On age, self-confidence, boys and body image

mirror lips

Image by notsogoodphotography via Flickr

Gem’s comment on my post Turning 23 > turning 13, in which I recalled some of the things I wanted most in the world 10 years ago, got me thinking.

“Perhaps it seems ridiculous because you now have a boy. Those are clearly desires of a single woman and ones that I held my entire life. Up until I got a boy. Then I scoffed at how ridiculous I used to be. Until I lost the boy. And then my desires went right back to my 13 year old desires….”

True, that’s one way to look at it. But for me, it really boiled down to general insecurity. All through my youth I wanted so desperately to be cool. It wasn’t impossible to be smart and popular but it certainly wasn’t easy and there was no way I would ever manage it. I didn’t have the looks, I didn’t have the personality, I didn’t have the money and I didn’t have the (parental) freedom.

I wanted the kind of charmed life depicted in Cleo and Dolly and the books I read. Summer romances. Lounging at the beach in bikinis, tossing my long, streaked curly hair, a bra I didn’t need to stuff, cute freckles instead of moles and sunspots. Friends who were as close as family, popping in for dinner, shopping together, sleepovers, doing each other’s nails. Instead I was stuck with glasses, my “weird” parents, unfashionable clothes (thank goodness for uniforms), pale skin that never tanned, and later on bad acne.

And of course, a lot of my angst also stemmed from unhappiness with how I looked. (Shock horror.) My body image issues weren’t about weight, but they certainly were about almost everything else. And I was just as concerned with female judgement, I think, as I was with my attractiveness to the opposite sex. I had this warped sense of reality, in hindsight. Thankfully, lot of the things I cared about then are no longer important to me. So I don’t have straight teeth. Perfect skin. Curly eyelashes. Ridiculous things I was at the time convinced would radically alter my life in their own right. Ah, adolescent delusions. Even if I was single, I now know they wouldn’t have. Even if I was single, the 23-year-old me is infinitely more comfortable in her own skin and far less concerned with fitting in. Nor do I have time to spend hours staring into a mirror and obsessing over my physical flaws. Bless you, real world. (And if I really believed my straight lashes were holding me back, I’d go out and buy mascara, but it’s far too much trouble for me to bother with whether it’s a glasses or contacts day.)

That said…it amazed me how getting a boyfriend actually changed everything. This is sad to say and sad to admit, but it was a good thing. I didn’t expect being in a relationship to boost my confidence so much, but it really proved to me once and for all that I really could be liked for me. That even in my ugly duckling youth I wasn’t completely repellent. And that was something I could carry with me forever, from then on.

So…while there are things that were great about adolescence, like our carefree camps out in the Lynfield bush, the rope swing over the edge of that cliff, $2 bus rides into town for an afternoon of mucking around, time to read as many books as I wanted…no way would I want to relive teenagehood and the microcosm of high school.

11 thoughts on “On age, self-confidence, boys and body image

  • Reply Geek in Heels July 15, 2011 at 02:43

    I sometimes feel this way too — do we really need a man to feel better about ourselves? But in my case, no one has ever made me feel as attractive as my husband does (even to this day, eight years after we first started dating), and as it is his opinion I value to the most, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.

  • Reply Kim July 15, 2011 at 03:34

    I agree with both you and Gem. I think both age and male attention has helpd with my awful teenage insecurites. My teenage years brought out all sorts of insecurites in me and having even just one boy interested in me was a form of validation I desperately needed. However, after that initial “omg someone can like me despite my flaws”, I don’t think male attention has boosted my confidence drastically. Esp in this day and age, in my late 20s. It’s not that I started getting big headed and think I’m the hottest person out there because a boy or two paid me attention, but it’s more the realization that there are lots of people in t his world, and while I will never be the most beautiful girl in the room or anywhere close, there will alawys be people who are more beautiful, and less beautiful, than me. That being said, if at this age (28) or if even if I was 23, I have never gotten any kind of romance or male attention, I’m not too sure I would be so “zen” about my looks.

    This reminds me of a convo I had with the mom of a friend. She told me “enjoy your looks now, because when you get older (I think she’s in her mid 60s), men will stop noticing you and looking at you like a woman. I’m sure by my 60s my life will have much more substance than superficial things and my looks will not be an important factor in my happiness, but it’s still kind of sad to think about, to be honest. I guess we all need some kindof validation, sometimes.

  • Reply krantcents July 15, 2011 at 10:40

    Perhaps I will offer the other (male) side. It is interesting how much more attractive I became to women when I achieved financial success. Although I was married, I seem to gain attention of women much easier. Perhaps along with financial success, I exuded a confidence that was not there before.

    Some girls particularly as teenagers are shy and awkward. Not unlike some boys. Everyone grows up or matures on a different schedule. Now that you are comfortable with yourself, what are you going to do?

  • Reply Insomniac Lab Rat July 15, 2011 at 15:20

    I can definitely relate to all of this too!

    My confidence started to get a boost when I moved away from home for college, and shortly after college started I met hubby…so I think dating him probably helped (for the same reasons you’ve all already said-someone likes me despite my own perceived flaws), but my confidence was already on its way up, just by having a new “home” and getting a new perspective on life. Being in a relationship probably changed things too, but I have a hard time separating what changed because of being away from home, and what changed because of dating hubby.

  • Reply bakebooks July 17, 2011 at 12:12

    Honestly, I was thinking about “teenage-dom” recently…and how that period can be very hard for a lot of people – and affect them for the rest of their lives in ways they know not…

  • Reply fabulouslyfrugirl July 17, 2011 at 13:35

    Thank you so much for writing this and being so honest.

    I also didn’t have great body image as a teenager. I also had acne, and it completely changed how I viewed myself. Even after I had no acne, I had trouble seeing myself as “attractive”.

    My first boyfriend really did change all that. It is amazing how much support from someone can really change people.

    Even after we broke up, I had a more positive self image and subsequently, more self confidence. I held my head higher and I looked people straight in the eye. Sure, I could have done that if I really wanted to, but at that time, it seemed next to impossible. I just had no idea how to.

  • Reply addvodka July 18, 2011 at 08:00

    I think that the ability to actually not wear makeup in front of my boyfriend and him not try to run away (haha) is really something that has built up my confidence.

    As far as my confidence in myself goes, going to college has helped a LOT. I know that I’m doing what I need to do and I’m becoming smarter because of it.

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