“Every freckle on my face is where it’s supposed to be
And I know my Creator didn’t make no mistakes on me…”
– India Arie, “Video”
I turned my phone off, threw it on the bed, and went back to folding laundry. But the feelings hung heavy over me. I have never been one to take selfies. I don’t look down on people for doing it. I get it. You’re having a good hair day, your make-up is on point, you like your new jeans, you’ve lost 20 pounds. I understand why people take selfies. It’s one way of documenting our stories. It’s a way of being seen.
For me, I have always felt embarrassed to take them. But as I’ve woken up to some of these places in my life that have been in a coma since my kids came along, I’ve been paying more attention to my appearance – growing out my hair, wearing clothes that actually fit, applying some degree of make-up each day. I’ve also been encouraged by some very wise mommas to be sure I’m taking pictures of myself with my kids.
In light of all this self-care and good advice, I snapped a few selfies. It felt awkward, but my kids were in the photos, so I favorited them and sent them to a couple friends and the grandparents. And I didn’t think much of it.
Then I began building this site. In 10 years of blogging, writing, and various forms of artistry, I’ve never made myself the personality or the face of my business. I’ve always let my logo or art be the focal point. I’ve even hidden behind pseudonyms and abbreviations of my name, feeling the need to present a veiled version of myself.
But I’ve changed a lot in the past couple years. Hardened layers of my heart and mind have melted away in the light of love, compassion, and self-care. I’ve chipped away at fear, insecurity, and timidity. I’m almost unrecognizable when placed next to the person I was three or four years ago. Making my face and my name an essential element of my site and my work is a testament to that transformation.
But then the vultures of insecurity began picking at my exposed and fragile heart. I had really liked the pictures of myself for the site. I thought I looked pretty. Especially for a 37-year-old exhausted, autoimmune warrior momma of two kids under age six.
But then I saw her selfie. An artist I deeply respect on Instagram. She is inspiring and killing it and creating art I can only dream of making. She has a bajillion followers, works for companies like Anthropologie, and, oh, she just happens to be gorgeous. Like Gisele, Charlize, Cindy Crawford gorgeous.
I immediately opened my photos app, hoping to find a picture in which I looked even remotely as stunning. That photo did not exist. What I did find were a series of photos my daughter had taken of me asleep, mascara smeared, hair a mess, and neck cranked so I had about ten chins. That’s when I chucked my phone.
I immediately felt small. Insignificant. Sad. I didn’t belong in this world of beautiful, successful people. Who did I think I was anyway? I began picking apart every inch of my face in my mind. I felt unattractive and embarrassed that I had even dared to take a selfie or allow pictures of myself to be on my site. I wracked my brain for what had happened to me. What had happened to my face? My body? Had I ever looked good?
I mean, I know what has happened. Kids have happened. Chronic illness has happened. Years of insomnia and anxiety have happened. Eating disorders have happened. Zero plastic surgery has happened. Life has happened. And while I have not taken one bit of it lying down, I haven’t been able to stave off the exterior effects of sleep deprivation, relentless stress, or nutrient depletion from a dysfunctional gut.
Some people I know have thrown religion at me when I’ve wrestled with my body image. “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, Krista. You know that…”
Well, whatever. That doesn’t make me feel any better about the things I don’t like about my looks. And those words were written by a king with a 900-woman concubine 3,000 years ago. So, yeah, that’s not helping.
Some people ask, “Why do you care? You have a husband who loves you, you have two great kids. You don’t have to turn heads anymore. You’re almost 40. You’re pretty enough.”
It’s not really about that for me. It’s not about making people stare or getting attention. But, and I’ll be honest here, I don’t really know what it is about. Perfection? Insecurity? Disordered body image?
So, what do I do now? No. Really. I’m asking. I know what not to do. But I don’t know how to move forward, how to heal this up, how to stop feeling so sad.
I know that comparing myself to other women is futile. If I’m using comparison to build myself up, that’s judgmental and ugly and leads to a web of narcissism I frankly don’t have the time or money for. And there’s always going to be someone prettier, someone with tighter abs, fuller lips, curvier hips, less cellulite. Comparison is a losing battle.
Nora Ephron talks about this in her 2006 book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” Perhaps I’m grieving that I didn’t take advantage of my youth, my 20s, that I didn’t wear “a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six” as Nora recommends. Maybe my fear of death is creeping in and something about the lines and the stretch marks and the graying and the wrinkles screams “Death!” every time I look in the mirror. Maybe I’m a perfectionist and still suffer the lingering effects of my eating disorders, skewing the way I see myself. Maybe our culture’s ideal has grown like a tumor on my heart and mind, distorting reality, destroying beauty, and killing the joy of individuality.
Or maybe we were never meant to take selfies.
I don’t know. I’m still struggling with this. If you’ve got any ideas, I’d love to hear them. For now, the best I can do is muster some spunk, give perfectionism the big middle finger, and keep my face on my site. Maybe I’ll look at Instagram less. Maybe I’ll remind myself that “all these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am…” Maybe I’ll remember that I am me, this DNA, this skin and bones, this set of life experiences. Maybe I’ll be grateful that my body and mind is what it is and is functioning as well as it is, even with all its particularities. Maybe I’ll say this is what a woman and a warrior looks like – tired, older, wiser, and maybe a little dehydrated some days. But there’s a spark in my eyes. They’re green and rare and they’re still bright. And there are a million stories behind them along with a heart that wants to heal and connect and belong. And just be content.
Maybe I’ll work like hell to throw off this heavy American millstone of unattainable beauty. Maybe I’ll remember the people who have loved me through my life, who call me beautiful and know me best. Maybe I’ll remember my husband who watched me birth our babies – one of them at home – in strength and power, determination and untouchable glory. Maybe I’ll redefine my beauty.
And maybe I’ll take a deep breath, hike to the top of an Appalachian foothill, and remember that life is more than the right lip gloss, tight abs, wrinkle fillers, and thigh spread. Besides, before my Instagram incident, I liked my innumerable freckles, my strawberry blond hair, and my crooked smile. And I’ve always liked my eyes.
Please tell me your thoughts about any of these questions:
How do you fight against a culture of fake, photoshopped beauty?
How does Instagram, Facebook, and other social media make you feel?
How do you handle the unattainable standard put on women to look perfect?
What is one truth you tell yourself to combat the lies?
Tell me about your beauty, your truth.
How do you determine beauty?
How do we in Western culture determine beauty?