Blog Favorites: On Beauty

This post was one of the most commented on of my career- in fact, it was purchased to run in Ladies Home Journal and is actually in my upcoming book because it was so loved (the rest of the essays- there is one in every chapter- are brand new). So when thinking of favorite posts over the past seven years, this one HAS to be included.

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.

50 Responses to “Blog Favorites: On Beauty”

  1. Kristin says:

    You are one amazing & inspirational person.

  2. Autumn says:

    Bravo!!

  3. Autumn says:

    And not just like, internet Bravo! where someone throws out of that word for lack of concocting something equally poignant to say, but a true resounding Bravo!!! This was a beautiful piece that spoke to me and I applaud how well you put it together and told the story. Perfect!

  4. Desiree says:

    Thank you for sharing this post again. I also struggle with BDD and many people think I am doing it for attention. As you pointed out, it is not for that reason. It is that I truly feel that way about how I look.

    Fortunately I am now married to a man who truly loves me for who I am and also reinforces that each and every day by the way he treats me, respects me and yes, he even give me genuine compliments.

    I am better in dealing with my BDD than I have been in many years but that is not to say that I still do not have those meltdown moments where I do not want to go out in public because I feel so ashamed of how I look.

    Thank you again for reminding me that I am not the only one who struggles with this and it is truly a lifelong journey in dealing with this.

    Desiree

  5. Taylor says:

    Thank you for re-posting this. Even though I don’t have BDD, I think every woman in the world gets tastes of it from time to time and we can all use this message. This is truly touching on so many levels. Thanks, as always, Erin!

  6. Hollie says:

    Ok, I don’t know you but you have got to be one of my favourite people right now. I have never laughed so hard and then cried all in one blog post. I cannot WAIT for your book if there are more essays like this in it. I have been feeling so down lately after gaining weight after a very stressful couple of years, and while deep down I know my worth isn’t dependant on my appearance, man, society makes it difficult to accept this. So kudos, lady, to an amazing piece of writing and self-disclosure that so many people can relate to.

  7. Kerry says:

    Oh my gosh. That last paragraph about your father absolutely killed me. I love that SO much.

  8. Kristin says:

    This is such a fantastic post. It really made my day.

  9. Jen says:

    Thank you for this. This is such an inspiration and am so happy it will be in your book as it is a timeless piece about accepting and loving yourself.

  10. Jamie says:

    Absolutely beautiful! I am sobbing after reading about your precious dad! I am mom to a 13 year old girl who still loves her body, style, etc. and praying that she stays that way, but knowing that she will soon join the ranks with the rest of us. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

  11. Dana says:

    You are amazing–that was really well written. I admire you so much, Erin!

  12. kristen says:

    i forgot about this one! really is incredibly thoughtful, witty and well-written.

    i also forgot about “what i’m wearing”! i assume you won’t be bringing it back…?

  13. Kelley says:

    Erin, you had me laughing out loud (which I’m not the type of person who usually does that — “get that mullet to flow in the breeze” can’t stop laughing!) and then crying as well. I love this post so much — it makes me want to buy your book all the more! :) Thank you for sharing such personal details. As I always tell my daughters, you are beautiful because you have a good heart — thank you for opening your heart to all of us.

  14. Beth says:

    Erin, you are amazing. Your courage inspires strength in others.

    I’ve gone through some health struggles in the last few years. I’ve gained weight related to being on steroids, and too tired to exercise regularly, and don’t recognize myself in the mirror-but I don’t FEEL differently inside. It’s not until I catch a glimpse of my heavier, newer, older self, in the mirror or my reflection in a glass building that I realize how much my figure has changed. It’s the strangest thing, and I can’t describe it well. My inner self still identifies as the petite young thing. I don’t know if others feel like this too, or if it’s just me…every time I try to discuss it with other women, I believe they think I am looking for reassurance I don’t look chubby, but that’s not the case. Why do some of our brains torture us when all is well, and some go along overlooking the extra 20 lbs until that shocked glimpse in the mirror? I’m truly curious. Please forgive me if I unintentionally have been insensitive to the BDD plight…I have never found women I could talk to about this subject in an open manner, and have many questions. I’m trying to understand where I fall.

  15. Morgan says:

    Erin, great post. Just curious – you ever bulimic?
    All the best in your daily struggle.

  16. Brittany says:

    Erin, thank you for sharing. I have struggled with BDD for as long as I can remember and while I try to stay confidant on the outside, the self doubt is always there.
    And for the record… I too am crying at my computer thanks to the story about your Dad. What a special memory.

  17. Shannon says:

    I remember the first day I read this (original) post – I remember loving it so much, and truly being able to relate to what you wrote. I actually come back and re-read it now and again, when I feel I need the boost. It always makes me laugh and force back tears. You are not alone! You should feel very proud of this essay!

  18. IAF says:

    Great post. In case you need a laugh, I had a Jheri curl in the late 80s as a child so I win. Xo.

  19. So beautifully written, Erin. Thanks for sharing! And yes, I too was sobbing too when I read about your dad’s speech.

    My husband and I were both total nerds in high school and we’ve often talked about the girls and guys who “peaked” then, and how we just feel sorry for them. I’ll take coming into my own a little late over being popular as a teen any day! We joke that we will never peak…we will just keep getting better and better. :)

  20. I was appreciative the first time you posted this and still feel the same way reading it the second time. It is beautifully written and captures how most women have felt at some or worse, many times in their lives. The part about your dads speech is definitely tear inducing!

    Thank you for sharing about such a difficult time in your life, you are an inspiration Erin!

  21. Charleigh says:

    I remember this post too. It was close to when I first started reading your blog, and I loved seeing such a personal, and inspirational touch to your writing. Of course I come to this blog because of the interiror and style inspirations, but I stay because of the occasions when you allow your readers a glimpse into your life.

  22. Tracy says:

    Really love this as well and so glad I found this blog !

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  24. Jennifer Slattery says:

    YUP! Is one of my favorites! Thanks for opening up to your readers and always being honest – this is exactly why I look forward to your blog entries. And this is also why I’m so proud of you for taking a week “off”!!!!!!!!

  25. EAC says:

    What a lovely post.

  26. Amy says:

    This one gets me every time. I feel like we are kindred spirits.

  27. Brooke says:

    Loved this!!! It made me cry – that NEVER happens when I’m reading blogs. You are amazing, AND beautiful – inside & out. xx

  28. Kaylin says:

    Thank you! This is my first time reading this story and I think almost every girl can relate. Dads have such a special way of describing their daughters and always making us feel high on a pedastool <3

  29. Gray says:

    I still love love love this post.
    A reason to buy the book in and of itself.
    Makes me wanna send you my 7th grade pic…. Ohmuhgawd…..

  30. Your story is amazing, makes me feel sad and in the same time glad that yuo dealed with that food desease. You look great!

  31. Sarah Derrig says:

    What a beautifully written essay. I have tears streaming down my face after reading those last few paragraphs. Thank you for sharing, I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to write those words.

  32. Casey Slone says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. It is so beautiful and brave. I too struggle with these issues and the first time I read this it was just me. Since then, I’ve had a little girl and my perspective on these topics have shifted to how she will face these things as she grows to be a woman. My hope is that she has strong, beautiful women like you to continue to share their stories and be the real role models for her to look up to. Thanks again. (PS. I am so with you on the puff paint thing, haha)

  33. franki says:

    You’ve got ME crying “like a baby, again…” All that sorrow in a time of life of “care-free”…I’ve been there and over the rainbow. You go girl!!! franki

  34. What an important one to re-share with your new readers. As an eating disorder survivor myself so much of what you said resonates. It’s not until we love ourselves, ALL of ourselves, that we will truly feel the love that others feel for us as well. I am now the mother of two daughters and I have vowed to help them always respect and appreciate the beauty within themselves. The intelligence, the humor, the courage, the lumps and bumps… Thanks for sharing Erin! Keep up the good work!

  35. Dawn, UK says:

    Cried first time I read it, cried second time too x

  36. Trish says:

    Beautifully written! So lovely, as is the person who wrote it. It made me cry.

  37. Mom says:

    Beautiful then, beautiful now, beautiful always. Love you, Mom

  38. Christie says:

    Erin, I just laughed out loud and shed tears reading this. You are so talented, inspiring and beautiful inside and out!

  39. Sarah says:

    Um…I think we need to compare pictures from that time period in our lives! And I’M crying thinking of your father’s speech!

    I know we’ve never met, but I started following your blog after I saw your feature in Better Homes & Gardens. I really appreciate your posts and as a fellow woman, commend you on writing about your own serious struggles. It’s not easy to do that and I certainly hope you continue on your path to health!

  40. Linda says:

    This is why I love you Erin, and have been a devoted reader since I found you. I love your design and fashion style, but it’s your humility and humor that makes me check in on you daily. Style expertise coming from someone I would want as a friend. Keep doing everything you are doing! Can;t wait for your book!!

  41. Lisa says:

    Thank you for re-posting this one. I love all your stories because you are so damn funny, but self-worth is such a powerful issue that needs to be discussed over and over.

    P.S. Your dad is amazing. :)

  42. Dixie Pearls says:

    THANK YOU for an honest post that reflects how so many feel. God bless you…. You are perfect and perfectly amazing!

  43. Emily says:

    I’ve read your blog for years, and that’s not because I want to copy your outfits or style myself just like you. It’s because you have a genuine skill that makes life more beautiful, a skill that I can’t even begin to fathom. You certainly are not defined by your appearance, and I hope you know that all of your readers love you and most of us have never seen you in real life, or even care what you look like. Thanks for being an inspiration!

  44. Melina says:

    You are such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing!

  45. lisabeth says:

    Oh my god…Erin…I LOVE YOU!!!!! You are so awesome….

  46. Jeanine says:

    Thank you … from another girl who didn’t get asked to dance in middle school and still suffers for it today. If only we could go back and hug those girls, who were so beautiful simply by their youthfulness, dreams, and aspirations!

  47. A~ says:

    I guess I am the only one to read this post for the first time. I am grateful for your words, sharing your truth, doing it your way with humor and poignancy. I have often thought that BDD or body image/esteem is the hardest part of the disorder to go (for me tha is). Even thought I am symptom free. I haven’t been able to wear shorts or a bathing suit in 2 years. After my recovery I could. I am not slipping, just can’t do it. So, I admire you tremendously. Yhe pat about the dance ticket made me laugh out loud because for my birthday my daughter use to hand make a coupon book for manicures, massages, etc that were redeemable at any time…

  48. Maria says:

    I never knew I could both laugh and cry during one blog post. Hell – this is the only blog I read! Thank you for being my only blog addiction. I LOVE this entry and am so moved that you shared it with us – and the world. Most significantly, I’m glad you shared it for YOU.

  49. Julie says:

    WOW! That was an emotional 5 minute read for me, I both laughed and cried! I can relate to it all and have a photo from 5th grade that is very similar. I think we would have been good friends:) Thanks for sharing! xoxo