Learning to Love Myself.

Whenever anything nice happens to me I always expect something appalling to happen immediately afterwards. This is the same for my mood. If I am in a good mood, a confident mood, or whatever, then I am simply waiting on that changing to something gloomier. One of the triggers for this sudden bitch-storm downpour is how I look that day or rather how I think I look that day – there’s a difference.  I’m not being funny, but the rate in which my opinion regarding my appearance accelerates and changes is probably the most frightening thing you will ever witness. I can go from feeling cool, sexy even, to wanting to slither into a sewer and construct a nest.

It’s a good day. I’ve woken up from a good sleep and I feel good. No, not just good. I feel sexy. Sky rocketing levels of confidence exude from me. When I walk, I straighten my back; my swagger is infused with a sassy step that on other days is completely alien to me. Later today I shall hurl at least six different selfies onto the internet (still filtered, I’m not feeling that hot.) At any given chance, I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror – because I know, I KNOW, today I look good.

On these rare days I am insistent that I ‘go out’ that night; I need to capitalise on this surge of confidence. Let’s be honest, if you feel good then everything changes – especially your opinion on yourself. I’ll wear those jeans that are so tight they cut of enough circulation to my brain that I believe I am sexy. That t-shirt I chose seems to fit perfectly. My hair is being obedient today, what a revelation! Yes, on these days I want to go out purely because I love myself, and there is nothing sexier than confidence.

Then it happens. My brain decides I’ve had enough self-belief for one day and out of nowhere an event that happened months ago will suddenly replay in my head. I’ll shrug it off; it doesn’t matter, it was months ago right? Keep that strut going I tell myself. Then again it replays, only this time in HD. Then again. Then my mood trips, stumbles, and hits the ground. That confident façade has now deflated; it’s slumped in a small heap on the floor and lies there, gasping for breath.  Man the lifeboats, I am drowning in self-pity. In summary, my day is doomed.

Blessed as I am to have been dished out a handful of these elusive confident days a year, they are few and far between. On any other given day my opinion of myself is nonchalant. I don’t love myself, but I don’t hate myself either. On these normal days, I am fairly content with how I look.  After living with this face for decades there is nothing about my appearance anyone can say that will shock me. There is no insult you can offer, no snide remark you could hurl, that I haven’t already made peace with. Those days are bearable; I can work with this. Then there are those days I simply hate every single inch of my body. I hate the shape of it, I hate how small I look, I hate my nose. My figure was slim and slender only 24 hours ago, but has now moulded itself into the form of a stale marshmallow, making my clothes seem tight in all the wrong places. My hair resembles a sanctuary for wild birds and my eyebrows are so out of control that it looks like someone underlined my forehead with a black marker pen.

On days like this I suspect everyone is internally offering me unsolicited advice about my appearance. On days like this I’ll wish my lips were thicker, my eyes straighter. I pray I’ll suffer a deviated septum so I can get a nose job on the NHS as I feel it’s far too big. I get annoyed at my skin, which looks so oily the USA are threatening to invade it. I hate my pores as they look much too large; I feel at times that those dots look like a birds-eye view of a city. I’ll glare into a mirror and wish my front teeth were straighter and gleaming white, because today I feel as though they are a putrid colour of yellow. When these days arrive I simply cannot leave the house without a voice in my head saying that I would have looked better in something else – probably a body bag. The voice tells me that people want to see my repugnant face as much as they want a mummified cat’s head in their Caesar salad.

My issues and insecurities regarding my ‘looks’ crept in when I was teenager. Since their arrival, I’ve dealt with low self-esteem, eating disorders and went through an unhealthy period where my hair was so long that I was visually impaired. It covered a large portion of my face though, so it worked. I’d spend most of my day wishing I looked like someone else, constantly comparing myself to others. The popular guy with the flawless skin, good style and toned body was my goal.  I’d dissect them (not literally) and work out how they looked like that and what alterations to myself I could make to match it. Sadly my feeble teen mind never understood the basics of genetics, nor did he have the bank balance to surgically alter them. Nevertheless, I gave it my best attempt but wound up looking even more hideous. Various parts of various boys thrown together on top of my less-than-perfect appearance. I learned later that the best parts of other people do not look good on you.

Later in life I’d turn my attention towards something I could alter, that I could control: My weight. Throughout my life I’ve had different ideas of what the ‘perfect’ body is. It changed depending on what, or who, I found attractive at the time – who I wanted to be, or look like more or less. When my eating disorder started, it was because of a few comments made about my weight gain. Admittedly they were in general conversation and not said with malice, but it was enough to spark a frenzy. I started off be going vegetarian, thus cutting my food intake right down now as I didn’t really like salad or vegetables or anything that wasn’t lathered in cheese. Let’s call a spade a spade here, because for me going vegetarian was a half-assed attempt at an eating disorder. When I discovered that the menu I normally picked from had essentially been written off, I decided to abandon that idea.

During this period I believed the perfect body to be stick thin; the thinner the better. Every time I looked in the mirror I did so with a critical eye. I became obsessed with obtaining this tiny body, I was infatuated with the idea of it. I saw myself of a lumpy fat-ball of despair, who’s entire body was out of proportion. I knew that I had some redeeming qualities, but none of them were physical.  So I stopped eating then I’d crash and go on a binge and inhale about six days’ worth of food in one sitting, then I’d make myself sick after. It wasn’t the funniest habit. I also had a fear of being sick so I was pretty much the world’s worst bulimic.

I felt as though bulimia and I were a pair matched in the sickest of Heavens. The cool light that beamed from the refrigerator at 2am illuminated my guilt; The cold bathroom floor where I lay sprawled out after throwing it all up back up soothed that guilt. At the time, it seemed the best way to get ‘that look’ I was after. I know now it wasn’t. After I got over the disorder I still retained some of the ‘fat paranoia.’ That nagging in the back of your head that says you’ve gained weight because you walked by someone who was eating a kebab. That voice is hard to silence, but I do so now with exercise and healthy (well, healthier) food. I learned that I could alter certain parts of my appearance via cosmetics and surgery and a healthy diet. I got plastic surgery on my nose, made it smaller. I had a procedure on my eyes to make them straighter. Life lesson: beauty is synonymous with pain.

The one thing I am always grateful for is the very little body hair I possess. Even as an adult I am not overtly hairy, and as a teen I had the body of a 12-year-old girl until I was 17, so I’ve never had to overcome that hurdle. I always felt bad for those guys in my year that looked somewhere between a cross of Austin Powers and Disney’s Beast after he’d been dunked in a bath. I think if I was forced to endure the agony of being overly hairy as a teenager I’d have just locked myself up in a tower somewhere. It was bad enough looking like a self-assembled monstrosity that had clawed its way out of the radioactive part of the genepool. Body hair isn’t a turn off for me at all, I like it on a guy. When it comes to me personally though I absolutely hate having it. I have been a hearty consumer of the beauty industry for a few years now. Razors, VEET; other botched attempts at hair removal have been undergone – and resulted in third degree burns and blisters. I don’t just go on a night out without first attacking my body with a prayer, a sharp razor, and enough shaving foam to ice a cake. I like to be properly groomed. It’s not just hair removal products I binge on though, it’s all of those little miracles performing wonders. Moisturizer, and various products from LUSH. Volumizing shampoo and hairspray. Some days I can hear my eyebrows beg for attention, so I tweeze within an inch of their life; to the point they look like malnourished slugs. The lengths I go to get my body and appearance how I like it are great yes, but isn’t that a small price to pay for being content with your appearance? I want to be considered hot, to be thought of as ‘beautiful.’ I want guys to look at me when I walk by them in the street or in the club; I want them to want to kiss me.

When it comes to using products, or buying clothes, I mostly use them because I feel I have too. It’s not just done out of vanity, or the fact I like spending money (I don’t have.) It is done out of fear. Making myself ‘street ready’ is a big deal for me. I won’t leave the flat without my contacts in, because my glasses are so strong they magnify eyes such a ridiculous amount its looks like someone zoomed in on them. I’ve been made fun of and had horrible comments absently thrown at me about my looks, my eyes especially, in the past.  Remarks about my fashion sense have also been slung at me – which, to be fair, until recently was bloody appalling. I honestly did not have a clue. There was a period where my key fashion go-to was a baby blue Superman hoody. I know right.

I shiver at the idea of someone finding out how completely average I am, so I work hard to earn compliments. I exercise and find the right lighting, so when I take a topless photo it makes me look a lot more toned and defined than I am. When I’m picking an outfit I’ll source inspiration from fashion blogs, LookBook and others, so I can mimic the latest trend. My skin is a brat, and when it’s not treated right it tends to act up. My morning and nightly facial regime is military in its strictness. I look at my face, body, appearance, as a floor that I need to cover up with a carpet. People have, and still do, call me vain and vapid. But I’d rather be called that than ugly. I am too scared to see what will happen if I don’t make all this effort.

I’m just going to say it: If you’re hot, or pretty, your life is easier. At least in terms of social life, because if you’re attractive people are nicer to you. I know, I know. It’s a terrible thing to say but it’s true. We are, collectively, a hoard of shallow bastards. It’s why I go to such extreme lengths to look how I look (and even then it’s not anything near what I’d like to be.)  How do I know I am not doing for it a guy or others around me? How do I know such Herculean tasks aren’t undergone purely because I seek approval from others? I’ll tell you why. The reason I started using so many products, getting my brows done or my hair coloured and cut is because, well, basically I grew really, really tired of hating myself.

They say beauty is only skin deep, and yeah that’s true; but my self-esteem issues run way deeper. There’s a direct correlation between my anxiety and depression and how I perceive myself. If I’m having a down day, then I feel like a mutant. By going through my daily ‘get ready’ routine I’m ensuring that I at least look presentable. Even though I am falling apart on the inside, outside my smiley façade and fashionable appearance does a grand job of covering up how I really feel. I never buy clothes or products because other people use them; I don’t adopt trends because they are popular. I like the skin products I buy, because I like how they make me feel good. I pick my clothes and style because I am into them. I see fashion as an outlet. I like having a massive quiff. I like my jeans extra skinny and my general attire infused with a grunge-rock vibe that borderlines on homeless junkie chic. I like having slender and well-cared-for eyebrows. I like my piercings and style. It gives me confidence; it allows me to look in a mirror without wanting to bludgeon myself to death with something. I do this because I like other people giving me compliments because those comments of praise are a sharp contrast to the remarks I use to be subjected to.

Liking your own aesthetic is important, even if it does go against the grain in terms of what perfection or pretty is. It’s particularly important if you’re on a night out or at a social event; it’s even more paramount if are single. For me the gay scene is the most judgemental place on the planet. There, I said it. Call me Judas, but it is. Sure, they are welcoming and we do all band together when a tragedy happens, but a lot of its occupants are snide and bitchy and won’t think twice about making their opinions on your outfit or looks known. All insults are normally said in a sort of watered-down nasally tone complete with obligatory hair flick and darting eye movements. When I first stumbled on the gay scene I had no clue about fashion, or how to look after my skin or the importance of exercise. I had a belly, I had greasy skin. I wore bright blue chinos for goodness sake. I was a walking guy repellent. I was a sexless leper. I couldn’t even give ‘it’ away.  I suffered through rejection after rejection. For a while clubs seemed too hard to manoeuvre. I reverted to that high-school mentality of trying to mimic everybody else. Slowly, but surely, I learned about skin care products. I learned how to wear fashionable clothes in a way I felt comfortable with. I took up jogging, I started eating better. But I changed because I wanted to – it wasn’t a Sandy in Grease sort of deal.

When I go out now I still get anxious, I am still paranoid about what others think of me, but I’ve learned to turn down the volume on that voice. I’ve thickened my skull and skin. That little imp that lives in my mind tries to hijack the steering wheel often, but I side step him. Sometimes I am consumed in the pursuit of swanky material goods and beauty products, but they make me feel better about me – it just so happens that it also makes other people feel better about me too. Nothing staves of that gnawing sense of self-pity or heals a bruised ego quite like spending money on clothes and creams and scrubs that will make you hate your face less.

My opinion on my looks will always be laced with a sense doubt. I am very self-deprecating; to the point that when I see a good photo of myself I am always shocked. This must be an administrative error. It looks like my face has been badly photoshopped onto the body of someone who looks decent. It can’t be me? I am learning to love myself and my face, but it’s been a long time coming. I know what works for me, and what I need to do to combat that anxiety and depression. I know what makes me feel good so I stick with it because I deserve to feel good.

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