A More Positive Picture

by Eve L. Connell '87

A dear friend is getting married in two weeks. She’s a Scripps grad, too, so it will also be a reunion, with many school chums not seen since graduation day nearly 20 years ago. While I’m thrilled to be a part of this special affair, I find myself uneasy about my appearance. This goes beyond the normal “what do I wear?” hysteria that starts a few days or even weeks prior to a public event and peaks with everything a girl has in her closet enjoying a new life on the bed and floor, items tired from being tried on in various combinations in various light at various times of day or night.

I feel more than a little insecure about looking my best for my college pals.This, of course, is absurd. I’m 38, an athlete—marathon runner and swimmer—who works out almost daily. I have healthy vegetarian eating habits. I finally have a decent hairstyle. I get pedicures and facials. I spent more at the Bliss counter this summer than I did on fuel for my car. I am told I look better, fitter, stronger than ever. But the facts don’t matter. I need to look fantastic for my friends.

Another friend who will attend the multiple pre-wedding festivities tells me that she’ll have to skip the spa day because she’s “too fat” to be seen in a bathing suit in front of the girls with whom we shared rooms and bathrooms and apartments for four years.

What is this nonsense really about?

It’s not just my peers who feel this way. A six-year-old I know thinks she has chub under her arms. Her eight-year-old friend worries about her legs being too big. Yet another friend’s 12- year-old overly obsesses about food. The mothers of these girls (who are fit and fabulous) make a point to reinforce positive self-esteem and body image with their girls.And yet, it’s there—the makings of insecure young women, unhappy with their bodies.

Are we truly conditioned to never feel good about our looks? Don’t we all know our looks don’t matter? It’s our lives, our experiences, our dramas, our joys and successes, our careers, families, external travels and inner journeys that really count.

As I approach 40, there’s a vast difference in how these familiar feelings of insecurity play out. Now I know, intellectually, it’s all crazy talk—that others don’t or won’t judge my looks and that it’s certainly what’s inside that matters and makes me who I am. But I still feel the anxiety to look amazing (especially for girlfriends, oddly enough). And I know I am not alone in this game.

We’ve got to get out of the comparison-competition trap. We’ve got to feel good about the choices we’ve made. And we’ve got to not get hung up on appearances. We’ve got to disconnect from the societal messages of chasing outer perfection in order to achieve true well-being, of mind and spirit alike. If we don’t, the battle will rage on inside of us, keeping us from reaching our potential.

I will, of course, enthusiastically participate in the upcoming nuptials. I am thrilled for my friend’s happiness. I am overjoyed at the prospect of reconnecting with college friends. I am hopeful we will share, laugh, and triumph over the negative messages we may hear from time to time that allow us to spend entirely too much time and energy worrying about our appearance.

We must refocus in order to truly shine.