Tag Archives: self esteem

I’m Not (Quite) the Poster Girl for Body Positivity

For hubby’s birthday, I decided to get creative.

I contacted Cherry Girl Hawaii, a local boutique photoshoot company that specializes in the vintage look that I so love to emulate.

I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

Ahem. My eyes are up here, bud.
Ahem. My eyes are up here, bud.

The modelling process was exhilarating, exciting, and emotionally taxing, but it felt really good. I hate myself in pictures, and I do not consider myself to be very photogenic, but the photographer made me feel at ease and helped me pose my body in such a way as to be as flattering as possible.

When I gifted the photos to Will on the morning of his 30th birthday, he was very pleased with them — but let’s face it, the man is pretty biased. The real moment of truth came when the pictures went public: Facebook.

I got some wonderful responses.

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I got some so-so responses.

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And then I got this one from my cousin, whom I love dearly:

With great nakey-pictures, comes great responsibility.
With great nakey-pictures, comes great responsibility.

I was very flattered, both by her compliments and by her praise. But I was also a little recalcitrant — Ooh, no, no, no. You’re giving me too much credit! I’m not the poster girl for body positivity. You can’t put me in that role, you guys, really. I hate myself more than half of the time!

My lovely friends gave me untold congratulations on how confident and beautiful I looked in those photos — and reading their wonderful comments, I felt like a phony. I did this thing, yes. And no, I don’t think I’m bad looking. But I can’t lie and say that I love my body. Even during the photoshoot, I was insecure and anxious, desperate to twist and contrive my flesh into angles and positions that might look halfway decent — at no time in the process did I really feel proud of how I look. Certainly, I felt far from flawless as the photographer (an extremely good sport!) and I squished my baby-belly into that black corset.

I did, however, feel a certain degree of empowerment.

No, I’m not thin. Never have been and never will be. I struggle to like myself, even on the best of days. I have insecurities about my person that will likely persist until the day I die. But, I did the thing anyway because no societal misjudgements, no unfair standards, or even self-put-downs are gonna keep this baby in a corner.

I can’t lie and claim to want to be another Tess Holliday. You’re never going to hear me talk about how I “love my curves”. While I admire the attitude and the message about body positivity and realistic beauty standards, I lack a certain degree of confidence and self-esteem. That being said, I know myself well enough, and I respect myself well enough, to stand up in support of my beliefs, my tastes, and my interests. I’m no less a Witch on any given day or to any given person than I am on tumblr. I’m no less a mother and a wife than I am a hard working professional. And I’m not going to let something as minor as a lifetime of insecurities keep me from showing off my hot bod, even if opinions may vary.

I guess that’s the sentiment I can be the poster girl for — I don’t like myself sometimes, but I’m not going to hide who I am. It’s not exactly “body positivity”, but it’s still pretty good.

Fake it til' you make it, kiddos.
Fake it til’ you make it, kiddos.
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BP D-Day

So it’s World Bipolar Day, and I guess that’s fabulous. I see lots of my friends and colleagues sharing photos of themselves with words strewn across: “I am a mother, a business women, and an avid reader. I am not my diagnosis.” It’s incredible to see so many empowered individuals owning their experience with mental illness and couching it in terms of “this is something I live with, but it is not who I am.

I really admire that. I’m just not sure I’m there yet.

Certainly, I agree that I am not my illness, but I struggle to cast it off merely as a condition of living, like the flu or a bad back. Bipolar disorder is part of my identity, and I don’t make apologies for that. I am who I am, in part, because of the personality quirks and general weirdness that BPD has imbued me with — and when I consider it objectively, I really like myself. It would then be a terrible hypocrisy to hate on my diagnosis.

That being said, it’s not always positive. It’s not always endearing to be a hermit. It’s not always funny to lose my temper at the drop of a hat. Sure, those things often make for fun stories after the fact, but day-to-day, I wear my illness like a shroud: it colors my vision of the world and marks up my skin. Literally.

IMG_3916It is an amazing triumph to say that I have been able to grow my fingernails out past the quick, even if my cuticles continue to be ragged. I am proud of the fact that despite (or perhaps because of?) my illness, I am able to devote myself to truly fulfilling work. Still, I am constantly aware that burn-out is a tangible possibility, and I often worry that I’ve taken on too much.

IMG_3919If I were to create an image similar to one of my friends, to express my success in spite of my illness, I guess that would be it. I mean, I have enough titles and talents to take up FOUR business cards! Goodness! But I feel that to do so would be disingenuous. I’m not who or what I am in spite of anything. I just am.

Perhaps I would feel better about #bipolarpride than “I am not my illness.” Bipolar is just a small part of who I am, and gosh darn it, people like me! (Myself included… most days.)

A perfect storm

Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.

Seems to me that it goes something like this: A good sense of humor is an indication of intelligence. Intelligence is a predisposing factor to depression and mental illness. People who are depressed are also more likely to be humorous, probably as a result of their higher intelligence and perhaps as a result of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate their depression.

Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.

And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.

Seriously. Fuck those people.

This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.

Legacy

I am trapped in a room with the woman who is both my tormentor and my hero. I so admire her, but am also intimidated by her. I want so badly to please her that I have fallen all over myself in successive, bumbling attempts to prove my worthiness, my aptitude. I feel now, from her sideways glances, her tacit nonchalance, that my attempts have failed — failed to such a degree that I have in fact proven myself of increasingly little merit in a cruel reversal of intent. I am trapped in a room with a woman who is aggressively, coldly assessing me, and she is finding me wanting. I cannot leave this room. I am trapped.
The room is my mind. The woman is me.

One time, my mother (over)shared with me about some of her indiscretions and mistakes. She had made some poor decisions and betrayed our family (though she didn’t frame it that way at the time), leaving quite a wake. She told me the truth and I was hurt. Defensively, she asked me if her actions had “hurt me special”. Had she done something to really harm me in particular, when it was her husband she had cuckolded? When it was him she had lied to? Call me crazy, but even then, I thought that was a mighty big question to ask of a 10-year-old.

When the actual betrayal happened, I was far too young to realize what had actually occurred. It was just another knock-down, drag-out fight. It was just another few nights of listening to my mother and father scream at each other. Just another visit to our house from the police.

Growing up in an environment where bi-yearly visits to our home from the cops were considered normal took its own toll, but the legacy of diminished self-worth is much harder to let go of. Now that I, as a grown woman, can see why my mother did the things she did, I can definitively say yes, Mom — every time you illustrated for me that a woman’s worth was intrinsically tied to a man’s desire for her, you hurt me especially, because I lived by your example.

Now, there are a lot of reasons that marriages fail, and I’m no relationship guru. However, I see these underlying machinations at work: a damaged soul, one that never considers itself whole, never considers itself enough on its own, seeks to fill the void with an attachment to another soul. And another. And another. Because that which you are unable to furnish within yourself cannot be found within the heart of another being, but that doesn’t stop you from trying.

Granted, I’ve never committed adultery — I’ve been blessed with a much better marriage than my mother had — but I see how easy it must have been, how soothing, to have slipped from one man’s arms into those of another because the second gave you the time of day. Made you feel pretty. Wanted. I can see how, while drowning in the depths of self-loathing, any positive attention must seem like a life raft. I understand it, without condoning it.

The bigger question now is how to stop the cycle. It’s too late for me, in a sense — the demons are already in my head. Every time I watched my mother grasp her thighs and sigh in disappointment, every time she called herself fat, every time she went on another binge diet — I learned from her example and expanded my mental arsenal. I have waged war on myself for years, tending (self-inflicted) wounds and wearing the battle scars like badges: if I cannot make myself good enough, then I will be my own judge and jailer. I consumed my own flesh in recompense for my multiple failures. My descent aided by the voices of criticism around me: “You need to dress better.” “You really shouldn’t eat that.” “I expected more from you.”

The apathy, the low expectations, the understanding shared by all — including myself — that I was different. Other. These are perfect conditions to create a monster of self-hatred. So how do I stop it from killing me the same way that it killed her? How do I protect my daughter from this legacy?