Andy and I were talking about how we’re just starting to feel like ourselves again, those Selves that we were when we were five or so… after all these years of trying to be whatever it was we thought we were supposed to be, compensating for whatever we thought was wrong with us and not good enough about us. She’s fifty-one and I’ll be fifty this year, and so it seems that moving fully off the radar of what our society is interested in is rather freeing.
Sadly, Andy tells me that soon after this picture, as she became closer to eight, she started to think she was ugly. She wanted to have straight blonde hair and blue eyes—she wanted to be a different person. She came to hate her curly hair, her tallness and particularly her shyness. Andy thinks that her self-esteem dropped away because her mom was displeased with her, with her shyness in particular. That pervasive negative view made her not like herself and eroded her confidence and her joy.
She was musing on how this picture, taken in one of those old photo booths, is a situation where what you look at is yourself. Thus this is a picture of a little girl cracking herself up, goofing around with her angry face, her sweet face and enjoying her Baskin Robbins milkshake. This is the way we look at ourselves before we learn to look with judgment, with the critical eye, with the need to look like other people wish we looked.
For me, the silver lining might be best summed up in the Leonard Cohen Lyric from “Chelsea Hotel”—“You told me again you preferred handsome men but for me you would make an exception.”
So, let’s dedicate today to striving to recapture the Selves we were before we were five, and to using those to see the beauty in the natural and unselfconscious being that we can find, if we gaze softly enough, in all our collective children (and in each other and in that wary stranger in the mirror—myself included).