Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Which I Remind You All That I Am Totally Messed Up

So the thing about personal blogging - and I think that this applies to many other genres of blogging as well, but I'm primarily a personal blogger, so I'll speak to that - is that it can become repetitive. It seems, at first thought, that it should be inherently new and fresh every time, right? I mean, I'm blogging about my life, and generally, life brings with it new challenges, new people, new circumstances, new places... any number of new things to change up the scene. If I'm blogging what happens to me, there should be an endless supply of interesting topics, because life isn't constrained to a limited number of variables.

Unfortunately, however, it doesn't actually work out that way. Since I am always the same person - I am the one variable that doesn't go away - I consistently return to many of the same issues over and over again. We know this already, of course, that people have this natural tendency towards recurring problems; in fact, I addressed that to some extent in my last post, where I talked about how blessed I feel that I have not had recurring weight problems in my life. I don't often write about health and fitness issues here on my blog, because they aren't often on my mind.

There are plenty of other issues, however, that are almost always on my mind, and you've seen them here a lot over the past three and a half years. Cutting, for example, which I've struggled with for a long time - though I'm cut-free for three years and three months now! - and depression, which has been an on-and-off issue for me since high school. And the one we're going to talk about today: SELF-ESTEEM.

I had a somewhat shameful thought recently that made me really stop and consider. In class one day, we were talking about the concept of putting on a "persona" for certain situations, and how that persona does or does not match reality. The persona students put on during college interviews, for example, may not be the same persona they have with their friends on the weekend. One girl said her persona on a first date would be to try to sound smart so that the guy would find her interesting and intelligent, and only make dumb jokes and tell weird stories on a third or fourth date, when it's more likely to be endearing instead of airheaded. I was so proud of her, because she values intelligence and is looking for a guy who will value intelligence too. And then I realized:

I would totally give up my intelligence to be pretty.

Now, let's make it clear that I don't necessarily want to be so dumb that I can't function in the world. But I just want to be pretty so bad, and I figure if I'm slightly airheaded maybe I won't be smart enough to realize what I'm missing anyway. Good trade, right?

But then I thought about it further, and thought about what I'm really saying there. Let's look at some facts:

Fact #1: I believe that I'm intelligent.

Fact #2: Other people tell me that I'm intelligent.

Fact #3: I believe that these other people believe that I'm intelligent.

Great, so apparently I am in agreement with a number of other people in saying that I am intelligent. I've never known anyone to think I'm dumb - I do have two degrees from one of the top universities in the nation, after all. So yes, I'm intelligent. Moving on...

Fact #4: I do not believe that I am pretty.

Fact #5: Other people tell me that I'm pretty.

Fact #6: I believe that these other people believe that I am pretty.

This is interesting. I don't think I'm pretty, but I fully believe that other people think I'm pretty. So when I say, "I would totally give up my intelligence to be pretty," all I'm really saying is, "I would totally give up my intelligence to think that I'm pretty." Which really boils down to:

I would totally give up my intelligence to have better self-esteem.

Wow... Really? I mean, that's what it's all about? (I always thought it was all about the Hokey Pokey.) There must be a better way to get self-esteem, right? Other than trading away my intelligence in some mystical barter market in the outer reaches of the Universe?

Frankly, I wouldn't even know who to contact about trading my intelligence for self-esteem. Who sells that stuff anyway?

I don't know how to change it, though. There are times that I think I'm pretty, but they tend to be the exception to the rule, and usually when I'm dressed up, with fancy hair and makeup, like this recent evening:

Definitely pretty that night, in my opinion. (Which, as we've already established, is really the one that matters.) But on a day-to-day basis, when I'm just taking my work outfit photos, for example, I don't think I'm pretty at all. And many days, I feel downright ugly. Why is that?

I haven't figured out the answer. I know that it's not getting complimented, though, because that already happens, and it somehow fails to make any dent in my self-esteem. So this isn't a post for you to email or comment or IM or anything to say, "But you are pretty!" Chances are, I already know you think that, and it's nice that you do, but it's not what matters most. What matters is what I think, and what I feel, and I just haven't worked out how to change that yet.

There's no good answer to this post. Instead, I refer you back to the title of this post, and remind you, yet again, that I am totally messed up.


fjd said...

When I think of my looks, it's mostly in the context of marveling at my Greek-god-like body after I've been exercising. The feeling gets mixed up in all the other good feelings of an endorphin high. That bit of narcissism boosts my self-confidence when dealing with other people whom I don't know well.

For me, then, what I think of my appearance is not a matter of aesthetics; it's a matter of self-confidence in a particular type of situation.

My guess is that something of this sort is true of you as well. So: What exactly do you mean by pretty? And what is the implication of thinking of yourself as pretty or not pretty?

Teacher Anonymous said...

I'm so with you on this one, though I don't know if I'd trade my brains to feel pretty. I'm fairly sure my sister knows she's pretty, but that hasn't seemed to make her any happier than me. Plus she spends forever getting ready.

I think I've felt better about myself looks in recent years because I've been feeling better about myself in general. Just don't show me any pictures of myself, as I look awful. I swear, that double chin that seems to always turn up in photos does not exist in real life!

Still Jill B said...

For me, I think it goes back to childhood - nobody (family/friends) told me I was pretty or any other positive thing, and I DID hear that I wasn't. I can't imagine what it's like to be a kid who is really picked on - I mostly was unnoticed. My heart hurts for the bullied kids.

Natalie said...

I don't know how to change it either, but I've thought you were pretty from the moment I met you.

Stefka said...

I've had similar thoughts and experiences. Part of me has always just wanted to "fit in" (which includes being "pretty"), like the stereotypical popular cheerleader or sorority girl...But at the core, my life has really been about forging my own path, following my own heart instead of the rest of the crowd. I've often never felt "enough"...and somehow I've believed that everyone else has an innate confidence or secret knowledge that I've lacked. I've been continually frustrated in knowing that it's my own self esteem that's really the issue - the only thing I'm "lacking" is fully embracing what's in my heart!

That said, I do feel most in sync with myself (happy, confident, fully ME)when I'm 1) doing athletic and outdoors activities; 2) with friends and family who know and love the real me; and 3) using my intelligence and talents to make a difference for others. Then it's less about feeling "pretty" (which seems superficial to me)and more about being content and comfortable in my own skin, which for me correlates more with feeling "attractive".

bernthis said...

I think one thing to take into consideration is that a majority of us don't feel pretty a majority of the time but we still like ourselves. For me, to know that others feel the same feelings as I do goes a long way. It took me many years but I now finally "get" that I am who I am, love me or there is the front door. I guess the divorce was a good idea after all b/c i would have never learned this had I not left him, to be sure. You are pretty, very pretty but u r correct, you have to find a way to make you believe it.

Tandava said...

This is a beautiful illustration of the fact that all problems, ultimately, are problems of consciousness. Unfortunately, we don't grow up in our culture learning many techniques for dealing with problems at that level. I disagree, though, that "there's no good answer." I think the best way to approach this sort of thing at the most fundamental level is to find a good meditation class, because that's how you can learn to really work together with God to raise and expand your consciousness. In the long run, that's what's going to enable us to overcome anything we ever need to overcome. (And if you want to know anything more about all that, I'm happy to talk about it.)

And, for what little it's worth, Fact #5 ++.

Anonymous said...


While I rarely comment, I did tag you for an award over on my blog.

BetteJo said...

Well I hope you know what I think since I've been telling you since I started reading you. But the self-esteem thing? Yeah. That's tough for so many people - people you wouldn't expect too. Don't assume most people have better self-esteem - they might just be better actors or way less in touch with their feelings.

Trina said...

This is a tough one, because it hurts, the deep down kind of hurt. I was in your shoes for most of my life being neither as smart as my older sister nor as pretty as my younger sister. For years I made an effort (though not consciously) to remind myself of my flaws, pointing them out every time I looked in the mirror or felt insecure for any number of reasons (boys not liking me, dresses not fitting me yadda yadda). But at a really low point (I very uncharacteristically) bitched out someone I love because I was doing a terrible job at dealing with my own self-esteem issues) I realized I needed to figure SOMETHING out. What I was doing wasn't working. I started with counseling which it sounds like you have done as well. After learning (dumb at the time) techniques for retraining my brain on ways to avoid negative thoughts I started to feel a little better. Instead of saying "gosh trina, your thighs are awful fat today" I said "your thighs aren't perfect, but they're yours and they aren't going anywhere, so let's make friends." It was a process of learning to love myself. At the core, I don't think it's about being pretty. If you look, every person on this planet has at least one beautiful characteristic; hands, face, feet, the curve of a neck or grace in a step, and yet most still find flaws in themselves. It's about knowing your worth being loved, claudia schiffer-like or not. And for me, as soon as I really started to take it easy on myself, suddenly my legs didn't seem so elephant-esque, and my face quite so deformed. It's a daily battle. A choice everyday to love myself, and there are certainly days I don't. But I can tell you, I feel a whole lot better than I did when I was taking cheap shots at myself. Think of it in terms of how you'd treat a friend. Something tells me you probably wouldn't tell her she's a real ugger, so why do that to yourself, right?

30somethingandcrazy said...

I've been thinking of you lately. I just wanted you to know that. And you're beautiful AND intelligent. :) This is the new blog in case you want to stop by. I will be discussing SI, tho. Hugs! -TSM

Lisa said...

I think we are all a little messed up in many, many ways. You are most definitely not alone.
I don't think I'm pretty either. Sometimes I'll put an outfit on, and I'll think "I look good today" but for the most part, eh, not so pretty.
I also don't think I'm smart. But I've done a good job fooling some people into thinking I am.