Sometimes you just have to feel bad.
Something Diana said in our interview the other day made me think about how important that is.
Being body positive all the time is hard work. I wish it wasn’t. I wish it came naturally and easily. That would make more sense, since it seems like a waste of time to feel bad about the way you look. And yet people are all about wasting time.
Most of the time, I feel like I’m fine. I think my self-esteem is in decent shape. I grew up thinking I was gorgeous, which was lucky and, I think, pretty unusual. I started comparing myself to other women and to unrealistic beauty standards when I was 18 or so. I got a nose job (as a reader called me out on the other day, when I talked about not hating myself enough to change myself).
Last night, I wrapped a filmy scarf around myself, put on two gold bangle bracelets and my big, gold, lace-patterned earrings, and stood in front of the mirror, looking so sensually lovely and striking that it seemed a cruel twist of fate I wasn’t born in a magical ancient land where I could become an oracle who wore nothing but filmy scarves all day and spoke in a dark, ringing voice. I’m not sure how much of this image comes from the 300 trailer, but I love it anyway.
“I am so hot,” I told Bear, who agreed emphatically.
“I wish I could wear this as a dress,” I said.
“You wouldn’t go out in that,” he said nervously. Sometimes I get the impression that he is a little afraid that I’ll do something shocking, as though my sexuality is a coiled snake, itching to strike. It’s pretty flattering, actually.
I gave myself a pleased, slightly seductive smile. Life was good.
But sometimes I am completely convinced that I am ugly. Irredeemable. I can’t imagine what I ever saw in myself when I thought I looked good. When this happens, I feel automatically worthless, as though all of my value was always in my appearance anyway. Or as though without beauty, I will have to work and work and work to prove that I am meaningful.
When I feel good about the way I look, I often feel as though looking good isn’t even close to the most important thing. It’s just a lucky accident. When I feel bad about the way I look, suddenly it is the hook my identity hangs on. And it is falling out of the wall.
Most of the time, I am balanced in the middle. I look fine, but I might suddenly become either striking or hopeless. So I work to keep the balance. I reassure myself. I vacillate on how much of the damn cake to eat. I use logic. I am as respectful as I can be of my body.
Diana talked about how women should talk about all of it. That’s what her Body Confessions site is about. Sharing the worst of it, and dealing with it through exposing it. We have ALL felt terrible one time or another. And while I obviously believe in emphasizing the positive, to the point that I think of an unroast every day, to remind myself of what is cool about the way I look and feel, I also think it’s really, really important to remember that feeling bad is not a failure.
It doesn’t have to be embarrassing and forbidden.
And no one owns feeling bad about their appearance. “But you’re thin, you can’t complain!” isn’t an appropriate response. Or “you have big boobs, so I don’t want to hear about it.” Or “you’re delusional! Your eyes aren’t little!” No single person or group of people has a monopoly on feeling shitty about the way they look.
And that is the most meaningful, critical thing of all. That is the flaw in the logic. The stone that, when hit, brings the whole roof down.
Our insecurity often doesn’t make sense because we are objectively beautiful in so many ways. But the fact that we all experience it one time or another (or way too many times) makes it clear that it’s something much bigger than ourselves.
But I think, for me, that the thing I need most when I feel ugly and irredeemable is to be reminded that even if it turns out that I am ugly, it really doesn’t matter.
And sometimes, in a flash, I recognize for a moment that it really doesn’t matter. It’s the most liberating thing.
But even when I can’t push past the layers of social anxiety and cultural emphasis and all of the meaning attributed to the disappointingly narrow versions of beauty that live in my brain, I want to know that it’s OK to just feel bad sometimes. It’ll swing around again. And before it does, I should remember that I am the farthest thing from alone.
Look how alike we are, we stunning, fascinating, complex, lovely, striking, subtle women, who feel, almost without exception, ugly one time or another.
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Unroast: Today I still love the way I look in nothing but a translucent scarf and gold bangles. Even though when I put the scarf on just now, I didn’t think I looked even close to as beautiful as last night. See? Whatever, it’s still hot.