It’s day 21 of this very vulnerable project, but it was still hard to click “Publish” on today’s post.
Telling the story of how my friend Alexa has #empoweredWritten has required a new kind of vulnerability. As a writer, it’s hard to share such a winding story, and trust that anyone will keep reading. As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to write publicly about something so personal as self-image. And as a woman, it’s hard to share my inner dialogue around how I look, for fear that it will change how others see me, both literally and figuratively.
I worry that if I talk about my flaws, maybe people will notice them more — but maybe it’ll bring someone else comfort to know they aren’t alone. If I admit to sometimes feeling really sad about my physical imperfections, maybe people will think I’m vain — but maybe they’ll feel kinship with me, because they too live in a world filled with mirrors and unrealistic beauty standards. If I let people know that my creativity can be hampered by negative self-image, maybe they’ll think I’m weak or vapid — but maybe they’ll understand that creativity and love are inextricably linked, especially self-love.
In May of 2014, I celebrated Memorial Day weekend by spending three days in a row laying by the pool, ignoring the significance of the holiday and my own fair complexion. I applied the bare minimum of sunscreen, and rotated positions regularly in my pursuit of achieving sun-kissed skin as early in the season as possible.
This is how I found out that the birth control I switched to that winter had a possible side effect of melasma, aka brown patches appearing on your skin after sun exposure. (Take heed ladies: this could happen to you!) My skin was now mottled along my hairline, above my brows and, most upsetting of all, along my upper lip. This was not the bronzed effect I had been going for.
On the bright side, I finally started using the copious amount of sunscreen my mom had always recommended. I bought a few cute hats, and as my October wedding loomed closer, I splurged on nice, non-drugstore foundation and concealer for the first time in my life.
So yes, there were a couple advantages to my newly-acquired sun damage. But it also meant a serious hit to my self-esteem. It quickly became the first thing I noticed in the mirror and in photos, and it was hard to believe anyone who claimed it wasn’t “that bad.”
Fast forward to one evening last summer, when my husband Max was trying to talk me out of a negative self-talk spiral. The meltdown reached its climax when I tearfully admitted that I no longer felt comfortable leaving the house without makeup on. Some women may be wondering what the big deal is, but here’s the thing: I was a hippie when I was a teenager. I didn’t own mascara until I was 19, and that fancy concealer I bought for my wedding, at age 26? That was my first. Becoming reliant on makeup for a baseline level of confidence was totally a big deal for me. Max did his best to convince me that he thought I was beautiful with or without my makeup, but I still struggled to believe that anyone who didn’t love me was able to see beyond my splotches.
The next day, I had the day off from my part-time job in the suburbs, and was instead heading downtown for a staff training session. It was only a few hours long, and I’d be in the company of unknown employees from other locations; it was a perfect opportunity to try baring my face in public. I put on an outfit that made me feel confident and walked out into the light of day with nothing on my face but SPF.
Half an hour later I was sitting in a conference room, attempting to appear friendly and calm, while every seat was getting filled except the one by my side. The meeting began and I put my purse on the chair, to make it feel a little less lonely.
Five minutes later, Alexa arrived. Most people would’ve been flustered walking in late, but Alexa serenely glided into the room, a La Croix in one hand, the other on her baby belly. I moved my purse with a smile, and surreptitiously admired her Birkenstocks as she sat down. As the discussion continued, I found myself nodding at her questions and suggestions, and noticed her doing the same whenever I spoke up. An hour later we were given a break, and I started to stand (with the intention of pretending to pee in order to avoid awkward small talk with strangers), but Alexa turned to me and asked about the book I had brought with me. The allotted ten minutes flew by as we talked and laughed, and by the time the training session was over, I felt sure I had found a friend. As we walked out of the building together, Alexa said she hoped we’d see each other again sometime. I tentatively replied, “I mean, we could make that happen….” A minute later we had swapped numbers, had made a date to get brunch that Sunday, and were hugging goodbye.
In the months since, Alexa has quickly become one of my closest friends in Columbus. She is one of the most open-hearted people I’ve ever met, and I always feel comfortable and calm when I’m in her nurturing presence. She was one of the first to buy one of my popular HRC/ACLU cards, is a loyal reader of this budding blog, and is always making me blush by recommending my work to others.
But the most profound way she has #empoweredWritten is through the simple act of being my friend. I’ve never told her before how she walked into my life when I was mid-shame spiral, and how she helped me see my own worth. I’ve never told her that when I look in the mirror at my bare face, as I get ready to run out the door, I think of her kindness and feel stronger and more confident. I’ve never told her that in dark moments, I can look to the shining example of her easy, generous love and know that I am valued, just as I am.
Thank you, Alexa; you continually empower me to step out from behind artifice, to lay bare my true creative inclinations, and to hope that others will receive me and my work with open hearts.