Tag Archives: Struggling with Self-Image

The Disillusionment of Image

Image.

I’m talking about image in the sense of the way that society views you; the way that you present yourself to society; the pressures you feel to give into making yourself look a certain way because you know that society will judge you and the “image” that you create. I think everyone struggles with this, in some fashion, especially when we’re young and dealing with the pressures of school.

My 14-year-old brother is currently going through this. He’s part of the “cool kids,” as far as I’m aware–something I never made it into, but something I wanted so badly when I was age–and he’s dealing with the pressures that fall into that role. He’s been asking for clothes from Hollister, when a year ago, he didn’t care what he wore. He always does his hair in the morning and constantly berates himself that he doesn’t look good enough. There are days when he’ll talk to me for hours and days when he’ll barely look at me, because I’m an older sister and it isn’t cool to be close to your family.

At first, I took it personal. Here’s a kid that means the world to me and he won’t tell me how his day was because cool kids don’t talk to their siblings? But then I remembered what that experience was like when I was kid and how I used to do the same thing to my parents and now I don’t take it personal. Now I just try to be supportive, because I know what he’s dealing with and it sucks. And I can’t wait until he reaches the point where he doesn’t care about his image and instead can focus on being the person that he wants to be, not a person that can strives to fit in through clothes and trends.

I have been thankful that I have “moved past” this stage of my life, that I “no longer” care about presenting a certain image, but instead care more about representing who I am to the core of my being. Except that I haven’t moved on, not completely. I still care and I hate that that’s the case.

Two pertinent examples from the past month:

The first happened at WorldCon, sort of unexpectedly, sort of not. I had a really amazing chance to meet with some dream agents and with some authors that I have so much respect for, I can’t put it into words (except I can: buy their books and support them. You won’t regret it).* I knew this meet-up was potentially happening before it happened. I was also aware that it would prolly happen at a bar instead of the actual Con. And I knew about the culture that typical follows writers, which was confirmed when a met a few of them, as they asked, “So, how are you enjoying BarCon?”

Before I went, my parents told me, “If they offer to buy you a drink, accept it and then just nurse it while you hang out.” You see, I’m straight-edge. No drinking. No drugs. None of that shit. Other people can do it and almost everyone I know does. Obviously, that’s totally fine and not my call. It’s their life. I respect their choices. Personally, I don’t enjoy it and don’t want to, so I don’t.

So when I got this advice, I had mixed feelings about it. The ultra-stubborn part of me rejected it outright. Why should I change myself because the culture surrounding this Con revolves around drinking and that’s not part of my lifestyle? Why should I pretend to be someone I’m not, just to win their approval and avoid the awkward conversation that I knew would happen otherwise. Because that awkward conversation or response was inevitable, just like it is when people find out I don’t drink coffee or am waiting to have sex until after marriage. People don’t understand those choices because they aren’t part of the normal, they don’t fit the image that I should fit into. Oh, you’re a fantasy and science fiction writer who is working on a sleeve? Yeah, definitely a drinker. Part of me, unfortunately, wanted to avoid that conversation and the judgement that would follow. These were people I wanted to impress, that I hoped to make a connection with so that, hopefully, when I query them later this year, they remember me and they liked me enough–and my writing–to want to work with me.

At the Con, the decision was made and my stubbornness won over. Yes, I wanted to impress these people. Yes, I was nervous and flustered and overwhelmed. Yes, this was the moment, more than anything, where I felt like I was back in high school and desperately wanted someone to like me and to “fit in”. But most importantly, I wanted to be myself. I’m not ashamed that I’m straight-edge. Hell, I choose to be that, every day. So we met up. The offer for a drink inevitably was given. My polite decline answered and I passed the offer onto my sister, who accepted happily and was giddy than an agent bought her a drink. The questions and surprise ensued, the jokes were made, the label of “lame” was given, and then we moved on and talked about writing.

Did I wish I wasn’t labeled as lame, as I was in high school? Of course. Did I regret standing my ground and staying true to who I am? Hell no. I’m not ashamed of it and if my life choice taints my expected image as a writer, then so be it. (Plus, in retrospect, that agent will probably remember me more than other writers they met, because how often do you actually meet a straight-edge fantasy writer? Yeah, not often. So it’s really a win-win, even if I’m lame because of it.)

In that instance, I almost gave into the image that was expected of me, instead of the image I wanted for myself. I’m so glad I didn’t. This next instance, I almost gave in again, but thankfully, I was able to stay strong against the pressure of caring what other people think.

I moved out into my own apartment a little over a week ago. Super excited about it and the apartment is AWESOME. I’m in love with it, I’m in love with my independence, I’m really digging the routine I’m slowly building (my writing productivity has skyrocketed) and I’m generally loving it. Yet at the same time, depression and loneliness are knocking at my door hourly (but that’s a post for another day). As such, I thought about going back home for an afternoon to see my family and the wonderful pup I left behind that weekend. I missed them and wanted to see them.

But then that nefarious concern over image popped up again, in the back of my head, whispering ridiculous thoughts: It’s only been a week. It’s too early to go back and visit. You did leave some clothes there. That could be your excuse. Or it’s Labor Day weekend. People will buy that. You need to be independent, not so dependent on your family. What would people think? 

I hope you’re rolling your eyes like I am now. All these thoughts, all these apprehensions, were inspired by how others view me. All of them stemmed from concerns of how others would view me if I went home to visit my family. Like, seriously? This was bringing me back to when I was super concerned how people would view my close relationship with my parents. They are some of my best friends, people. Yet I used to try to hide this. That day I moved in freshmen year to my dorm and my parents were with me and then my roommate was there, alone? I was embarrassed. My Mom came up sophomore or junior year to visit and got me some groceries. She asked if I needed help carrying them up. I said no because I didn’t know how my residents would respond.

I am so ashamed of this embarrassment, even though it is totally natural when you’re young. Except I thought I got past that stage. I thought I had realized how ridiculous that is. So what if people think it is weird that I love my parents and truly enjoy spending time with them? So what if I hang out with them? So what if it has only been a week and I decide to go home for no other reason aside from the fact that I want to?

So what if you judge me for it.

I thought I had moved past being concerned with how my image is perceived and accepted by members of society. I thought I had grown enough to realize that it doesn’t actually matter and what matters more is the image I want to create for myself; creating the best possible version of myself and loving and being proud of that image, regardless of how others respond. These two instances remind me that I was disillusioned. There is no “moving past” dealing with image. I think I will always fight the battle regarding image and fearing how people view me and wanting to tailor my actions or beliefs based on that reception. I can only hope that I continue to stay true to myself and who I want to be, like I was able to do here. Because I happen to like that person.

Cheers.

PS: I did go home on Monday when I got the day off and it was fantastic. Definitely the highlight of my week.

* Also, that link referring to buying the authors’ books that linked to an entire client list from an agency instead of a specific author or group of authors? Yeah, that wasn’t a mistake. That agency seriously knows great books and I hope to read through all of their authors (making my way, ever-slowly).

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Discovering My Own Toxicity

I write about self-worth a lot. I think about it a lot. It is such a difficult thing to deal with. It’s something so easy to be hypocritical about. I constantly tell others why they deserve the world, why they are amazing human beings, why they should love themselves and what it is about themselves that they should love. And I always mean it. Yet when I look at myself, it’s never the same. There is always something lacking. There is always something that I could improve. There is always something that could be different.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that this self-depreciation has influenced almost every aspect of my life, but particularly, in what I believed I deserve.

My first truck was a 1984 Chevy Shortbed. I loved that truck and it was perfect because it was cheap. With the help of my parents, I saved up for it and was able to purchase it outright for $1,500. But it was cheap because it sucked. It didn’t start half the time. It didn’t have A/C or heat. It couldn’t go on the highways because you couldn’t go faster than 65 MPH without it breaking down. When people would comment about it, I would label that it had character. Doesn’t start? Teaches me humility and to be thankful when it does. No A/C or heat? That’s what windows are for. No highway travel? I get anxiety driving anyway. She lasted me two years before we sold her for scraps, as she was beyond the point of repair. That was my senior year in high school.

I didn’t get my next car until senior year in college.  It was a 2001 Buick Regal. I thought it was a gem, first buying it from a used car lot. I was able to negotiate, after putting $1,000 down, to get my payment down to $116.08 a month (that eight cents is important), and “only” owed $5,000 on it. It was a reliable car and a definite step up from my first truck, and had a payment that didn’t break the bank. I named her Smaug. Soon, I learned about her more interesting characteristics: the A/C and heat worked, but was temperamental. The right window in the back didn’t roll down. The left door in the back didn’t lock. The right door in the back didn’t open from the inside. The CD player wouldn’t play burned CDs and if you hit a bump in the road, the radio would go out. Again, people would point out her flaws. Again, I would say, “She just has character.” She lasted me until this past summer, almost two years. But after three trips to the shop and her breaks giving out, I was forced to buy a third car.

She’s the first car I bought from a dealership. She’s a 2015 Chevy Sonic. Her A/C and heat works beautifully. Automatic windows. All the doors open, close and lock. She can go on the highway and I don’t have to worry about the threat of her breaking down. She drives smooth. The radio…oh gosh, the radio (talk about that bass). Her name is Dovahkiin. She costs $285 a month. It’s a gut-punch financially, for sure, but for the peace of mind, she’s worth it.

When I first moved away from home and went to college, I moved into the cheapest dorm I could find. It also had character. It was filled with asbestos, often had leaks, broken A/C units or other various problems required for maintenance repair. But it was cheap and it was home. I lived there for four years. My first apartment, I had to sign a lease for remotely. I was moving 12 hours away from home and there was no chance to go and look. I got a studio apartment that was 300 square feet for $500 a month. When I arrived, they had forgotten to put in my bed (it was furnished). It had no A/C and the heat, I learned later, didn’t work (thankfully, the hot water did). There was no stove but a hot plate. I wasn’t allowed to hang up pictures or burn candles. But it was home and I could afford it.

“It has character,” I would say. Or other times, “I’m used to it.”

My parents gave me my first phone when I was 16. It was a red flip phone. I loved it. I can’t remember when I upgraded to a Nokia, but I kept it for five years. At its end stages, the back had fallen off, the frame had snapped and it was held together by two different colors of tape. But it was cheap and it worked (until I dropped it one-too-many-times volunteering and was forced to finally get a smartphone).

Do you notice a trend, here?

I always blamed it on money. I had to go the cheapest route because I never had enough money to do otherwise. And that is a very real truth. Though frugal, I haven’t always had jobs that make the most money and so I went with the cheapest thing. It just made sense to me. The trend was financial necessity, not because I didn’t think I deserved to have nice things; not because I didn’t believe, unconsciously, that I wasn’t worth having nice things.

Right?

Okay, let’s take the financial element out. I started watching Outlander last night. Obviously, I have fallen head over heels for a certain Scottish outlaw (I mean, c’mon, how can you not?). Of course, after watching a few episodes, I started planning my trip to Scotland to find myself my own highlander, because the American men just weren’t cutting it for me anymore (sad part is, I’m only half joking). But then I started thinking, on my commute to work today, “Don’t be foolish, Nicole. Even if you could get there, what are the chances you could find a highlander interested in you? Even if there was a real man like Jamie, he’s too attractive for you. You’d just be crushing your own foolish, aiming-too-high heart.”

Before my thoughts started going down darker avenues, I finally realized what I was unconsciously doing to myself. Because I believe myself to be worth so little consciously, I have unconsciously let that influence a lot of elements in my life; namely, the type of things I own and the type of people I could date. Until this summer, I’ve only searched for and owned shitty cars, shittier places to live or held onto electronics until their last breaths (my first laptop I kept for five years, before it ran so slowly it stopped functioning). I always blamed that for financial reasons and those definitely were–and still are–a factor. But it wasn’t the name one.

I didn’t think that I deserved to have nicer things.

I’ve been single all my life. I turn 24 this November (I am getting old). Though I am the biggest advocate for love and in every vein a hopeless romantic, I have never found it. There are times I’ve tried. Other times, I haven’t. The times I haven’t have been for one of two reasons: one, the guy I’m interested in is a cherished friend and I don’t want to lose his friendship by asking for something more (though that was more during high school that that happened). Two (and more lately), I don’t even go after someone because they are “out of my league.” They are “too attractive” for me. And I don’t just mean physically, though that is definitely the easiest to judge when it comes to a stranger. But even great guys who aren’t bombshells physically but still amazing human beings, I don’t go after. I’m intimidated by both attractive men and great men. Not just because I’m scared of being turned down. Not just because I’m insecure and I’m so tired of rejection (especially when all I want is to love someone with my entire being and to be cherished in the same manner).

Who am I to be worth an amazing man and his love? Compared to so many other women, why would he pick me? Why would I deserve such a love that I crave?

Damn if our own emotions can’t be so toxic, sometimes.

As I write this, I’m using a laptop my Mom got me last year as an early graduation gift. It’s a very nice, reliable laptop. I drove Dovahkiin to work today and, after escaping from a dark thought path, I jammed out to some music while I turned the A/C down. My Mom let me have her old IPhone recently, so I just got a “new” phone, albeit used, but it is definitely the nicest phone I have owned. I just signed a lease to a gorgeous apartment that comes with a washer and dryer, in the freakin’ apartment. All of these things, on top of bills and student loans and just generally living, is going to make money tight. But not impossible. It is totally doable, in my current situation. They are all really nice things. And they are mine. I have them.

Me.

The fact that I am flabbergasted by that fact shows how harmful my own view of myself and my worth has been. I have been toxic towards myself for years and not even realizing it, masking it as the natural life of a pauper or struggling artist. And I don’t even know why I judge myself so harshly. It is simply because I’m not skinny? Does it go deeper than that? Yes, I have flaws. That’s obvious. I’m stubborn. I could work on being a better friend. I have baggage and self-esteem issues and anxiety and depression. I overthink.

Yet does any of that justify the idea that I don’t “deserve” nice things? Does any of that rationalize why I don’t believe I’m worthy of a good man’s love (or even a bad one’s love, some days)?

No. Absolutely freakin’ not.

I’ve been working on self-love for quite some time. Some days, I’m successful, other days, not so much. Discovering another toxic layer and learning how to remedy it is just one step forward in learning how to better love myself. Because at the end of the day, I’m worth it. I deserve it. No qualifiers necessary.

Cheers.


Simple as That

Hello! It’s been a while. I haven’t posted in quite some time and after finally snagging some free time after training, I decided to go ahead and write about a post that I wanted to write a few weeks ago, but just never had the time to. I went to a late night Wal-Mart  run with my mother and sister to grab some stuff for dinner. It was already approaching the later hours of the evening and we were starved. My Mom was making me chicken and rice for dinner (one of my favorite meals EVER) and I said to my sister, “Man, I am so excited for chicken and rice. I am going to eat my weight in it…which is a lot.” We were bagging up groceries at the time in the check out line and the young lady, prolly my age, if not a bit older, who was working the register said, “Doesn’t look like it” while she scanned another item. 

Lemme just say, wow! I didn’t even realize that she was listening and I didn’t expect her to respond (though I totally don’t mind, regardless of what she would have said; if I was working, I would want to talk to the customers too), especially with such a nice comment! And she sounded quite sincere, as well. I was so flabbergasted that I muttered a disgruntled “thank you” and she simply kept doing her job. But what she doesn’t realize is she did so much more than that, with so few words. 

People who know me know that I have struggled with accepting my appearance. I have struggled with my weight. I have definitely struggled with my self esteem. And while I have come a long way from my past with this war, I fight battles every day, and sometimes, I still lose and slip back into the mindset that the mirror is my enemy and that I’m not good enough.

Now, at Wal-Mart, I wasn’t fighting a losing battle with that comment. I wasn’t even thinking negatively. I was trying to explain just how hungry I was and just how stoked I was for this feast my Mom was going to prepare. Regardless, the cashier called me out and told me I was wrong. And that meant the world to me, that she would say that without even knowing me. And because we’re strangers, she doesn’t know my past; isn’t aware of this struggle that I still pray to overcome. She could never realize just how much her simple comment meant to me. I mean hell, I’m writing a blog post about it, weeks later. 

And that is just it. Her simple “doesn’t look like it”, four simple words, had a huge affect on me. It made a difference. It is a memory that I can think back to when I am losing my next battle and it could quite possibly help me come out victorious that day. Her words were powerful.

And so are yours.

I’m back at my University going through training to become a Resident Assistant. This will be my second year with that position and I am absolutely loving it. And a big part of my position is how much of an impact I make on the life of my residents. I am in a position of authority and have the power to change lives. But even if I wasn’t, I still have that power. A simple sincere compliment and nice gesture towards a stranger — or even a friend — can move mountains. You don’t know what that person has gone through or what they have struggled with. It is impossible to know all of their past, their secrets or the demons they may be facing. You don’t know how powerful you are and how much you can influence and inspire. And half the time, people don’t even realize this enormous amount of power they have. Or, they chose not to use it when the opportunity arises.

And that’s just silly.

Like I said, a few quick words or an act of kindness can move mountains, without you even realizing it. Let that realization sink in. Your words and actions are powerful. You are powerful. So go out and change the world.

It’s as simple as that. 

Cheers,

Nicole