A colleague and I were yammering about those cringe-worthy blackmail photos your friends from grade school put up on Facebook (see one of mine, age 11ish, above). We concluded that such an awkward, gawky, face-for-radio phase of life is good for a kid to go through, because it forces you to develop skills other than acting cutesy to get what you want, and (if you’ve got a minimum of empathy) teaches you to have compassion for others, even when you’ve emerged, somewhat more swan-like, in a year or two.
(My experience as a dork taught me to have compassion for Yasmine Bleeth, with whom I went to grade school, because she never had a discernible freakish period. Right now, considering what a riot it is to post these pictures, she’s probably feeling terribly left out. Which is tragic.)
In any event, check out my body language in that picture. I am descending that staircase as if I am Miss Pre-pubescent America about to accept my tiara and my Grand Prize: a chance to go roller skating and share a strawberry shake with Shawn Cassidy (two straws!) Self-esteem, even though I was at my absolute least attractive (please take special note of my brown tinted prescription glasses, which had my initials in the lower corner of the right lens) was clearly not in short supply. I thought I was the SHIT, appearance notwithstanding.
It was only later, when I looked much better–thus the “hot” inÃ‚Â Formerly Hot–that my self-esteem was in the sub-basement. It wasn’t a consistently inverse relationship (i.e., It wasn’t as if, the better I looked, the worse I felt) but I felt pretty darn awful about myself for a good deal of my teens and 20s, when many people were paying lots of money to get their hair and their boobs to resemble mine.
Finally, in my 30s, I managed to look good and feel good at the same time, most of the time.
And now, of course, I feel great, just as the first signs of decrepitude are surfacing (who even knew there was a such thing as nasal labial folds until OMG there they are! And as deep as irrigation ditches). I am reasonably sure my self-esteem will continue riding high, unless I screw up mightily.
So clearly the relationship between the way you look at how good you feel about yourself–even if, like me, you’re a bit preoccupied with appearance and work in media and live in New York where people pay way to much attention to that kind of thing in general– is not clear cut.
Why, then, do we always hear about people getting “life-changing” plastic surgery or going on diets that profoundly affect their self-esteem? I certainly understand the achievement aspect of losing weight–it’s freakin’ hard–as well as getting positive feedback from others about how you look making you feel good. It’s hard not to internalize that, and why shouldn’t you? Take what you can get. But clearly looking good is not to be relied upon to boost self-esteem (just think of all the suicidal, anorexic, miserable, drug-taking models out there). And if you can’t rely on it, to keep it tucked away under your mattress to use when you are running low, what they hell good is it?
Thoughts? When in your life did you feel best about yourself–like you rocked and you could do anything–and did you look your best at the time?Ã‚Â Please comment below.
Photo courtesy of Diana Hollander
April 1, 2009 at 8:40 pm
i think you were totally cute! so coltish! we ALL had that hair and those glasses (all us JEWS, anyway) — it was the era that was dorky, not us. or so i choose to believe.
April 1, 2009 at 10:11 pm
Yasmine, in case you don’t remember, was missing a front tooth — it just never grew in — and she had to get a fake one… even the most stunning amongst us is a freak in her own tiny (tooth-sized) way! don’t you feel better now?
ps: i never would have known those glasses had your initials in the corner if you hadn’t spilled the beans!
pps: here’s a scary story for you that’ll put hair on your chest: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/01/parenting.when.puberty.hits/index.html
April 1, 2009 at 10:40 pm
Is it sad that I feel best about myself now? I used to take myself waay to seriously and was an all or nothing kind of guy. Now, the glass is always half full. Hell, I’m happy if it’s a quarter full!
So even though I know I’m not as attractive as I was 15 to 20 years ago, “I feel good!” (thank you James Brown!)
April 1, 2009 at 11:25 pm
A really difficult question to answer. I feel like I should have a graph in my head like you do, which tracks the ups and downs, but it’s not really there. I don’t think it’s that I have no sense, just a very fuzzy, complicated sense.
My sense is that I’ve always been confident and insecure. I’ve always felt mostly good about myself, but not completely, and I wasn’t even aware of the ways in which I didn’t. And the sensitive spots shifted over time, though mostly had to do with my attractiveness to the female species. But I’m not sure the lack of self-confidence even correlated well with poor self-image. I spent much of my teenage and adult life afraid of rejection, but not necessarily because I expected to be rejected, but because I didn’t know or couldn’t tolerate any risk of it. Maybe it’s the same thing. Maybe I started out pretty good and never evolved.
April 2, 2009 at 4:34 am
There was this brief time during the summer between 7th and 8th, on a trip with my parents and bro to a family camping ground. I was hanging out with all the young teens, and we were pairing up in the usual (innocent) way….And cute Vinnie something-or-other (he was SO COOL! Had a silver front tooth, which impressed us greatly) picked me over blond-and-perky Cris. It was completely surprising (the first moment when I felt POWER), though looking back and can see the appeal of my waist-length red hair, etc!
April 2, 2009 at 7:05 am
I don’t know what you’re talking about. You were adorable in that photo. The point being that — even though you have a map of when you think you looked good and when you didn’t — you may not really even understand when you were most attractive to others.
But I’m not here to analyze you Ms. Formerly — that’s your job. 😉
I’ll just say that I’ve always felt best when I’ve had strong and loyal love in my life. And it didn’t matter how I looked at the time. And when I’ve had that, I don’t even really think about how I look. So, to me, it’s just that simple.
April 2, 2009 at 7:38 am
My looking my best (which isn’t saying much) and how I’ve felt haven’t been in synch – enough that I don’t think they have a thing to do with the other. Now that my butt has decided to leave the building by crawling down my leg and chasms are appearing on what was dewy and unlined skin, I am beginning to be happiest about myself. Perhaps the mantra my aunts drilled into me “You’re just a late bloomer, dear” is true, just not in the way they meant.
Love the wrist flick you have going on. Very Audrey.
April 3, 2009 at 2:31 pm
Wonderful NYC late-70s picture. Love the pose, from the knees, to the wrist, and chin.
As you well may know, I was one of the people who once had my hair done to look like yours. Truth is, I am still a bit envious of your gorgeous locks! But I guess we all need to do the best with what we have! You always have, and always had, a beautiful and creative style. The gestures here show how fully you were experiencing that.
As per your questions, I have a couple thoughts… will pick one and come back…
April 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm
I agree you were SUPER cute! and had every right to feel like hot shit!
I also feel the best about myself now than I ever have. Lowered expectations?…maybe, but I also believe it has to do with a HUGE change in the things that make one feel hot as one gets older.
Don’t get me wrong I am as vain as we all are, but somehow my butt does not have the power to ruin my day as it once had, and I appreciate all of the actually great things about my body, which I could not see years ago.
April 3, 2009 at 6:14 pm
i just have to point out that everyone who says that girl in the picture is cute is now a mom of a kid who is about to enter that stage her or himself and is so oozing with the very hormones that allow a mom to see a child as beautiful no matter what. (With the exception of Hugh Siegel, who is just an extremely empathetic soul.) I know I will feel that way about my own girls when they are there. Some people should not have been allowed to have blow dryers.
April 4, 2009 at 2:35 pm
Steph, that is a beautiful awake-to-the world and coming-of-age image, and I think anyone with half a mind would see the magic of it! If hormones help these awarenesses, great!
As per your question, my short cut answer is I have had periodic moments throughout my life where I felt my best — physically and emotionally — like a whole and complete person. Some in adolescense (when I was creative and raw) and some when I was a young wanderer of the city, or at clubs (for better or worse.)
Other moments as a teacher, student, lover, or friend. I think the insecurites were always battling to knock these moments down. But I do think we are an exciting age, when the insecurities are in perspective, and we have lots of power of experience, and passion, and sensuality, and possibility.
So, I would have to say maybe the best times for me are still ahead? it is great to read about how people feel about themselves now.
April 4, 2009 at 3:05 pm
By the way, Dre, so nice to see you here! What an article. All that is right around the corner for me with Theo. Ready, set, go!