I moved to New York a little over one month ago. So far, I love my job, I like my apartment, I enjoy the food and, despite the many warnings I received prior, I have already made some very, very snazzy friends. I don’t mind commuting and I’ve even been able to visit my parents in Central NY, more visits than I ever was able to manage in such a short timespan throughout my last five years on the West Coast. The only thing that has been really stressful, in all honesty, is the deep and unsettling feeling that I am not pretty enough to live here.
While I’ve always been a pretty self-conscious person, the last few years have seen me become stronger, more self-aware, happier and able to value the things that truly matter — my accomplishments, my integrity, my work ethic, my independence. Although I do not value others based on their looks, it takes a fair amount of effort not to base my own self-worth on that, especially since I moved here.
I have gained some weight over the past year and a half — a change I was actually pretty comfortable with prior to moving here. Due to my eating disorder and other health stuff, I’ve been bouncing between 115 and 155 for several years, so I wasn’t too upset about my weight increase. It was neither here nor there; it was just a fact of life, and I was okay with that because I was focused on finishing college, then trying to start a career, as well as friendships and familial relationships and relocating cross-country three times.
This weight gain experience started in California during my senior year of college in early 2012. At the time, I had friends surrounding me constantly, I was seeing a rather attractive ex of mine and there were excellent trips and celebrations to be had every weekend. I was fine with how I looked, and even when I wasn’t, it didn’t really bother me all that much.
When I migrated to Portland some months later, I was working from home and rarely saw anybody besides new friends. Plus, from my brief experience, Portland people don’t seem to emphasize looks as much. I literally never heard snarky comments about how other people looked from those I met there about friends, strangers or anybody else.
But then I moved to Manhattan and suddenly, I feel terrible about myself. Just…terrible. All the time.
For the first time in years, I am catching myself nearly crying in public because I feel terrible about how I look. I don’t own a mirror now because it makes me too physically ill. It’s not a weight thing or a complexion thing or a bone structure thing, in particular; I just feel…ugly. So ugly. Ugly enough that I view myself unpresentable to be in front of other human beings, as though I am literally disrespecting them by looking how I do.
It hurts to write this because I’m so opposed to body superiority and fat-shaming; I don’t even really like when people comment on my weight in a positive manner. And it’s strange, because it’s not like I view other people who aren’t conventionally attractive as ugly; it’s just myself that I’m horrified by. Now, all I want to do is lock myself in my room, turn off the lights and ensure that nobody has to look at me anymore.
When I had my eating disorder, I was constantly comparing myself to photos of women — and sometimes men, actually — in magazines, on television, whatever. It was easy to write those people off afterward, though, because I knew how much those images were altered on computers. I knew they were unrealistic. I knew nobody’s skin glowed like that, nobody’s legs wore jeans so well, nobody’s lips were totally wrinkle-free.
Except now, I see people all the time who do look like walking, talking Photoshopped images. Obviously, they are human beings and not just their appearances, but when I see them every day and never have any actual words exchange between us, their images are what stick with me. When I see all the conventionally attractive people around me, I get self-conscious.
As a 5’7″, 155-pound person who is very, very pale and has proportionally large hips, I feel self-conscious. None of these qualities are ugly in themselves, by any means, but they aren’t what the mainstream culture has deemed attractive. Despite logically knowing that this arbitrary “hot” bar absurd, I am still not immune to the pressures of feeling “ugly.” It’s weird, because even though many of us are well-equipped to see through the standards and guidelines for what constitutes beauty, and even though we see other people and think they’re attractive despite not fulfilling the ridiculous conventional standards, it is so, so difficult to apply that rationality to ourselves.
It is especially difficult when it feels like people value your opinion less when you aren’t somebody they find attractive. This is something that happens everywhere, surely, but as Isaac Mizrahi pointed out just the other day, it’s something that happens here, as well as in the fashion industry, more than most other places.
In California and back at home in Syracuse, most of the people I see throughout the day are friends of mine, many of whom are thought of as beautiful from a general, societal viewpoint (obviously, I think they’re beautiful in every way, but I’m biased, so my opinions don’t really count). Some are actors, some are models, but most aren’t. I don’t feel competitive with them when it comes to appearances because…well, I don’t know, they’re my friends, and that would feel weird to be comparing myself to them.
In New York, I only have about five or six friends, and due to the nature of public transportation, the majority of people I see each day are not ones I already know. And given the nature of New York’s role in the fashion and entertainment industries, as well as its notoriously competitive nature, I feel so inadequate in appearance — in terms of how others may view me — to the people I see all around. Despite working as a makeup artist for years and being around beautiful folks constantly, I never felt ugly based on the appearances of others, as I have since arriving here.
I know, I know, “poor you, Sam.”
I realize that this is a frivolous problem to have.
Money, work, tragedy — there are tons of things people are much, much more stressed about than their stupid looks. But I work as hard as possible, scraped saved obsessively for a long time to be financially secure and have endured an average amount of pain in my life (whatever that means). I recognize that I am lucky to be able to afford food, pay my rent, live in a generally safe area and sometimes go out with folks. But at the same time, I am often close to crying whenever I do leave the house because I feel so profoundly awful about my appearance in a way that is different, I think, than the way in which I felt when I was psychologically ill.
I promise, dear readers, that I am not trying to fish for “but you’re not ugly!” comments or anything of that nature. While the nice things people say are appreciated — primarily because of intent, actually — I, as well as anybody who’s ever felt unattractive on a regular basis, know that no matter how nice people can be, it’s impossible to be convinced of something you do not believe. When I see myself these days, I see “ugly”; I don’t see “you look _____ today” or “your hair is _____” or any other comment made toward me. And in New York, the majority of “compliments” are actually creepy, snide comments from strangers, which isn’t really a compliment at all.
People have told me that if I want to change how I feel, I should start running or do something different with my hair. But I don’t want to change my appearance; I want to change how I feel, which is arguably much more difficult. I can’t singlehandedly change the standards of beauty because I feel rubbish about myself, but I also don’t want to conform to them purely based on insecurities.
New York is lovely. It’s beautiful. It’s spectacular. It’s full of life and liberty and the pursuit of partying on rooftops, or whatever. I would love to wander through it if I could be invisible and, by that right, not so terrified of the people around me or those whom I encounter. But I can’t, because I am physically incapable of total delitescence.
I guess this whole post is just my longwinded way of asking for advice, since I realize that this is my own problem of perception, and I will never be able to control the thoughts nor actions of others (I am also physically incapable of telekinesis). It is definitely something that I will have to change with regard to my mindset, but I’m not quite sure how as of yet. Got any recommendations — ones that don’t include anything involving altering my appearance, por favor — or helpful input? Comment, email me, tweet at me, whatever; I’ll appreciate it no matter what. And, of course, will be letting you know in the future how my issue resolves itself, or vice versa.
Photos: Flickr & Reuben Vollmer.