When Catalyst Con announced that photos from the event were up on their website, I got very excited. I spoke three times and there was a professional photographer there, giving me high hopes for a new profile photo or something I could use in promotional material.
What I found was this:
It was 6 a.m. and I woke up way too early for my own good. I was tired and feeling a bit under the weather, meaning I lacked any kind of energy to fight the good fight.
So here is what happened instead:
Fuck, I’m fat. No, but really, dammit I’m disgusting. Look at the way my chin rolls blend into my back fat. And what’s with all that blush I’m wearing? God, can I look more unflattering? Ugh, I need to work on my posture. Why am I sitting like a turtle retreating back into her shell?
It went on for awhile and was only exacerbated when I found this adorable picture of Mona Darling, my roommate at the conference and good friend.
It’s really hard rooming with someone so damn adorable. Seriously, the woman dresses like a 1950’s housewife every day. She even sleeps in curlers.
I tried to remember that I too can be adorable, but the sleepy grumpymeister took hold of my brain and refused to listen to anything positive I said about myself.
Noticing this horrible cycle and wishing to stop it in its tracks, I email Jenn Leyva from Fat, Smart and Pretty, my own personal body positive support group, and she said this:
You are stunning. You look so engaged and excited to be there. That top is adorable, but there’s too much beige in that picture. And I know the double chin and the rolls But that’s not really what strikes me in this picture. I see a spark in your eyes. I see you in a space where you look like you’re fully invested.
I didn’t hear the positive things she said about my eyes and their spark, instead I continually focused on the negative. This time, the beige. I began blaming the beige background for how fat I looked. Don’t they say beige adds 40 pounds?
Not too shockingly, that didn’t make me feel any better about this photo being shared around the Internet and seen by my professional colleagues and readers.
But then Jenn wrote me back and added this:
When I see really bad pictures of myself I focus on one little thing I like. For example, I really like your nose in this picture. It’s well defined and cute. Such a good shape and size. This is how I survive the patriarchy.
Such an obvious but brilliant way to try to build self-esteem. Don’t I always tell my friends and clients that the path to self-esteem is to take one thing they like about themselves and focus on it? Whether it be the back of your hand or the curve of your smile or the shape of your ear.
I guarantee other people all the time that they are gorgeous, stunning, amazing, lovable, unique, precious, delicious, sexy and attractive. They just need to find one thing they love and the rest will come into focus. Soon, I promise, they’ll be loving all of their wonderful selves.
Easier taught than learned.
So I looked at that photo again, this time with tenderness and love for myself (and a bit of caffeine). Here’s what I saw:
I can’t turn off the judgmental voice in my head all the time, but maybe if I can make that voice only judge the good things, scrutinize the hell out of the positive, maybe I can build a better foundation for self-esteem than the one my childhood gave me.