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 comments

  1. I’m super late to the dance, but I finally read this post and was moved to add to the many comments you’ve already received.

    I am moved by your story, not because I struggle with BDD, but because your struggle is universal — we all share it, no matter what form it takes. For I think the struggle you are describing is ultimately (as your post so clearly indicates) about self-acceptance, something we tend to have when we’re young, and tend to lose the more that we engage the world. I think the primary developmental task of adulthood is to regain our self-acceptance and inhabit our authentic selves, which has so so little to do with prevailing standards of beauty or success or whatever it is we fret about, or chase after. Most of us know that deep down inside. Finding the beauty or success or whatever it is that really suits us is the challenge. And being able to see yourself clearly is such a big part of that. Who am I really? What do I really desire? And for those who struggle with BDD, perhaps the question is What do I really look like? (which is such a beautifully literal manifestation of the question “Who am I?”). You are not, of course your body. At the same time, it is the vehicle that you walk through this world in. It’s part of how you present yourself to the world. I often think as I wonder through my own life in a body that I’m not always happy with, “What would it look like to inhabit a body that reflects who I really am?” For me that means a body that is strong, thinner than it currently is, but still as curvy and “ripe” as my life is becoming. Maybe that’s the goal? For our outsides to match our own insides, rather than an external beauty standard. I should say that I value being thin, but in a normal way rather than in the hyper-thin way that’s so common here in L.A. where I live. Finding my own right body and my own right life while living in L.A. is a challenge, but it’s also the greatest journey of my life and one that I’m honored to be on.

  2. Never, never hesitate to be real. It is amazing how many people will step up and say ‘wait, you too? I thought I was the only one.’ I love all your blogs and all you have to say. I bet there are tons of women and teen age girls who wish they were you because of your success, beauty, style and just how funny you are. I hope when you are having those low moments you will see yourself through their eyes. I know one of my biggest struggles is just the battles I create and then fight in my head. My big sister was anorexic and that is an uphill battle and always will be in some way. I hurt for you that you went through that and will keeping praying for you.

    Your dad is amazing. My prayer for you is that you will raise a son to dance with your younger self.

    Great job Erin. You have a beautiful heart. And that will always be remembered.

  3. I am teary reading this. What a lovely family you have and I’m so glad to hear that you’re moving further and further out of the woods. Thank you for being so brave sharing this, I am sure it will be inspiration for many more to come! Nicolex

  4. Thank you SO much for sharing this part of yourself. It is something that’s not talked about enough. You know, at a party in my last year of Uni, people were discussing high school, and someone commented ‘You were one of the popular girls weren’t you?”; it wasn’t until then that i realized the huge gap between how i might be perceived by some, and the reality of my teen self that I will always carry around inside (chubby, awkward, pain-fully shy, frizzy hair, acne, no boyfriend etc). Thanks for always being so relatable and pure, you are beautiful inside and out and I wish you luck on your journey to see that in yourself.

  5. OMG Erin thank you for that story and for the honesty….it proves what a wonderful family you truly come from….wishing you nothing but amazing, positive success/strength from here on out. xo shannon *btw you totally made me cry

  6. Erin I absolutely loved this post. So so hilarious and poignant. I cried from laughter at your decription of you as a precious little 12 year old, from sadness at the description of the BDD that you suffer from (that I too suffer from) and from joy at the description of your sweet supportive parents that remind me of my own. What a brave woman you are to share your story. As I mentioned I suffer with self acceptance as well. The self loathing and depreciation can become habitual and in a weird way satisfying. At times I have thought to myself it is only right to punish something so wrong. I, like you, had an amazing father. He told me every day how wonderful, beautiful, smart, amazing etc I was. He passed away in a car accident when I was 11 and all of a sudden that voice of approval that I respected and loved so much was gone. I feel that ever since then I have been striving to feel that acceptance again and striving for perfection and approval. I am still praying and working through it and have moved past many of the issues that I have struggled with in the past. I have a daughter of my own and refuse to pass on the same disordered thinking. I do love who God made me to be and I understand where the issue comes from and will not let it keep me from the many purposes that God has for my life.I recently read the most FANTASTIC book called “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. It truly spoke to me in a very impactful way and I think that you would love it. I so enjoy your blog. Thank you for sharing your ideas, sources and life with us.

  7. I couldn’t LOVE this post more! I have hidden all of my pictures from my “awkward phase” from my family. Although my husband and I have known each other since middle school so he actually witnessed them first hand (he still teases me about the September I came to school with my hair bright yellow from Sun-In over use). You are very brave to open up about your personal history. By the way, I really miss the Friday outfit posts. You have fabulous style, in addition to being gorgeous, and you really owe it to the rest of us to show us how to do it right.

  8. Your photo made me laugh and your story made me cry.
    BTW- there is a photo of a teenage George Clooney that would be a great match for the teenage you.

  9. Thank you SO much for sharing this–as someone else who also had severe struggles with body image (and BDD and eating disorders in my late teens/early 20’s) this post hit to the core. I think that is the part that is the hardest to understand for those that don’t suffer–even though I’ve come a long way with recovery and understanding, I still have moments and sometimes full days where my brain snaps right back into my old thought patterns. I know my husband has been unfortunate enough to be a bystander many times as this has happened. It will be like this for the rest of my life–you can’t ever really fully recover, only manage.

    You’re so brave to share this, and thank you. This post had me both laughing and crying at the same time, doing that awful, gross, snotty-snort thing, ick! Hee hee hee. <3

  10. Im with Annabel, I never comment. Lovely headband by the way. Thanks for being so open about something as women we are all going through across the world. Great dads make great women!

  11. Reading this post made me question adolescence just as you did (and tear up as many of your readers have mentioned). When exactly do we realize that we may not be enough? I too feel like it happened overnight. One day, I went to school feeling like I was my own person and fully confident that I was intelligent and not a hideous ogre, and then the next day- I was dumb and an eye sore. What happened?! As we grow older, I think we all forget that along with the joy of growing an adult, we leave behind some of the most wonderful things about being a child- a confidence in ourselves and wonder with the world that helps us dream. Thank you for reminding us that all of those things are still possible and that it is important to remember and incorporate into adulthood.

  12. wow. what a story! thank you for your strong, confident and uplifting words. it is nice to hear confirmation from fellow females that we all deal with the same, real issues. thank you for being courageous enough to share your story with all of us. hopefully it is a small step toward ending the negative self-talk our gender chronically suffers from.

    also, your dad wins the father-of-the-bride speech award, hands down!

  13. Laughs and tears, thank you for sharing, you are a STRONG woman!! We all go through phases of our looks throughout our life and no it isn’t easy, but having a support network is crucial and it sounds like your real family is wonderful and your blog family is not far behind. Keep growing, we’re here to support you! *Amy

  14. I want to give you 12 years old self a huge hug. Your story brought me to tears, I’ve also looked at your picture and thought what a beautiful woman.

  15. Erin, really wonderful post, thank-you. I came back to comment on something that bothered me enough to look it up days later and I thought I’d mention it as, if it were me, I’d like to know. “up most.” I think you meant utmost? At first I thought I’d been confused for years, but I think actually it is you with the eggcorn this time, but please let me know if I’m wrong. Sorry to be a pedant, but especially using the EoS name I thought I’d let you know. Again wonderful posting lately and the picture was especially enlightening to those of us who’ve seen you in those amazing yoga poses looking aspirational to women everywhere.

  16. I came across your blog through Kate from the Big Piece of Cake and I’m so glad I clicked on her ‘Monday links’. What a great, honest and beautifully written post.

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