This is me.
I don't allow my picture to be taken unless I absolutely cannot avoid it, and this has been true for many years. I feel — yes — shame about what I look like, about the weight I've put on and about the reality of time passing.
I had a short window of about four years, maybe five, in which I was aware that I might be somewhere on the spectrum of what other people considered "pretty." It was intoxicating, though I knew better than to trust it. People who knew me back then will remember my disgusting habit (which embarrasses me to think about, even now) of watching myself in a mirror. Was that me? Was that person me? I didn't know, and I still don't.
Nor have I ever trusted in Cinderella-type transformations: in fancy clothes and/or makeup, I am still my schlumpy self, and always was. I never really had a waist, even when my rib bones showed through my skin. I have Irish legs that drop piano-style right to the ground, without ankles. My feet are absurd, Lego-style rectangles, and the best manicure in the world cannot make my hands look like anything but an aging child's. My hair — well, we've discussed my hair.
For many years, the easiest thing to do about all of this has been to ignore it. It's especially easy in Maine, where common sense calls for as many layers of clothing as you can pile on, and nobody pays attention to what anybody wears, in any case. And I lived — for nine years — in an apartment that did not have a full-length mirror. (No, of course I didn't buy one. Why would I buy one?)
I knew I'd need new clothes when I moved back to D.C., but one of the more painful surprises of moving back to the city has been the omnipresence of mirrors and other reflective surfaces in public places. Conveniently, the loss of peripheral vision means I'm not catching my image out of the corners of my eyes, but sometimes it's just inescapable, and head-on is even more disconcerting. Who is that woman? Do I know her?
Lent started this week, and I began it with something else I haven't done in at least 10 years: I went to Confession. And yes, it was terrifying, but only before I stepped into the stall. Once I sat down with the priest, it was easy, because he was glad to see me and I was glad to be there. The pastor of my church is an older man, a funny man, a man who has seen and forgiven much worse sins than mine — and a man who understands that his job, on behalf of the God we both believe in, is to say, "Welcome home."
So it felt like a strange coincidence — and yes, I'm getting to the point of all of this now — that on Wednesday, the incomparable Laura Lippman posted a photo of herself without makeup to Facebook and Twitter, in order to tell Kim Novak that it was okay to look the way you're supposed to look. She challenged everyone to do the same, and the response has been and continues to be overwhelming.
Erin Mitchell has assembled many of the photos into a video here. Take a few minutes to watch it, and realize what I did: we look like ourselves. It didn't even occur to me to judge how my friends in this video looked, I was just so happy to see them all. I've bookmarked that video and I'm going to watch it whenever I need a little help. Thank you, Laura, and thank you, Erin.
Posting my own photo (above) felt like going to Confession. It cleared me and freed me. No, I don't look the way I wished I did, but it's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I can change it if I want to, and maybe I do; I've just finished a three-day whole-foods cleanse that I'll probably adapt for the rest of Lent.
I might even buy a full-length mirror this weekend. (And as I type that I think, but that's just crazy talk.)