Hang on tight; this is going to require a big mug of coffee (or, preferably a glass [read: bottle] of wine). But it’s worth it. Do you know any women that don’t have some sort of complex about some sort of something about themselves? Nope. Me neither. Is it because we’re all paranoid, crazy, obsessive freaks? Nope (OK…so maybe a few of us are). So, if we all battle this insane and insatiable need to be perfect in every way, yet none of us have achieved this perceived state of nirvana, then how is it we (a) are still chasing our tails in this self-provoked, one-woman fist fight with ourselves, and (b) haven’t joined forces yet to extinguish the flame that billows the fire that fuels this crazy train? It’s mystifying. A true conundrum that probably started when a cave woman saw her man drag another woman by her long hair off to the cave and thought “Damn…I knew I shouldn’t have cut my hair”, and has only gained momentum since then.
I battle it. I battle it every. single. freaking. day. I started battling it when I was 105 lbs. soak and wet and I still battle it today….not…weighing…105 lbs. Ahem. But I digress. As you can imagine, in my line of work, I tend to run into a lot (A STINKIN’ LOT) of women that are uncomfortable with their lack of perfection. They walk in the door and I see a beautiful, excited woman that’s ready to empower herself by standing in front of my camera to memorialize herself right there, at the moment in time, forever in film. That’s brave. I mean, that takes guts. But for some reason, most of these women don’t see what I see (and what everyone that loves them sees). It’s hard for me to take in so I can only imagine what it’s like for their loved ones. And I’m not perfect. Trust me, I have unlimited tickets to the merry-go-round fun-ride of “I love myself. I hate myself. I love myself. I hate myself”.
But I wanted to share an email I wrote to a woman that will be coming to me for a session. So a bit of background here. In one of her initial emails, she discussed her confidence issues with me. In fact, she forwarded an excerpt from an email she had recently sent to her best friend regarding this most recent battle with her self-esteem. It was painful. I could hear the torture in her words. Did you just hear me? I could actually hear the pain in her written words. My heart broke for her.
So I had this idea. I wrote back and said “I’ll explain everything later, but do me a favor and answer this for me: Tell me about yourself. It’s important. Be as brief or as lengthy as you want to be, but answer this for me.” And she did. In a nutshell this is what she said: growing up I wanted to be like my sisters. I am married to an incredible man. I have 2 children that are my reason for living. I am funny, kind and make friends easily. I have confidence problems. I’m a workaholic. I have survived cancer and it changed me forever and I want to help other women going through the same thing. I believe that everything works out and I have a strong connection with God.”
You can read my response below, and this is what I want to share with you. I want to share this with you because I believe every woman out there can relate to this and we must remember at all times: we are not alone in this struggle to feel we are worth something. Even with the pimples, the cellulite, the bad hair, the wrinkles, innie or the outie, the big feet, the small (or huge) boobs, the nails that won’t grow, the hair that won’t quit growing (on the damn chin)….etc etc. Because along with that laundry list is an even bigger list of wonderful and beautiful and REAL things that make us worth the love that people give us.
“So here is what I heard you say: You want to be like your sisters. You are a well-liked woman that easily makes friends. You have trouble seeing the good in you. You are a wife. You are a mother. You love your work. You’re funny and a “glass half full” kinda gal. You believe in faith. You survived an illness that could have taken your life and, because of that, have a new respect for life and you want to spread that feeling.
You know what you didn’t tell me? Your height. Your weight. Your eye color. The color of your hair. The length of your nose. The size of your feet. The size of your jeans. The size of your waist. You didn’t tell me any physical characteristic about you. You know what else? You didn’t tell me any personality trait that you believe you have that you also believe is undesirable to you.
And here’s why…pay attention here: because, inherently and deep deep down, you know that your physical characteristics are not important in this life. And, listen up here: you, inherently and deep deep down, believe you are a good person. Remember, you said it, not me. I’m simply generalizing it right back to you.
You said a lot above, but what I heard is what you didn’t say. That’s so important. Every woman struggles with not being good enough. Every single one of us. Some have a harder time wrapping their brain around accepting that they are good enough. I remember reading an article about a conversation a daughter had with her mother as her mother lay dying. She talked about all the good times and all the memories she would take with her. Then she talked about her regrets. Her number one regret was caring so much about what other people thought about her, both physically and in personality, that she allowed it to inhibit her relationships with the people that loved her the most and accepted her unconditionally. And she said “Isn’t it such a waste in life that I put more thought and care into the people that judged every part of me so much so that I couldn’t enjoy the people that loved me for who I am?” She went on to talk about all the things she gave up being a part of with her beloved family because of how she thought other people would have viewed her if she did those things. And she said “I should’ve worn the bathing suit. All those years at the beaches. All those moments lost with my children because I wouldn’t put the bathing suit on.”
From that point on, I swear…I wore the bathing suit. In so many ways, I wore the bathing suit. I swore I would never not enjoy a moment with Ella, or John, because of what I thought other people would think of me. And here’s the thing: everyone is so wrapped up in caring about themselves so much, they could give a crap about you. While you’re looking at the woman at the supermarket and thinking “She’s so pretty. I wish I had her hair.”, she’s thinking “Why is that brunette looking at me. I knew I looked ridiculous in these shorts.” :)
Put the fucking bathing suit on. Do not waste your time, and for love the of all things big and small, the time of your loved ones. See that’s the thing we self-hating women don’t realize: you’re not just wasting your own time. You’re not just beating yourself up. Every time you throw and take a hit, you’re doing the very same thing to the ones that love you most. Have you ever asked your husband how it makes him feel that you loathe yourself so very much? I bet at most times he’s thoroughly confused, perplexed and has an intense feeling of helplessness. All because all he sees standing before him is his whole entire world. His love, his partner, his kick-ass wife that is an equally kick-ass mom. And I bet this statement gets repeated over and over and over and over again in his mind “If she could just see what I see.”
How do I know this? Two reasons. One: I hear this a lot from husbands that hire me to help them make their wives see how beautiful they are. I have a lot of men that come to me and say “How do your sessions work? I’d love to do this for my wife. She’s so beautiful. I just want her to see what I see.” Wow. Wow wow wow. If only those women could simply give their husbands the benefit of the doubt. He thinks your wonderful…maybe you could try believing him? Two: I went right down that rabbit-hole myself. I would write what I called “love letters” to myself. And here’s how they would go: “Dear Elizabeth. You are worthless. You are so worthless the only thing that could even possibly make your pathetic existence worth even the tiniest bit is if you actually died. That’s how worthless you are. You’re fat, so very ugly and everyone that knows you thinks you’re obnoxious. Your husband deserves someone so much better than you. You are so selfish and so self-absorbed he doesn’t even know what he’s missing out on, if he had another woman he’d be so happy. Oh, and you’re a crappy mother too. You put everything before your daughter and she will grow up hating you because of it. You are the epitome of a complete waste of space. Hugs and kisses. PS–go eat another cheeseburger you fat fucking hog.” Yes. I did that. And all because I am no longer a size 4. I’m a size 8. That’s how it all started. I gained weight. All of a sudden, the man I stood with and still stand beside and fight for his life with him didn’t mean a thing. The child I grew in my own body and sustained life with my own body for a year, the giggles I caused, the tears I dried, the adoration I inspired meant nothing. The successful businesses I helped to build and run today, again, didn’t mean a thing. The lives I touched through my work, the friendships I had cultivated over a lifetime…my kindness, generosity, sense of humor, my ability to help women see their beauty inside….it all simply meant nothing compared to being a size 4.
And then the best thing happened to me. My husband, all at one time (he didn’t even realize it) put his foot down to tell me he was over this bullshit of self-hatred, while at the same time subtly telling me he wanted me thinner. Confusing, right? OK–stay with me. First, let me preface this by saying I’m married to the most awesome guy in the world. He is so supportive, loving, devoted, knows me inside and out, is my biggest champion and my harshest critic. Seriously, if I could, I’d rent him out for other women to date. I’d make a million. But, no one is perfect. ;-) So, anyway–he had had enough of my shit with the whole “I’m worthless” thing. He said a lot to me, but what it all boiled down to was, how could I be so selfish to ruin my life while also sacrificing our happiness in our marriage by being so consumed with my perception of myself? And on top of that, I am raising a daughter, which made me doubly responsible for how she grew up and how she does and would continue to perceive her own self-worth, based on my own thoughts regarding my own self-worth. And that’s when it hit me that he didn’t see it. He didn’t see how worthless I was. He didn’t see how ugly I was, how everything I did wasn’t good enough. And then that’s when it really hit me: he didn’t see it because it wasn’t there in the first place. To him, I’m full of worth, I’m beautiful…and I’m worth it. I’m worth his love. That was a very powerful moment for me. It was the moment I began to give him that benefit of the doubt I talked about above. It was a beautiful and peaceful release. It was a huge, cathartic, exhale.
OK–so the 2nd part. ;-) Yes–my husband loves me, fully and completely and God knows he tried in so many ways to tell me that I should accept myself and that as long as I’m happy with my body, he’s happy with my body. And then would come the statements he honest-to-Pete thought was doing me good, but really let me know how he was truly feeling. Little things like: “Wow you look so great! You must’ve lost a few pounds…your butt was looking so big but now it’s so much smaller! Go you!” Ha ha ha ha. You know what he was really saying: “I noticed that you were getting fat and your butt was huge. Thank goodness you dropped a few pounds!” And I would say things like “Ya know what? I’m finally going to give up dieting and killing myself to lose weight.” *silence* “I don’t think it’s mentally healthy for me.” *silence* “I know you want me to lose the weight, but I want to feel comfortable in my own skin no matter what.” John, looking down sheepishly with a disappointed look on his face, “I just want you to be happy with yourself.” Umm. Right…but I knew he didn’t want me to give up. I knew he would be a bit happier if I was thinner. At first I was mad at him. How could I possibly accept myself if he didn’t accept me?? And then the best thing ever happened: it made me stick up for myself, to myself. All of a sudden I didn’t care if he wanted me to lose weight. I didn’t care what anyone thought about my weight. All those things I so carelessly brushed aside…being a wife, mother, successful business owner, friend….began to have more meaning to me. I had to believe in myself. I had to stick up for myself. I had to like myself. And, so, I began to. I still struggle with my weight. I still want to be thin, but I don’t hate myself because I’m not. That’s huge. And then I realized that I began to stick up for myself on a lot of things. I am not a perfect wife, but I’m his confidante, his defender, his partner in this life. I am not the perfect mother but I am hopelessly loving, devoted and a good role model. I am me. And me isn’t so bad after all.
Strong. Amazing. Beautiful. Priceless. Gorgeous. Fabulous. Inspiration. Hero. Survivor. Caring. Funny. Warrior. Blessed.
Did I just pull these words from out of thin air? Nope. These were words that people who love you used when talking about you Facebook. Just my opinion, but I’d say you’re a pretty special woman.
Put the fucking bathing suit on. ;-)
I’ll be in touch about your shoot soon.
A frame of words a very good friend made to describe how she perceives me: A note from my daughter that I found posted to my desk one morning:
So…anyone want to go swimming with me? ;-)