The last year threw life as we knew it upside-down. Parts of myself that I thought I finally had a handle on came after me with pure fury. The safety and comfort of my routine were not only disrupted; they were destroyed.
Suddenly, I went from teaching in a physical classroom to trying to learn how to navigate the virtual world through YouTube and Zoom. As someone who has always struggled with her body image, the idea of having myself recorded and broadcast to others has always terrified me.
With my crooked teeth, public speaking has always been a great fear of mine. I cannot help but wonder if people even listen to the words I am saying or if they are too busy gawking at my smile. I have struggled with an eating disorder since I was 16-years-old. Whenever I see myself in photos or videos, I cannot help but scrutinize the body I have been fighting so hard to accept.
When I am teaching in-person, I am less aware of what I look like as I am speaking. I cannot see myself on a screen, nor am I forced to go back and relive the anxiety of the moment. I can do my job without a camera amplifying my every flaw. And even more importantly, I can teach make-up artistry using a model. I never have to show my own, bare face.
I long for those days to come back to me.
When both of the universities I teach at decided to only host classes virtually this past fall, I was both relieved and terrified. I am so grateful that I could stay at home and stay safe, but I would be lying if I said I was ever 100% comfortable teaching virtually. I was unable to use a model to teach my theatrical make-up classes. There was no choice but to be my own canvas. No longer could I hide all of my features behind make-up; I had to show up to class with a bare face.
This may not seem like that big of a deal. I admit that I often feel like I am overdramatic about the situation. But what so many people do not realize is just how much people might be silently suffering through.
To me, it was panic-inducing.
It is difficult enough to feel comfortable speaking with my crooked teeth but not having the safety net of my make-up to help me hide everything else felt debilitating. It’s not just under-eye circles or acne that has me reaching for my make-up every day; it is the fact that I could point out something wrong with every single part of my face and body without even having to think about it. From the size of my forehead to the shape of my nose to the way one side of my jaw sits just a little bit crooked compared to the other side.
I was finally being forced to confront the person I had been trying to hide for so long. All I have ever wanted was to blend in enough to feel normal.
At least with my make-up on, there was a chance that someone might be too distracted by it to even notice my crooked teeth.
Make-up allows me to present a confident woman’s face, even when I feel anything but confident. I admit that make-up has become a crutch for me; yes, it is my career, but it is also my coping mechanism. On the days when I feel so ugly that I could hardly even look in the mirror, I have make-up to help soothe my pain. I can create the face I have always wanted, right on top of the one I wish I didn’t have.
So what happens when you take that mask away?
Suddenly, you are forced to be at your most vulnerable, all while having to pretend you are unphased.
How can I teach others to be confident with their appearances when I completely despise my own?
At times, I admit I am a hypocrite. I try so hard to teach my students the importance of self-acceptance and self-love; yet that is a lesson I myself have yet to master. I fear having to face the world with my under-eye circles, forehead lines, and acne in full view; yet I would never think ill of someone else for doing the same.
I truly believe that the unique characteristics we view as flaws are what make people so beautiful. Seeing someone happy and confident in their skin is one of the greatest joys you will ever witness in your life. I just wish I could create that same joy within myself.
Through my own eyes, I will never be beautiful. I will never have the body I have always dreamt of. I will never be able to meet the impossible standards for beauty that I have set for myself. But now, I understand that what I see reflected in the mirror is not always reality.
My mind distorts my face and my body in ways that I will probably never be able to completely understand, but I am trying so hard to make peace with that fact.
I know that I cannot trust what I see in the mirror or photographs. I cannot trust these eyes to see what is actually there; because my mind has a hold on what I’m allowed to perceive as the truth. I can only do my best to gauge how I physically feel and know that because I am still here, I am doing alright.
Each day I wake up and face my demons is another day I can count as a success. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, but I am trying.
And that is all that matters.
Though these past months have been some of the most challenging I have ever faced, I know that I am working so hard to get through it all. I may not love what I see reflected back at me in the mirror, and some days, I don’t think I ever will. But what I know is that we don’t have to let other people become conditioned to feel this way.
We can stop our culture’s focus on unattainable perfection, and we can make a difference for those in our future. Without the media’s intense focus on beauty and physical perfection, I would not be living with the body image issues today.
Maybe the first step is just showing your students that it’s okay to be human. And maybe, that is truly the most important step of all.