Developed Pictures; Developing Me
“I am begging you, please do not put those on Facebook. Seriously.”
Those were the responses I got from two of my best friends when I unearthed a few pictures from the last time we were all together, back in July of 1999, when I came home from working at a summer camp and before Sarah moved to North Carolina. Both of them had forgotten about the pictures, and while I will respect them and not post them, I have to confess that they are some of my favorites.
They aren’t my favorites because we look so very attractive in them – in fact, I have to join them in shaking my head at the pictures. They are just ridiculous. They are my favorites because I remember that night so well: the brilliant decision to dye Sarah’s hair with Kool-Aid, the outrageous stories that Brandon told while we sat in my mother’s kitchen, the way we laughed until our stomachs hurt. We were dorks, totally unaware of what the future held. How lucky we were.
When the pictures were developed, though, I looked at myself, cringed, and stuffed them into a shoebox. I saw nothing but the forehead that was too big, the pointy chin that I hate, the huge ears I inherited from my father, the vastness of my size that made me look like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float standing next to my very skinny Brandon (not pictured), my big caterpillar-like eyebrows… I could go on and on about how much was wrong with me. I was a poster-child for everything that was outside the very narrow definitions of beautiful and cool.
Those pictures are now more than 14 years old, and the thing is, all of those things haven’t changed much: my hairstyle has changed to help cover my forehead, and I’m (marginally) better at eyebrow maintenance, but my chin is still too pointy and I would love to be down to the size that I was then. What IS changing, though, is how I look at myself.
The last six months have been a sort of new beginning for me, a kind of reevaluation. For decades now, I’ve spent nearly every waking minute feeling like I was falling short of everyone else’s expectations, internalizing and magnifying every criticism received until I got to the point that I couldn’t believe in a single compliment or shred of positive feedback. I didn’t believe even my best friends when they said that they love me because I didn’t think that I was very lovable at all.
Thankfully, this is changing. Abusive relationships aren’t limited to romantic relationships or physical violence, and for more than two years, the “friendship” I had with a few people wasn’t healthy. It was full of unpredictable outbursts, manipulation, and fear, and it was all-encompassing. I’m no longer friends with them, and in the last four months, I have felt like I am crawling out of a cave that I have been in for far too long. At times, there have been tremendous friends who have carried and dragged me out of that cave, friends who wear invisible super-hero capes and don’t even know it (talking about you, Melissa, Sarah, Brandon, Neva, Noonie, and my Progressive group peeps). In trying to regain my footing, I am realizing that while I’m not perfect, or cover-model beautiful, or even the tiniest bit cool, I am not all that bad. Who I am is OK. Some criticism may be valid, but not all of it. I am not unlovable – an obvious but difficult lesson for someone to learn after decades of believing nothing but the negative.
In an effort to keep moving in a positive direction, my New Year effort is to adopt the “fruit of the Spirit” for myself:
- to LOVE myself and accept the love others,
- to find JOY that doesn’t hinge on the approval/disapproval of others,
- to be at PEACE with who I am and where I am on my journey,
- to be PATIENT with myself, knowing that change doesn’t happen in an instant (and neither does losing 100 pounds),
- to be as KIND to myself as I would be to others,
- to focus on and recognize the GOODNESS that surrounds me,
- to be GENTLE with myself and stop bombarding myself with self-doubt, insults, and criticism and stop comparing myself to everyone else,
- to be FAITHFUL to the person God created me to be, not compromising who I am for the sake of “fitting in” or not rocking the boat,
- to have SELF-CONTROL, not falling into my old habits of all-or-nothing, and continuing to be mindful in my weight loss.
I still take unflattering pictures sometimes. I am still my own harshest critic, but I am working on developing a better approach to myself. While the old pictures will stay safely off of Facebook and my blog (save the cropped one above), for now, they are taped to my bathroom mirror. Every day, when I stare at my reflection while I comb my hair or brush my teeth, I will have three black-and-white pictures to remind me to be good to myself, to make me smile, and to see how far we have come. When days are hard and long and I find myself feeling defeated, there they will be: my SariAnne and Branoh, people who know and love me anyways. And I will know that it is OK.