Maybe YOU’RE More Beautiful Than YOU Think

I’m not really a picture person. After a memorable event I might lament my lack of photographic evidence but at the time I’m living it I don’t really want to experience something special through a lens. It also doesn’t help that I am the least photogenic person on the planet.

I never gave much thought to my scarcity of photos but recently there have been a number of missing person posters in my area detailing the unfortunate disappearance of these really nice looking people and I started to worry that if I were to go missing I didn’t have one, single picture that I would be okay with having posted across my neighbourhood’s electrical poles. Not one! I would rather my family just not look for me than hand over my current album of pictures to the authorities. 

It’s not like I would look any less hard for this poor missing woman if she were unattractive. That’s not it at all. It’s just that I am hugely self-conscious about my appearance and this feels like something I could prepare ahead for. I am already wearing attractive underwear at my late mother’s behest in case I am God forbid in some unforeseeable accident and that’s to look good in front of what, two, maybe three doctors? A missing person poster is seen by way more people than that. And these things tend to linger, staying up for months even after the case has been solved.  

“I need you to take some hot pictures of me in case I go missing,” I tell my husband, Stephen.

“Now?” he asks.

Yes, now! What if I were to go missing tomorrow? I don’t want these shots to be another regretful item on my “I swear I always meant to do it” list, like writing out my bank passwords and signing my organ donor card.

I scroll through the few snapshots he’s clicked and I am horrified with the results. These won’t do either. My good friend Reena is a brilliant photographer: I think it might be time to call such a professional. I study my face in the mirror though and begin to wonder if perhaps it is not the pictures that are making me look bad, but rather I in fact look bad and the pictures are just accurately reflecting my unattractiveness.  Maybe “unphotogenic” is code for “ugly” in the way that “deviated septum” is for nose job.

It was fortuitous that a friend sent me Dove’s latest “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign ( where women describe their appearance to a sketch artist and compare the composite to one created based on a stranger’s description of them. Comparing the sketches all the women inevitably agree that they look more beautiful in the one informed by the stranger, leading them to tear up over sad music as they come to grips with their warped self-perceptions. It’s all really moving and you find yourself wanting to hug these women and celebrate because, look! They are all way better looking than they thought they were! Except, this “social experiment” wouldn’t work on me because I’m not. Maybe they are more beautiful than they think they are but I’m not. I’m much more self-aware, and therefore just as unattractive as I know myself to be.          

I could just imagine myself being asked to describe my appearance to a sketch artist.

“Nose!” I would yell, “Nose! Nose! I am all nose!”

“Anything else?” the artist would ask.

“I also have a lot of hair. Don’t worry about the rest.”

If I were to stare at two sketches of myself, side by side as these women did, I would think the stranger’s description created a more beautiful image but that the image was inaccurate. The stranger had known me for what, less than a day? I have been staring at this nose and trying to tame this hair my whole life, so I know better.

That’s the problem with mental illness: it doesn’t yield to reason. It doesn’t succumb to objectivity.  So while these beautiful women can cry about their poor self-images and realize the error of their ways I can’t. I would think the other sketch, while nice, just doesn’t resemble the real me. I would think this because I am Crazy with a capital fucking C. It’s not that I don’t see myself as pretty, it’s that I can’t. When, at a coffee shop the other day, someone said to me “you’re beautiful” I looked behind me to see who he was talking to. Friends, family and healthcare providers can tell me I’m wrong. I know, rationally speaking, that my nose doesn’t actually take up the entire surface area of my face but it feels that way to me. Other people’s generous opinions just don’t change the way I feel about myself in any sustainable, meaningful way. I wonder if anything ever will. I wonder where the building blocks of self-esteem actually come from. How does one learn to feel good about herself if she doesn’t even feel good about herself? I am starting to appreciate that outside factors, for better or for worse, can’t and shouldn’t change the way I feel about myself because this stuff has to come from the inside. Maybe that is the first step, the first big block to lay on self-esteem’s foundation: recognizing that loved ones, strangers, objects of affection and personal care companies just can’t do it for you. They can echo your own beauty and goodness, but they can’t create it. You have to have it, know it, first, for it to be sketched, for you to see it.  

At the very least, this Dove campaign has helped me solve my initial problem: if I am ever abducted, clearly I need a stranger to create my missing person poster.