I cut my hair short last night. I’ve chickened out so many times because apparently; ‘men prefer long hair on women.’ But I finally did it. I chopped it all off… and I LOVE it. I’ve never felt more like myself (fortunately my boyfriend also likes it.)
Whilst the hairdresser was slicing away at my locks I started thinking about image. It’s had such an influence on my life over the years.
I didn’t have much contact with a mirror until I was twelve. I was more interested in books and climbing trees with my friends. My appearance didn’t concern me, I wanted to learn and have fun.
I hadn’t realised just how ugly I was until I started secondary school. Fortunately, the other pupils were more than happy to tell me, they were very thorough. I can still remember the main taunts:
Claire E is a minger, she’s well ugly
You’re really pale and pasty. Why don’t you tan? You look like a milk bottle.
You look like a boy, you have no boobs. Are you secretly a boy?
You’re well skinny, it’s disgusting. You’re like a match stick.
So there you go, a whole list of things that needed to be corrected before I could be accepted by my peers. It didn’t help that my best friend was gorgeous. Blonde, tanned and beautiful. She also shared my name, prompting the following taunt; “Claire G is FIT.. Claire E is a minger.”
It didn’t matter how many times that my mum told me I was such a pretty girl, it fell on deaf ears. Looking back now over photos from those years, she was right… I was pretty. There was nothing wrong with me. I was just different.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not after sympathy. Most people have a rough time at school, it’s part of the growing up process I suppose.
Eventually after the first year, my proactive nature emerged. I decided to stop moping and do something about the situation. First on the list was my urgent need of a padded bra. The plan got off to a shaky start when the hag at M&S said that I didn’t need one, as there was nothing there – my mum quickly sorted her out with a few swift words. We bought a selection of bras and some very expensive chicken fillets (most women will know what I mean.) Despite mum’s contrary advice, I chose the fillets that increased my bra size to a D cup. So yes, I went from nothing to a D cup in 24 hours…. Extreme me?
Next on the list was my hair… obviously it needed to be long and I noticed that all the ‘popular’ girls at school were blonde. So, decision made. I spent the next three years bleaching my hair blonde. The problem is my hair is naturally very dark, so if I’m honest it never really went blonde, more of a brassy/golden/orangey shade. NICE!
The only redeeming aspect of this period was my interest in makeup, it’s a passion which I still have today. My mum taught me how to do my makeup naturally, without slapping too much on. I was smart enough to realise that most of the ‘popular’ girls looked as though they’d been tangoed. It’s never good when your face is a different colour to your neck!
So yes, I was transformed into a brassy haired, melon boobed, anxiety riddled wonder.
The main problem that developed during this time was my obsession with looking ‘perfect.’ For instance, an over plucked eyebrow or a bad hair day would dramatically alter my mood. I’d fain illnesses if my skin was too spotty, as I couldn’t bear to be seen. It became a challenge or goal that I had to achieve. If I couldn’t achieve perfection then I was a failure.
I would devour fashion magazines, gazing at the hopelessly perfect models and make notes of what I needed to change. Beauty was clearly far more quantifiable than personality. I didn’t care about hobbies or my education, I needed to be viewed as beautiful by society.
It was a college teacher who finally knocked some sense into me. Mr Dever (pronounced Diva. Amazing right?!) He treated me like an adult, rather than a nuisance child. He recognised my love of literature and pushed me to get the grades that I needed for university. He praised my wit and goofy personality rather than mocked it. In his classes I was valued for my brain and genuine passion, rather than how I looked. It was liberating to feel accepted for being myself.
Another ten years and a LOT of mistakes later (I wouldn’t believe that leopard print didn’t suit me,) I’m finally in a good place with my appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I still have days when I feel like that ugly girl hiding at school. But rather than dwelling, I keep myself distracted with things that require my full attention.
Acceptance is the key word. Certainly not an easy task and it’s an on-going process, but ultimately you’ll feel happier.
I’ve accepted the following home truths:
– Some women look sexy walking in heels. I look like a drag act. So I wear ankle boots.
– I don’t tan.. I burn, so it’s best to stay out of the sun and save myself the distress. Instead I sip cocktails and read trash mags!
– I can’t wear my hair in a knot-top. It’s too fine and looks ridiculous. (Seriously, I look like Disney’s Mulan!)
– My lips are small and I will never suit red lipstick. It makes me look drunk.
– My hair looks ten times better short!
So, how do you accept yourself I hear you ask? Well, as with most anxiety related things, it isn’t easy.
This might sound a bit naff, but start by making a list of all the things that you like about yourself (both physical and personality.) This won’t come naturally, but be patient and bear with it. The first time I tried it I cringed, but it definitely helps.
For example, here’s mine:
– Big eyes
– Long legs
– Long eyelashes
– Good sense of humour
– Great friend
I want you to write six good things about yourself, no excuses! (Unless you’re Hitler.. he can piss off.) Only positive things, nothing negative.
If you need extra help then why not ask someone close to you to add to the list?
Look at your list whenever you need a boost. Also, share them with me, I’d love to read them.
Stop focusing on your shortcomings in life. Like many aspects of anxiety, distraction is key. If you feel self-conscious at a party then focus your attention outwards. Get involved in what’s going on around you, no matter how awkward you feel initially. If you’re alone, then get stuck into a task or chore than requires concentration.
I’m not the type to start singing; You are Beautiful by Christina Aguilera and declaring that image is a farce. Some people are stunning to look at, it’s a fact. But it really isn’t everything, you need so much more in life to be happy, (sounds like a cliché but it’s true.) To put this into perspective, I used Facebook to hunt down some of the ‘beautiful popular girls’ from my schools days. My word, how times have changed. Or maybe it’s just me?