The “Daily” Dilettante #7: Picture Perfect: Healing my Inner Mary Sue

by The Freelance Dilettante

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This morning, a friend, a sister, wrote on her Facebook about the difficulty of believing in one’s own beauty: something I have struggled with all my life. While I try to find the beauty in everyone and everything (even things/people not conventionally beautiful), I still have a problem fully accepting that I am beautiful. Then another sister posted a photo she took of herself. Nude but not revealing (Facebook, y’all) and without makeup, she looked so strong, so naked, so real: inspiring.

The light was lovely today, the sun through the venetian blinds casting interesting stripes over the bed, so I took some photos of myself (some before showering or putting on makeup, and some after, with mascara and a little lip gloss.) Taking photos of myself is something I have often done over the years, ever since I bought my first digital camera in 2004. In these photos I take of myself, I can finally see my own beauty. From the outside, it may seem vain, but in my experience, it’s not vain as much as it is healing.

Photos expose reality, good or bad. When I see a photo (especially one taken by someone else), I can not longer deny my flaws. No one can.  One may be fat, or short, or wrinkled or a bad dresser. One may have rough skin, or pimples or uneven color; s/he may be “too” white, too brown, too freckled, or not freckled enough (personally, I like my freckles.) One may have cowlicks, or be balding, or have too much unwanted hair, or be going grey. However, when one is in control of taking hir own photo, s/he can also control what is displayed for the viewer’s gaze (even if only hir own.) For me, this is self-validating, and internal validation is more important than the external, because admitting to myself that I AM beautiful is a very difficult thing. Maybe the most difficult thing, along with believing that I am good, and smart, and talented and worthy. (Which I am.)

Intellectually I know that I am attractive, and that other people think so. I’ve received plenty of external validation, and it’s appreciated; however, my inability to internalize this knowledge is something deep and psycho-emotional. Something about my inner child is insecure, wounded, and vulnerable.

I think most people suffer from this in one way or another, this inner-child insecurity and doubt. For some it’s centered around their looks, or their abilities, or their intelligence, and sometimes all those and more. It is certainly the Inner Critic who cuts the child down, who remembers all the times s/he had a bad hair day, or was extra spotty or plumpy (ugly on the outside), or less than ethical or kind (ugly on the inside.) The Critic recalls in painful detail each time the inner child was wounded: not only as a child, but when the grown-up Self got turned down, rejected, or cheated on, or lost an opportunity, or looked at a magazine and forgot that the photos were all airbrushed, or looked in hir wallet and it was empty, or looked at hir life and saw only failure. All of these things batter human beings. It’s a fight to have healthy self-esteem, and much easier to give in to crippling doubt.

I suspect an attempt to comfort this inner child is at the root of the Mary Sue/Marty Stu, the too perfect-character which indicates an author’s attempt to insert hirself into the story as hero/heroine. The child in us wants to be a princess or a superhero. S/he wants to be gorgeous, and perfect, and perfectly loved by a perfect mate; s/he wants to be powerful, outrageously successful in both business and in pleasure. By creating the perfect Self in text, the author is trying to heal the one within who never got that dream.  It doesn’t work, though. Mostly because no one ever got that dream, and intelligent readers get pissed when some character they are supposed to relate to exhibits impossible perfection. How can anyone relate to perfection? We have already tried it all of our lives, and failed.

So, by taking private photos of myself, dressing/undressing, making up/not making up, posing as I wish, editing the results or keeping them as they are, I can make my own Mary Sues privately, in pictorial form. This here is the perfect Sarah. Look, she is flawless, she is ideal, she is beautiful.

I can also take risks that are hard to take under another’s gaze. This is the imperfect Sarah. Look, she is flawed, she is scarred (inside and out), she is beautiful.

I get defensive when people question why I have so many photos of myself. Why do they care? Who is it hurting? Are they calling me egocentric and vain? My inner critic would be happy to agree.

However, most of the photographs I take, no one else will see. That’s okay. They are for my eyes only; they are my compliments to my Self, my F.U. to the Critic, that wicked bitch.

In the end, this is why I have so many pictures of myself. This is my secret: each photo is a mantra worth a thousand words, and each of them has the difficult job of countering a thousand self-inflicted words of doubt.

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Me. No makeup. Cowlicks and all.

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