It started with a simple joke over twenty years ago about my hair. I had that typical mid-to-late 90’s look with the too tall, over-sprayed bangs that looked like they should have a tiny surfer on them. I had a co-worker who teased me about them relentlessly, he’d walk past and bounce my “wave” down, just to see it pop back up as if it had never been touched. He also happens to be artistically gifted, so when I showed up to work with most of the length cut off my hair, but the bangs still standing tall, he drew a quick cartoon sketch on a napkin. I absolutely loved it. I’ve kept it all this time. It’s even been my profile picture on Facebook. It always reminds me of a time when I was probably the happiest I’ve ever been. I had a job I loved, a social life that didn’t leave me exhausted and desperate to be alone for days to recover, and I didn’t completely hate the girl in the mirror.
Over the years, things changed. My mental illnesses worsened, as they often do for twentysomethings, I lost that job (not because I was fired, but because the job itself ceased to exist) and I realized I was in love with someone who would never love me (that is a whole other story and a LOT of therapy sessions away from being written about). I moved to California with my best friend. Looks great on paper, but I had no car and I’m not good at making friends. Nikki has been my best friend since I was 16. She is the BEST best friend anyone could ask for. But I’d never been so far from home. I felt helpless. No car, nothing to keep me busy but work…my old friend bulimia returned. Like other forms of self harm, a binge can take the pain away for a while. I exacerbated things by refusing to purge. I’d stuff myself sick and let myself suffer in the aftermath. I felt like I deserved it.
Eventually, I moved back to Florida. Another job I hated, more time spend with my father making me feel worthless and ugly, more time spent hurting myself. I started avoiding mirrors. I ducked away from cameras. I hated everything about myself. I wanted to die. In December of 2001, I began planning my suicide. I didn’t want to ruin Christmas or New Year’s, so I settled on January 7th of 2002 as the day I would take a handful of pills, climb into bed and never have to wake up to my ugly face again.
The short version of the story is that I didn’t do it, obviously. What stopped me required more detail than I’m ready to write down at the moment. I’m here, still alive, still angry at mirrors. I’ve worked hard to lose weight, nearly 150 pounds, but it hasn’t made me feel more confident. I’m still fat, but now I also have lots of saggy skin. I’m going to be 41 this year, so it’s not like my skin is going to go back to the way it was when I was younger. I’m disgusted by my body.
For a while, I was able to dye my hair wild colors, and that did give me a temporary boost. Hot pink hair and a fake nose stud (don’t ask) made me feel kind of good about myself. Black lipstick and combat boots made me feel empowered. For the new year, I began a selfie project, with the intent to take and post a selfie a day in hopes that I could learn to love my face…or at least hate it less. It didn’t work and I gave up after a while. I had a friend once tell me, “Everyone is beautiful to someone,” but I have a hard time believing it. Yes, I have friends and relatives who will tell me, “No, you’re beautiful,” but when the only people in years who have indicated that they found me sexually desirable are creepy fat fetishists online, compliments from friends and family don’t do much.
My current job is okay with funky hair, but I’m delaying having it dyed again until the Autumn, because the only exercise my body can handle right now is swimming. Chlorine and vibrant hair color don’t mix. Instead, I’ve been playing with color hair sprays and wearing my fake nose rings, forcing myself to wear makeup when I don’t want to, because there is a part of me that still hopes I can find a way to love myself.
I have often wondered what it would be like to see myself through someone else’s eyes. Would I look just as hideous to them as I do to myself? Would I see something in my eyes that I’ve never caught in the mirror? Is there any chance that I’m not the repulsive ogress I see when I look at pictures of myself?
With twenty years between that napkin cartoon and now, my former co-worker, now my long-time friend, posted some of his artwork online. I joked about how it was an honor to be immortalized in one of his creations, even if the purpose was to mock your (absolutely ridiculous) hair style. I shared the drawing, proud to have ever been drawn by him. A short time later, he posted a new drawing. A color pencil sketch of my profile picture. I couldn’t find the words. I spent the next few days staring at it. There is something about the eyes that I find so lovely. I look at it and it’s me, but it can’t be me, because it’s beautiful. I still haven’t said a proper thank you for this gift – and it IS a gift – and I don’t know that I ever will find the words. How do you thank someone for making you feel that you have value? They say a picture is worth 1000 words. These are mine. Thank you.