I felt like I was hitting my stride toward the end of 2013—25 years old, single, sexy, and with a whole world of options in front of me. It seemed like I had absolutely everything I needed to succeed in life. Most importantly, I was young, healthy and pretty. Yes, I had those bonus things like being talented, smart, and ballsy. Blah blah blah. But first and foremost, I was young, healthy and pretty. And living in Los Angeles— just to be cliché. I sat outside of a coffee shop in Franklin Village, LA, drinking coffee with my friend Nick. Franklin and Bronson is a very “Hollywood” corner, densely populated by improv actors and screenwriters having coffee-shop-meetings about their upcoming “projects.” Nick and I sat rolling our eyes at every opportunity but also. . . entirely fitting in with the crowd.
Clad in a black dress decorated with a gold zipper running snug down the center , accentuating my small waist line and coming to an abrupt stop just a couple of inches below my crotch, drawing attention to my legs which looked extra long thanks to my five- inch- high, colorful, hippie-swag platforms, I giddily listened to Nick’s compliments, “god damn you look hot. My lord. You need to walk around like that all of the time, you’ll get an agent in a second.” I smirked—knowing exactly what kind of sparkle my blue eyes made when I smirked because I had spent way too much time smirking at myself in the mirror. . .for practice, I guess. I thought I had already swallowed my daily prescription of validation when I noticed a man at the next table looking at me intently. He was smoking, had overly manicured black hair and hopped- up energy. His energy is what exposed him as a James Dean wannabe rather than a James Dean look a like. I had no interest in him romantically, but I was curious to find out what words were sitting on the edges of his eyes, the cliffs of his tongue. On our way out, as I sauntered past his table, he stopped me. Through a manic lisp, he spoke with a sense of urgency—anxious to get something out of life, to go somewhere he wasn’t, passionate or painfully discontent, I wasn’t sure— he asked if he could photograph me. I could barely get a word in, he lit another cigarette, complimenting me up and down on how “interesting” I was, how perfectly “symmetrical like Charlize Theron,” how “hot my body” was my “legs,” my “hair.” He was sure (something that is amateurish in this town—all the pros know that there’s no such thing as a “done deal” until you get to set or get your check) that if he photographed me *free of charge* he could hook me up with the best agent in town. After he took out his iPad and showcased his truly spectacular fashion and portrait photography, I agreed to take his card and contact him. He complimented me five more times before we finally walked away, and when we were just out of ear shot, Nick laughed, “literally all you need to do is go outside and opportunities meet you. HA! You lucky bitch.” An opportunity met me, alright. That one exchange changed my life forever. That one exchange, that one meeting was the beginning of my strip poker game with life—the game that stripped me of pretty (and almost everything else I identified myself with) and left me profoundly HUMAN.
Nick was right, it had been a fact—my looks got me stuff. Sure, being an “attractive female” comes with its own set of dilemmas: I’ve had a serious stalker, I’ve been talked AT in demoralizing ways, middle-aged men did shady things to me when I was much too fucking young, my father carried around my headshot telling people I was his wife (YUP), and I often felt like my only noticed asset was that I was fuckable—like that was my only earned girl-scout badge, if you will. I’m not sure if being “attractive” was the motivator of such treatment or if “female” did the trick on its own. A combination of the two plus the undeniable fact that when I entered a room,my palpable sexual energy preceded me(something we can just blame, if you don’t mind, on the fact that I was born a Scorpio) was sometimes heavily troublesome. But, I’m somewhat ashamed to say, it was never something that really bothered me. We are all so often judged on our physical appearance and if my appearance was one that sparked endless attention, free stuff, and “any guy I wanted to have,” it didn’t seem like something to complain about. For me, being a pretty girl won me my father’s affection, got me through grade school and junior high mildly tormented but NOT completely abused. Being pretty earned me a seat at the “cool kids’ table” like two or three times; “pretty” became synonymous with “enough,” and that’s when being pretty got me into real trouble. When it was the prime definitive quality about me. That “pretty” was something that I relied on— that I needed as my sort of fall-back plan on a daily basis—THAT was a problem. And, I’m blessed/cursed with self-awareness so I knew it was a problem, and I knew that, at some point, I was going to have to learn another way. I was waiting for the day that I would have to learn about self-worth based in something else—like an amazing career, child-bearing, a PhD, or volunteering for countless hours. The day would come when I’d have to earn my space on this planet for reasons other than being print-ad material. What I didn’t know was how and when I would be shown. And, apparently I was way off about what I was going to learn. I didn’t learn that self-worth and meaning was found in a three-piece suit career at an accounting firm with problem acne and a child at home. I didn’t learn that hours of volunteer work earned me a girl-scout badge that said something other than “fuckable.” My “lesson” wasn’t in the form I expected—I mean, is it ever? What I learned is that I don’t have to do or be a damn thing to earn my space here. That I don’t need any badges AT ALL. And just so the Universe could make it interesting and have a laugh, my lesson started on a photoshoot—a photoshoot where I was trying to prove both my looks and my coolness.
I contacted the photographer from Franklin Village; I knew exactly what I wanted to add to my portfolio: “woodsy elegance.” I wanted to capture my “nature”— both glamorous and adventurous— my simultaneous love affair with the dirt of the mountains that welcomed worn-in hiking boots AND the concrete city streets that welcomed high heels and dresses made of silk and tulle. Capturing my “essence” (not my essence at all—those are just bullshit definitions I attached myself to) meant going to the woods and rolling around in piles of leaves in a short dress. See where I might be going with this?
It was November 17th 2013, four days before my 26th birthday, and a miserable day–I was betraying myself just to get some free photos, willing myself to sit through the discomfort of being objectified on this photo shoot. I don’t want to give the reader the wrong idea. The photographer had good intentions, and he did not physically harm me in any way, but I was extremely uncomfortable with our exchange that day, and I never spoke up about it. I felt dirty and just wanted to get the whole thing over with before dark. I rolled around in leaves, sat in piles of mud, climbed around on trees, and lied on all sorts of precarious terrain to get the shots I wanted all while he said things like, “lick you lips, hot hot hot.” In one milli- second of those two hours, I got bit by a tick—the mother load of ticks. The tick that , ironically, stripped me of the attachment to my “worn in hiking boots” and the attachment to my “city strut” AND the tick that gave my voice its platform to stand on. I would never stay on a photoshoot that made me that uncomfortable today. NO WAY. Not to mention the LOL that I paid a high fucking price for those free set of photos—literally like 40,000 dollars of medical bills, I’m not even trying to be figurative.
When those bumpy, itchy, unattractive rashes broke out on my body, leaving me uncomfortable being scantily clad for the first time in my life, I was immediately thrown for a loop—what does one do with physical insecurities? And that was just week two of an *almost* three year long journey. I panicked at the sight of those rashes, frightened that I had psoriasis—god forbid. I was so vain and so scared of losing my “looks” that when the doctor told me I had Lyme disease, I was like, “oh cool, well, at least that won’t SHOW. Sure, it *could potentially* affect my heart and brain and nerves, but, like, you won’t see it. It’s not psoriasis.” Then the antibiotics gave me a really bad yeast infection—next-level yeast, people. So, I didn’t feel my sexiest, and I had a new scar where they biopsied one of my rashes, but whatever. I still recognized myself—or the self I had come to identify with that wasn’t really myself at all—the self that lived riding the coat tails of my looks.
About nine months and 1,000 pills later, something confusing was happening. My energy, vibrance and vitality were shutting down, like one room going dark at a time until the whole house was pitch black and haunting. I didn’t know how to move through such unknown territory. I didn’t know how to find the door out, and I had lost my most dependable resource: my beauty.
My back slowly grew more and more hunched until I was horizontal, laid out by life. My hair started thinning and stopped growing, my eyes got dark, I dropped to below 100 pounds, my cheeks lost their pink youthful essence and, at one point, went yellow And then, one day, I needed a wheelchair (or piggy back rides) if I was going to be walking for any extended time. The mirror, something that had been almost like a friend to me all of my life (maybe even my best friend), became my enemy. What I saw looking back at me disturbed me. My reflection, once upon a time, offered me an endorsement, and it was suddenly the catalyst for deep self-loathing and fear. I could not stomach taking a selfie— I feared the camera. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want my picture taken, I feared being tagged in photos on Facebook, and I feared walking into rooms of people without my sexual, flirty, fun, and hot armor. I felt like a lightless, somber ghost of myself. I could no longer confidently strut around. I sheepishly hung my head, feeling invisible or worse—like an unwanted burden. Men stopped noticing me, girls stopped looking up to me, and I stopped noticing myself. My flirty, fun, pretty self was like a costume I zippered up tightly every day—it literally held me together, and without it, I was truly naked, vulnerable, and terrified. GUTS were spilling out. And so I did all there was to do if I was going to get well (and I would do anything to get well): I learned to love myself naked, vulnerable and terrified—I learned to love my guts. I learned that I am worthy just because I am. I didn’t have to do or be anything other than human to take up space and receive love.
One day, after two years of self-love affirmations and deep inner-healing, I was walking past my bathroom mirror and I saw something—something I had never seen before. What was meant to be a quick glance at myself before I turned the light off instead gave me great pause. I stopped abruptly, turning to face the mirror to investigate what I was seeing. It was so new. So different. I didn’t see my face, my eyes, my hair, my weight, my skin, or anything external. I saw something so beyond the shell that I am, I saw into the vastness, the boundless spirit that is my true self, and she was so mother fucking beautiful that I had to just stand there crying and appreciating her for a few more moments. Without thinking, I put my hand on my heart—my fierce human heart— and said out loud,”I appreciate you.” And I meant it. I felt like I was taking my first fresh breath of air in my whole life—like I had legitimately never taken an unpolluted breath or seen myself so pure. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I was basically reborn. And then that moment passed. . .probably as soon as I went on Facebook and compared myself to someone else.
It ebbs and flows, there still are days when I can’t believe how weathered I look. But, far more often, I feel like a warrior princess queen. The letting go and the surrender to being human—uncool and unpretty—sucked, but do you know what happens after you shed the old skin? You grow brand new skin! AND you have a say in what it looks like this time around. You get to choose what baggage to keep and what to let go of, you get to choose precisely who you want to be. My skin is radiant. People are commenting on how vibrant I look, how pink my cheeks are, how clear my eyes are, and how it’s nice that I have a little more weight on me. But that’s not the payoff. Well yes it is, it’s certainly part of the payoff that I’m looking good and feeling mostly good again —I wouldn’t do all of this hard work if getting well and FEELING vibrant wasn’t part of the deal. The *other* miracle, for me, is that I don’t need your validation. The payoff is that I see way beyond the boundaries of my shell and into the vastness, the MAGIC that I truly am. I have yet to find any wardrobe or girl-scout badge more sparkly or more interesting than human.
With fun, and love,