Mirror, Mirror

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When do you feel that you look most like yourself?  For me it’s about twenty minutes before I fall into bed when I’m in my bathroom and about to take my makeup off (on one of the days where I’ve actually done my makeup – that’s very important; I don’t count the other days).  That moment before I scoop my hair up and run the tap, I lean on the sink and look into the mirror and actually recognise the reflection staring back as most like “me”.  Or maybe the more accurate way of putting it is that I actually like the reflection staring back.  I mean sure, it’s not as polished as the 10am version – but that’s okay and I kind of prefer it that way; it’s more realistic, less maintained (but at the same time not the horror show that is the 7am version).  I’m slobbing around in my pyjamas, my makeup’s worn in, I’ve shed my glasses, the curl’s mostly fallen out of my hair and I’m about to get into bed (the best time of the day, I think you’ll agree) so I’ve usually got a happy little grin going on.

That slightly dishevelled, chilled out and cheerful reflection is what I expect and hope to see in every mirror I come across day to day – not just in my bathroom one – but also in changing rooms, hotels, other people’s houses, the windows I walk past when I’m out and about, in photographs and in the eyes of everyone I know.  Kind of like the evil step mother in Snow White (Mirror, mirror on the wall…).  So, how come I NEVER do!  That bathroom reflection never bloody leaves the house and I feel like I’m constantly being pounced on by other reflections of myself that I don’t recognise AT ALL.  Like the one lurking behind me in that long, tilting mirror you get in every H&M fitting room that lets you see what you look like from a horrible backwards angle (“Jesus christ, is that what my nose looks like from the side???  That’s not me!”).  Shudder.  The horror at seeing a photograph of myself on a day where I thought I was walking out of the house looking absolutely smokin’ in that new skirt when actually – turns out – it makes my thighs look massive.  Yeesh.  Then there’s that weird moment where I try and correlate those two very different images of myself and work out which one is actually real – because there can’t possibly be two.  I’m just one person after all, I don’t have two sets of thighs.  So which is the liar: the camera or the mirror?

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We’ve all experienced those surreal moments when people actually voice how they see you.  The first time I became aware that other people might see me differently to the way I saw myself was when I was about seven.  I was in school, queuing up with the rest of the kids to go to assembly and one of them suddenly turned around in the line and gave me a long, hard look.  “…It must be really strange having one eye bigger than the other,” they said, then shrugged and went off to assembly without realising that they’d just performed the equivalent of a hit and run on my appearance, and man was it a kill shot.  I remember being simultaneously confused and completely horrified, because firstly I’d never noticed anything different about my eyes, and secondly – hold up – “is that what everyone thinks I look like!?  Am I a monster!”   Thinking about that now makes me laugh out loud (kids are dicks, aren’t they?) – I mean, how ridiculous!  But I never forgot it and – you know what? – there might actually be some truth to it because to this day I can never seem to apply my eyeliner evenly.  Oh well.

Why is it that criticisms of our appearance – however wide off the mark and ridiculous – are so easy to believe, but compliments aren’t?  There are some observations that we want to believe, but flat out refuse to – like a mirage.  For example, my husband is always telling me that there’s nothing of me – that I’m stick thin.  I know he’s not lying, but I’m convinced that he sees me as skinnier than I actually am because he’s taller than me and so he’s always looking at me from a slightly skewed angle (isn’t that mad?!).  A few weeks ago my sister-in-law turned around, pointed to my eyes and said they were “quite stunning” because apparently they’ve got a darker ring around the outside of the iris.  Excuse me, what?  Looking at my eyes in mirrors all my life I’d never once noticed this mythical dark ring – but she’s right, it’s there.  How the hell did I miss that?  Why didn’t I see it?

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It’s a kind of weird, daily challenge that we all face, isn’t it?  Gathering up all these different versions of ourselves and trying to marry them up with the one we accept as the “real” us (and that’s without adding that impossible bar set for us by the media, fashion and beauty industries).  I’m 33 and I still haven’t figured out which is the real one, or whether I care.  Is it that bathroom version?  The skinny one with the stunning eyes my husband and sister in law see?  Or the sloppy one my neighbours see at 7am when I walk the dog?  Or are they all way, way off?  Are my thighs big?  Are my wrinkles easy to spot?  I can’t for the life of me work out how I can look in a mirror and love my appearance one minute and then take a photograph two seconds later only to stab furiously at the delete button.  I have absolutely no idea.  There’s no easy answer except that I’m probably all of these different versions of myself and none of them at the same time – and that mirrors are very, very strange objects.

Fun fact, every time you see your reflection in a mirror it’s out by about 10 nanoseconds – so it’s a slightly younger version of yourself.  *eye roll* In case you wondered, that’s probably the real me – the one who has to punctuate everything with a nerdy fact. 😉

4 Times my Confidence took a Hit and How I Punched Back

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Let’s be clear here; I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where my ego doesn’t take at least a little bit of a dent.  You know, those little everyday knocks to your confidence.  Bad hair days, bad skin days. Those moments when you can’t seem to get your words out straight without spitting them all over someone (“Hey, I asked for the news not the weather!”). Days when you walk down the street and end up tripping over your own shoes (come on, we’ve all done that little over the shoulder look to blame an invisible crack in the pavement – “I was framed! I’m not just a complete and utter prat!”).  Those times when you just get it wrong; whether it’s an outfit, an answer to an important question or a telephone number (oh the horror).  I mean, that’s life right?  We all need taking down a peg or two from time to time; it’s those little knocks that remind us that we’re not actually walking Gods but snorting, spitting, “whoops I slipped up!” humans.  Who knew!

But in terms of overall self esteem those are just little bumps and bruises, aren’t they? No biggie. A bit of a knock or a graze that can be sorted with a bit of Sudocrem from your emotional first aid kit by way of having a good old chuckle over the fact that we’re all capable of being a bit of an idiot from time to time.

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But then there are those times when someone or something throws your ego a suckerpunch. One you didn’t see coming. The kind that knocks you flat on your back and leaves a little bit more than just a couple of bruises.  Something breaks and you need a bit of time to recover.  Maybe you even step of the ring for a while, and when you do come back you can’t escape the fact that you’re different – altered in some way.  More skittish, more likely to duck out before you get hit or maybe you’ve learned how to punch back.  Okay, I’m going to ease up on the boxing metaphor now – I’m getting carried away!  What I guess I’m trying to say is that no matter how much it hurts at the time, it’s only through moments that shake our confidence right to the core that we find out what we’re really made of – and who we really are and want to be.  Here are four of mine. 🙂

That time a famous Children’s Author told me to “Go Away”

Yep, you read that right.  Back when I worked in a High School supporting English lessons it wasn’t that unusual for authors to come visit and read to the kids, and some pretty big names passed through.  During one of those visits the teacher I was working with asked me to do a little bit of essay marking for her during the reading; it was coming up to reports time and she was absolutely swamped.  So, “sure” I said and went to sit at the back of the crowd where I got out my green pen (apparently red’s seen as too negative these days) and started marking.  The author got maybe a paragraph into his reading when he suddenly stopped and shouted, “Uh, the woman sitting at the back with the glasses and snot-coloured top.  If you’re going to insist on scribbling through my reading, I’m going to have to ask you go away and scribble somewhere else.”

Oh man.  I’m furious just thinking about it.  If the same thing happened to me today, I’d have absolutely no problem punching back at someone like that.  In fact, I’d enjoy it.  But back then, I just couldn’t.  I felt small every single day because I hated my job, and the way he’d treated me made me feel even smaller.  Practically microscopic.  He’d humiliated me in front of the people I worked with and worse, my students – who never let me live it down.  Had it been rude of me to sit there marking while he read?  Maybe.  But was I – little old me with the messy, mousy hair, glasses and snot-coloured top – SO distracting, SO offensive that he couldn’t even concentrate on the simple task of reading a book out loud?  Would he have spoken to me like that if I was a man?  I doubt it.  The truth is that Mr Successful Children’s Author had felt the need to pump up his already bloated ego by deflating mine.  I’m sure he forgot about me the minute I walked away, but I didn’t.

That time I flunked my A-Levels

Okay, maybe flunked isn’t the right word because the truth is, I didn’t really flunk my A Levels.  I did absolutely fine, the problem was that fine wasn’t quite good enough to get me into my top choice of university… or my back up.  The day before I picked up my results the plan had been to go to Cardiff University to study History.  Well, that plan went tits up – spectacularly.  I was absolutely devastated.  I felt like I’d let everyone down, including myself.  The truth was – and I think I knew it deep down at the time – that I just hadn’t worked hard enough.  I’d gotten sloppy.  I’d overestimated myself, and it was tough coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t quite as good as I thought I was.  My confidence took a savage hit.  But hey, it all worked out in the end.  I went through clearing and got a place at Swansea University instead.  In the end it was good for me to get out of my home town and out of my comfort zone, and I had such a blast that I stayed on for another year with the guy I was really into at the time (…and still am, reader, I married him 😉 ) to study the other big love of my life; Creative Writing.

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That time my hair started falling out

I used to have really long hair.  I mean it was always quite fine, but I had a lot of it and it used to grow really fast.  I used to steer clear of the hair dressers and didn’t really need to bother caring for it.  I brushed it, I washed it and that was about it.  Then during my twenties, everything changed.  It became very dry, very brittle and even started falling out in massive chunks.  My confidence took a nosedive.  I stopped wearing my hair down and felt really bad about myself and how I looked.  In the end, I had to get it all chopped off just to take back some kind of control over it.  Nowadays I never take my hair forgranted!  I get it trimmed regularly and take care of what I’ve got.  It’s not perfect by any means, but these days I put in the work to keep it on my head!  (If you’re interested in reading more about how I got my hair back, I wrote a whole post about it here).

That time I was called a liar during an interview

Oh the shame.  This happened during one of my first interviews after graduating .  I was  so excited to have finished university and felt fairly optimistic about getting out there and finding a job I loved, although the truth was that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.  I was entertaining the idea of moving to London and was looking at jobs in marketing and publishing.  I managed to bag an interview for a job in sales with a big marketing firm in the middle of London and went in feeling super confident.  But it all went south during the interview.  I don’t know whether I was nervous or got a bit tongue tied, but the man who was interviewing me smirked the entire way through.  At the end he raised his eyebrows, scoffed and then said, “Sorry love, I don’t believe a single word of what you just said.”  I can’t remember what I did or said next – I must of repressed it – because I was absolutely mortified! I couldn’t get out of that room quick enough!  It was a good few months before I felt ready to go on another interview, and I didn’t apply for another job in sales after that.  Good thing too, I’d have been bloody awful at it!

How do you cope when your confidence takes a hit? 🙂

 

Why building self-esteem involves building up everyone else’s first

I’m standing in the queue at H&M.  I only popped in to “have a quick look” but whaddya know?  In the space of twenty minutes I’ve managed to rummage the rails, make not one but two trips to the fitting room, snap an awkward mirror selfie and ended up in the queue for the tills with half the shop draped over my arm.  And that’s when it happens.  There are a couple of girls at the head of the queue who are talking and laughing.  They’re looking my way, I’m sure of it.

Thirty seconds ago my full attention was on the pink off the shoulder top I picked up and whether it’s going to make me look like a bottle of Pepto Bismol, but now it’s 100% on the girls and the way they’re laughing.  At me?

Oh God.  It’s my hair isn’t it?  They’re laughing at my hair (who isn’t?), I think to myself, running a self-conscious hand through the back just in case it’s sticking up.  Nope.  Okay, well maybe there’s something on my face?  I did inhale a Lidl cinnamon bun earlier and what’s the betting the icing is all over my chin? I wonder, as my tongue takes a sneaky swipe at my lips.

I come up empty.  They could be laughing about last night’s episode of Love Island for all I know, but no, they were looking at me so immediately in my head I wage war.  I laugh inwardly at them, taking pot shots at their bad eyebrows, their clothes, the claw-like fake nails and even faker fake tan.  I’m throwing thought-daggers at them until they pay for their stuff and walk away, without even a glance in my direction; completely unaware of the poisonous thoughts I’ve been brewing.

For a long, long time, that’s what I did.  Throughout High School and my early twenties I was obsessed about what other people were thinking about me and I automatically assumed that whatever it was and without any evidence, it was bound to be bad.  I dealt with it by doing exactly what I thought they were doing; I thought bad thoughts about them.  It was a quick way of reassuring myself, of feeling better about my own “faults”.  I poked fun of badly blended foundation to feel a little bit better about my terrible acne.  I pulled faces at people’s clothes to feel a bit better about what I’d thrown on that morning.  I snorted at bad writing and sloppy grammar and assumed stupidity to make myself feel more confident about my own words and feel better about being a “swot”.  Of course, I never spoke those thoughts out loud, though.  Honest.  I was far too shy and uncertain of myself to do that.

I thought that in doing this I was building up my own self-esteem, but in fact all I was really doing was just making myself more and more insecure.  Distrustful of others and spewing negative thoughts – and negativity in general – all over the place like vomit.

Then, in my late twenties something clicked.  Call it Saturn’s Return or the impending approach of the big 3-0, but something changed.  It wasn’t so much that I stopped caring about what other people thought of me, I was just tired of going to war over it.  I was bored of wasting my time and energy in pursuit of something I’d never know, and wasn’t really any of my business anyway!  I wasn’t ever going to be able to root around in people’s minds and find out what they really thought of me.

So I gradually changed my mindset.  Instead of throwing mental daggers at someone when I thought they were talking about me, or thinking about me – I shook it off and countered with a compliment.  I thought something nice about them.  I complimented their smile, or their attitude, talents, clothes, makeup.  They were just thoughts to begin with, but soon enough I started to say them out loud too.

Soon, instead of assuming that everyone was thinking bad things about me, I started to realise that it was entirely possible they might be thinking nice things too.  If I was doing it, then other people must be too, right?  Suddenly, I wanted to know what those nice thoughts could be.  Maybe they thought my hair looked good, or that I’d killed it with my liquid eyeliner for once?  Maybe they liked what I was wearing or – who knows – maybe they thought that I was funny, pretty, smart… talented even?  Wow.  People are actually really nice!  (…Mostly.)  And maybe I am all those things.

By building up everyone else’s self-esteem, I’d somehow inadvertently built up a great big tower of self-esteem for myself.  The truth is, if you go shooting negative thoughts at others, you’ll be just as wounded by the kick-back.  So send out some positive ones instead and maybe you’ll get some positivity back 🙂

Have a good weekend everyone! ♥