Self Portrait

6 years ago

I spent an hour at work yesterday editing a photo of myself. It was taken at a local chamber of commerce gathering, an event where I had to get up in front of 550 business and community leaders and present an award.

The picture was my boss' idea -- he wanted a snapshot of me, the award winner, and a member of our board for use as a memento of the evening and as art to accompany any promotion we'd do about this presentation. So I really had no choice but to literally grin and bear it. I typically like to be the person taking the photos and sending the press releases rather than being featured in them.

But the thing was, I felt awesome that night. I forced myself -- president and CEO of the wait-until-the-last-minute-club -- to select and meticulously iron my clothes the night before. I remembered to paint my toenails a beautiful ruby hue to show off through a favorite pair of open-toed shoes. I set aside two hours prior to the event to go home, shower, and do my hair and makeup. It was one of the few times in my life ever felt on it.

It turned out to be one of the best nights of my career. I usually dread these types of events because I'm rather shy and have a hard time interacting with people I don't know well. But this year I knew people. I introduced myself to people. I allowed myself to follow the energy flow -- to just go with it -- and had a blast without sampling a sip of the free wine. And it showed. So many people stopped to compliment my freshly curled hair and crimson smile. I was congratulated on the delivery of my presentation. In my entire professional life, I don't think I've ever felt as good as I did that night.

The photo was taken after things had died down. I hesitated only a moment as the familiar feelings of self-doubt washed over me -- then mentally whispered, "screw that. I feel great. It's just a picture." I stood there and smiled as my husband got the shot, and then honestly forgot about it.

Until the next day, when it showed up in my inbox.

I couldn't see my awesome hair, or pretty smile, or fantastic clothes. In fact, I couldn't even identify the other people in the picture. All I could see was the enormous glob of fat that had rolled and gathered at my midsection.

In that moment, every self-affirming, positive emotion I had about that night vanished. I called my husband. "Did I look like that the entire night?" I asked. "Please tell me I didn’t get up in front of everybody looking like that." Despite his efforts to reassure me, I was horrified. I had worn high-rising Spanx under my suit and felt them slip a little as the night wore on, but had no idea they had rolled so badly. And my boss wanted me to send this picture out for publication?

No. No, no, no, nooooo.

I quickly opened Photoshop and got to work figuring out how to get rid of that awful lump. But what the digital brushes and spot healers couldn't erase was the feeling of shame. All that time, I thought I exuded beauty and confidence, when really all I had done was show off how I'd literally gotten my panties in a bunch. How attractive.

I wallowed in it for a couple of hours, beat myself up for daring to think I'd overcome an obstacle on how I felt about my body. And then I got mad. I recognized that I was allowing one bad moment to overshadow hundreds of others from that night that were amazing. My Spanx had rolled -- and I was going to allow that to dictate my sense of self? One tiny, insignificant mishap?

Why do we do this to ourselves? It's a question I've wrestled with this week, and one for which I still don't have an answer. I think I took a few steps toward loving myself in recognizing that how I reacted to the photo did absolutely nothing for my self esteem, and I find myself thinking more about finding ways to overcome the doubt and negativity. It's a start.

But I still sent out the edited photo.

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