The Big Picture

In her 20s, my sister Colleen asked our mother why she had built her up to the extent that she had an over inflated sense of attractiveness. She wanted to know why she had been told she was beautiful and I was told I was at least smart, therefore down playing my looks and praising my sister for superficial things.  The reason my sister wanted to know was when she went into the world she realized “I wasn’t what I had been told my entire life”.

Our mother confessed to wanting to build up Colleen’s self esteem while dampening mine. Her logic was that I was pretty and if I knew it I would have an ego, Colleen wasn’t society’s idea of beauty so she needed extra affirmations.  This conditioning led to my developing an eating disorder and felt I was so unattractive that it must literally hurt people to have to look at me, I covered the mirrors in my apartment at one point because I was so disgusted seeing myself.  My sister on the other hand was extremely confident and when she realized that it was inflated she switched to “you don’t like me? Then fuck you” mentality. My sister’s sass and attitude are something we all could aspire to. 

My disorder and body dysmorphia led me to a hospital stay in my late 20s.  I don’t regret being hospitalized; if I hadn’t been I would be dead by now.  In my 30s I began to realize that I wasn’t hideous, in fact I may be attractive. My 40s are where I learned I may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I loved me and feel like I am fortunate in what my DNA gave me. I am more than that though. 

As my self esteem improved my bouts of depression decreased.

As my self esteem increased my bouts of depression decreased. 

It is worth saying twice. Self love is a wonderful thing!

Growing up I wanted to hear my mother tell me I was beautiful or at the least pretty. I had a temper tantrum one day because my grandmother wouldn’t let me shop in the Pretty Plus section of the store. I believed the plus meant you were extra pretty. I didn’t understand the plus meant plus sized. By denying me I believed my grandmother was saying I wasn’t pretty and didn’t deserve to shop in that section.  Looking back I can laugh about it but why the adults in my life didn’t see that as a sign I was desperate for validation is puzzling. I wanted to be praised like my sister was praised. Instead I was told I was lucky I was smart; it was preached to me that I should tone that down and talk less though so boys would like me. “The best thing for you to do is to ask lots of questions and let him do the talking.” 

Being told your appearance is wrong, you didn’t get Colleen’s straight hair, round eyes, and button nose, and that your personality was too much and needed to be modified beat the hell out of my self esteem but it also made me resent my mother. My revenge, I decided in my teens, would be to find someone who didn’t mind my homeliness, who liked my brain, and who thought I was just fine being me. 

I’ve been called stubborn my entire life but in retrospect being stubborn is what saved me.  Being attractive is a superficial advantage. Being smart and being loved for the crazy, complex and stubborn individual you are is priceless.  

We are whole people. We aren’t just our looks or our brain. We should be seen as a complete package.  When we discount, overlook, or ignore a part of someone we are robbing not only ourselves from knowing the whole person but we aren’t seeing the big picture. 

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