I try not to think about what I look like.

Instead, I tend to concentrate on how I feel.  When I’m laughing or talking or twirling, I feel happy.  I feel alive.  I feel brightly colored and twinkling and like joy itself in motion.  I let the emotions bubble up from my insides until I have completely forgotten about the outside.

And then, sometimes, someone will say, “gosh, you’re pretty.”

And it stops me in my tracks.  I’m suddenly aware of the ringlets on my head and my ridiculously large grin.  And for two seconds I think, “happiness must look good on me.”

And then I lower my eyelashes and my chin, and I try as hard as I can to shrink so that it is harder to look at me.  “Thank you,” I’ll say, before quickly finding a way to change the subject and start moving again, hoping to shift their focus before they can see me in still life.  Before they can really see me – and all my flaws.

Or, sometimes, I bask in that moment.  I believe them.  I take it in and let myself believe that maybe, just maybe, I am pretty now.  All grown up.  That maybe my outsides have changed and I’ve simply missed it.  And I’ll continue to laugh and talk and wave my hands around with my words without feeling the need to get smaller for a minute.

And then, later, I’ll see pictures.  And I’m ashamed that I let myself feel pretty for a moment.  I’m embarassed that I forgot, that I let reality escape me in exchange for good feelings and sweet compliments.

I sat in a pizza parlor in Chicago on a Sunday afternoon and cried at the sight of myself.  Adam and I were going through the pictures on his camera that he’d taken over the course of the BlogHer weekend – a weekend when I had laughed much and allowed myself to get swallowed up by the happiness and good vibes.  And then I was sitting across a checkered table cloth from reality.  I was staring at my pudgey face and thick arms.  I was face to face with my goddamned lazy eye.  I had to get up and leave for a moment, because the humiliation was just too much.

I don’t know why I’m struggling with this lately.

And mostly, I don’t know how to fix it.

My mom, oddly enough, is going through a very similar struggle – a fact I find comforting and sad all at the same time.

I have no shortage of people in my life who are eager to build me up.  My husband, my family, my friends – even you, dear readers – I am blessed with a constant barage of encouragement and praise.  If it was possible for others to make you feel beautiful, I would no doubt walk around feeling like a fairy princess all the time.

And yet… no.

I’m repulsed at the reflection of my naked body in a mirror.

I physically flinch when I stumble across a picture of myself that hasn’t been properly photo shopped.

I’m afraid to let myself think, even for a moment, that I might be pretty.  I’m afraid that I’ll fall in love with the illusion, and someone will come along and remind me how stupid I was for ignoring my imperfections.

Who do you think you are?

I imagine them sneering at me, laughing at my misplaced vanity.

It has to come from me.  I know that.  The affirmations of loved ones and strangers only serve to illustrate how untouchable my insecurities are to the outside world.

But I don’t know where to start.  My mother tells me about how my sister-in-love (that’s what I’m calling my little brother’s girlfriend) focuses on one thing she likes about her appearance.  She’s years younger than I am, and yet clearly has a better handle on her self esteem than I do.  And yet, even when I think about trying that, I immediately hear the voices.

Who do you think you are?

And I cower, ashamed that I tried to build myself up.

I don’t know how to give myself permission to feel beautiful.

And even more than my reflection, I hate that I’ve become this walking ball of insecurities.  I hate the idea of self loathing and how pathetic it is.  I hate cowering.  I hate shrinking.  I hate the doubt and the annoying need to rebuff anyone who would dare compliment me.

I do not cower.

I do not shrink.

I, if nothing else, am strong.

I just happen to hate the way I look.

And I don’t have a fucking clue what to do about it.

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