgeous you became… the swan you are today! One day you got to write a book Erin. I love the way you writte. My english vocab is not enough to tell you what you deserve and what I feel wright now. You’re dad is an amazing man who raized an amazing woman. (anaantunes from home-styling.blogspot.com)

  27. Reena says:

    I too thought I was ugly in my childhood pictures. Still have struggles with self esteem. But much wiser now at 43. You rock!

  28. Amy L. says:

    I’m a longtime reader, but rare commenter (often reading from work). Just wanted to say that this is one of my favorite EOS posts ever, and I appreciate you “keeping it real.” One of the many reasons I love your blog.

    Oh, and P.S. – I had the same haircut, but in 3rd grade. :)

  29. Carol says:

    WOW – one of the BEST posts I’ve ever read, for reals!

  30. HannahJ says:

    I AM crying right now too- picturing you calling your dad at MMS after a horrid school dance- amazing post. I clicked on the link today after reading the title- feeling like “I could really use one of Erins down to eartth- heart felt -serious posts today”- and you delivered. I literally just got done entering my damn calorie count into my fricken online diet planner. WHAT IS WRONG HERE???

    It’s such a tough place to be- and so sad to look back onto that confident innocence many of us had as children and wonder what made it change (especially now for me as a mother of a daughter) and wonder how on earth I’m going to “protect” her from this beauty-obsessed world we live in.

    Truely inspiring post- thank you

  31. I love reading this. You are truly an inspiration to the many women who have struggled with eating disorders.

  32. Carol says:

    and you need to write a book… oh, and your father is amazing…

  33. Portia says:

    I have been a longtime follower of this blog but rarely comment. I loved this post. You are beautiful inside and out. Thank you for sharing this story, and keep on writing!

  34. Judith says:

    that was so beautiful. I ws trying to explain to my boyfriend why I was crying, but everytime I got to the part about your dad’s speech I got too chocked up.

  35. Cheryl says:

    Hi Erin,
    I read your blog without fail everyday. I don’t think I ever posted. I love your attitude, your joy of life, your passion, and your raw honesty. Keep up the good work. Keep growing and becoming you. You are an encouragement to many.

  36. Lisa Maria says:

    Thank you so much for sharing – I agree that everyone has their self esteem issues (myself included) and I’m grateful for your honesty. And I was completely choked up about your dad’s love for you. It makes me feel better that I’m not the only one who struggles and who is working on self acceptance and love.

  37. It is so wonderfully open-handed with you to grant unreservedly exactly what most of us might have made available as an e-book to end up making some cash on their own, even more so considering that you could have done it in case you wanted.

  38. I believe that everyone has a cross to bear in life, sometimes it is obvious but most of the time we kept it hidden away. Your honesty is both refreshing and I believe helpful for everyone. We are all so alike and yet sometimes feel so very much alone. My father died when I was four and would have given anything to have him pick me up from a dance in tears, he sounds like a truly special man and that fathers speech had me in tears! I know that you will be fine because it sounds like you are surrounded by people who love you. xx

  39. Gaby says:

    Holy cow! 230 comments, are you reading them all? I think we all are self conscious of our looks at certain points in our lives. Teen years are the hardest, actually I think late teens and early 20′s is when you feel the most pressure the look a certain way and you’re easily influenced because you still don’t know much about life.

    Then you hit the 30′s. To me, the 30′s is the best age a women can be. You feel confident, you know what you want, and you know what is important and what’s not. I’ve been there, pressured to look a certain way, but right know, to be honest, I just want to be healthy and that’s about it. I have come to a point where I look at it this way: our presence here in this world is so infinitesimal that is such a waist of time to be bother with all that “looks” nonsense. I mean, there is a greater thing for us than remembering if “X” had cellulite or if “Y” had 10 extra pounds. I believe we have to make the most out of the gift of life and worrying about how fat or thin, how beautiful or ugly, just deviates us from living life to the fullest and enjoying the ride.

    Thanks for sharing, there is no doubt (238 comments to prove) you got to a lot of people ;)

    Gaby.

  40. Jody says:

    E-
    I NEVER saw anything but a beautiful girl…from soul to shinning smile!!
    xo
    J

  41. I know this story and it still makes me cry. You are beautiful inside and out…xx

  42. OMG, f-ing sobbing right back at’cha! Amazing post, thanks so much for sharing what must have been difficult to fully articulate. You rock.
    ~el

  43. KatieB says:

    So beautifully written, this piece is lovely, you should be so proud of it.

  44. Kelly says:

    Thanks for this beautiful piece. I’m struggling with being a chubby kid, losing the weight in high school, gaining it in college, lost it 3 years ago, and fighting to be at a place of happiness with myself. It never ends! Thank you for sharing.

  45. Gretchen says:

    Erin,
    I love you for writing this. You are an inspiration on every topic you choose to share with your readers, you make me laugh and cry all the time :). I appreciate you and the words you write.
    Gretchen

  46. Erin, this is amazing. Thank you for sharing this, I think there are many people that go through a similar phase of life at one point or another and still struggle with it , Yet never share it.
    You are a beautiful person inside and you have such an amazing family!
    One of the best blog posts Ever! :) Thank you.

  47. I think faster then I stype and cut off my sentance in the previous comment,, I meant to write” You are a beautiful person inside and out..” :)

  48. Sarah says:

    Wow. Best post on eating disorders/body image I’ve read in a long time. As a “recovered” (as much as you ever can be) bulimic and someone who has destroyed almost all family photos of myself from ages 13-16, this really hit home. It’s easy to read your blog (and many others) and think “she has it ALL and couldn’t possibly have ever struggled with body image.” So thank you for your honesty. Thank you for the photograph. Thank you for the story of your wedding day. Thank you for sharing. Just thank you. May you continue to face your demons and see the you that we all see!

  49. Aubrey says:

    I don’t know that there are words sufficient to describe the little rollercoaster of emotions that this just took me on: happiness that someone else has “one of *THOSE*” fifth grade pictures (just like the heinous one I have), despair at your horrible struggle with BDD (and you are so right, NO woman looks at herself and likes everything and unfortunately, usually the criticism outweighs the “atta girls”), and a joy and wave of tears hearing the way you have *chosen* to rise above and focus on precious moments like your daddy’s speech on your wedding day, the ultimate “in your *FACE* boys that wouldn’t dance with me”! (c: But more importantly, just a beautiful sense of peace for you sharing all this on the *FREAKIN’* world wide web so that you can encourage and inspire those who are still struggling. It’s soulful posts like these that keep me coming back time and again and just adoring your blog and *YOU*! Thank you for this inspiration to start off my week!

    xoxo,
    Aubrey

  50. You just made me start balling in my cubicle at work. Every story a woman shares about her struggles with self-image is one more story of hope for everyone else going through the same thing. Thank you so much for sharing. You got guts, lady!