This Is Me. No Apology Necessary.
I’ve been hiding in plain sight, behind an acceptable figure, makeup and long pants for almost my entire adult life and no one knows. This isn’t by accident. In fact, I've gone to great lengths to make sure that my secret remained a secret because I knew there was no way anyone could ever understand or accept what I was dealing with. I couldn’t even accept it. I was filled with so much self disgust and I was convinced that anyone that saw me would think the same things I thought. She is gross. She is irresponsible. She has no self control. To hide the parts of me I have been so ashamed of I haven’t worn anything cut above the ankle in over five years, I rarely wear tank tops and my existence in the Summer has been largely made up of making sure I avoid situations that require shorts, swimwear or anything else that might expose me. I have a chronic skin picking disorder. Dermatillomania. It is very closely related to OCD, which I also have. I’ve had the disorder since I was a kid and at first, everyone thought it was just a habit. I would get a scrape and I would pick at it. People around me warned me not to pick because I would get a scar. Later as it got worse I would get warnings that I was going to get an infection and that I really should stop and people would ask me why anyone would do that to themselves. I didn't have an answer for them. The only thing I did know was that I would give anything to "just stop" and I couldn’t.
Dealing with dermatillomania had a severe impact on every aspect of my life. At a sleepover at a friend’s house one night, her little brother repeated “chicken pox, chicken pox, chicken pox” at me and people would constantly ask about why I had all those “mosquito bites” (sores) or where those “bruises” (scars) came from. So, instead of facing the questions and finding excuses for it all, I made sure I covered it up. For awhile when it was just teenage acne I wore makeup. As I got older it was also on my chest and I wore shirts with necklines high enough to cover it. Later, when it had transformed from what I thought was a simple behavior to me spending hours and hours locked in the bathroom, sitting on the counter, centimeters from the mirror examining every inch of my skin to find any perceived imperfection, I made sure no one knew about it. Eventually the areas I focused on spread to my shoulders and my back, so I stopped wearing tank tops. Then, a few years ago my legs became a primary problem area and I stopped wearing anything but long pants and skirts. I forced myself to live a life confined to an ever shrinking comfort zone and the walls I built around me were made of self loathing.
In the midst of all of this in 2014 I became pregnant with my daughter, Madelyn. At the time I didn’t want to show my legs or my shoulders and I would not leave the house without makeup. I had distinct memories of my mom needing to wear makeup in order to leave the house and how that made me feel about myself and how sad it made me feel for her. I remembered the awful things she used to say about herself and realized that I was now saying those things to myself. My inner dialogue reminded me over and over why I wasn’t good enough and that I was ugly and worthless. I decided that it had to stop. Being reliant on makeup was no longer an option because I was not going to raise my daughter to be reliant on makeup. Throughout my pregnancy I wore less and less until I wasn’t wearing any and then I spent every day getting used to seeing myself in the mirror without it. I started to really like what I saw and realize that I was acceptable and I was pretty and I really didn’t need it. That feeling stuck. I am no longer chained to my makeup bag and when I do wear it, it is because I want to, not because I have to.
Four years after Madelyn was born, in January of 2018 I had my son, Wesley. After I had him my body didn’t really bounce back the way I expected it to and I surprised myself because I was okay with it. My belly wasn’t tight anymore, my hips were wider and some areas had just settled differently. Looking in the mirror and thinking about it, I realized that I still loved my body. I didn’t feel bad about the way I looked in that aspect. While there were moments when I caught a glimpse and thought, “Wow, I wish that was different”, I caught myself and remembered to be grateful for what my body had done. Instead of looking at it as a flaw, I chose to focus on what this body has given me; two amazing children. It carried them and nourished them and protected them. That acceptance, love and appreciation allowed me to still love the way that I look and to still see myself and the shape of my body in a positive light. As I was noticing that, I realized that I was still covering up my legs every day. I saw that I could completely turn that around. I could see my legs in a different light too if I was willing to start showing them the same kind of gratitude.
I decided then and there that I was going to start to change my frame of mind. I did it slowly because it is almost impossible to go from “I hate this part of my body and no one is allowed to see it because I am disgusted and ashamed of it” straight to “That part of me is beautiful and I love it and it’s great”. I needed to start with something that I could truly believe in my core. So I started by reminding myself every day that my legs carry me and they are strong. My legs are a nice shape, even. I continued this process every day, pointing things out to myself that I really loved about my legs. It made a huge difference in the way I felt and I decided I wanted to do something really powerful for myself to showcase how far I had come.
I contacted Tina at Parris Blue Photography and I told her that I had a very specific photo shoot in mind. I explained my body image issues and the dermatillomania. I told her how long it had been since I had allowed myself to show my legs to anyone or to even look at them myself. She was amazing. She responded right away and let me know she was on board. She loved the idea and what it stood for. When I showed up that day, I was a little bit nervous but mostly I felt so good. I decided in the moment that I wanted to do this shoot nude. It just felt right. This was all about vulnerability and strength and I felt like it wouldn’t be done justice any other way. I thought I might be uncomfortable, but I wasn’t. Instead I felt empowered, beautiful and courageous. I was doing this for me and letting go of what other people might decide about my reasons.
The change I felt when I walked out of Tina’s studio was not minor or temporary. Something deep within me clicked into place and I know that I am finally seeing me, all of me, for what and who I truly am. I trust myself fully for the first time in my life and I realize that my imperfections are part of me. I’m learning to see my scars as constellations. They are telling my story and I will not be ashamed of them. I also realize now that I do not owe anyone an explanation. I went to the beach a few weeks ago with my kids and my extended family and I wore shorts. No one asked about my scars and I don’t know if they noticed them because I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy laughing with my daughter and splashing in the river with my son. It was a beautiful day and it was the first of many to come.