Images of self

Two things happened last week that got me thinking about self image: I spoke to “punk cabaret queen” Amanda Palmer and I had to see my physio about what’s been causing my foot to hurt and inflame for a few weeks.

I would define “self image” as distinct from “body image” because it’s not just about your body shape or wobbly parts. It’s not really self-esteem either, , but something more wholistic than both those ideas. I think self image is how you see yourself as a person, but obviously the outside image is part of making up who you are, in how you present yourself to the world. (I don’t know if it’s a phrase used elsewhere or something I just made up.)

Amanda Palmer is a strong advocate for being happy to be yourself and has often said she doesn’t conform to the “beauty standard” (for example, she had a major fight with her (now former) record label over images of her belly). She’s just released the first single off her new album, a song that rejoices in pubic hair (it’s called Map of Tasmania). She told me (and I’ve seen her make similar comments elsewhere) that she’s increasingly alarmed by the trend of tweens and young teenagers in the US feeling like they have to get rid of all their body hair (yes, even having Brazilians) to be “sexy” or accepted by their classmates. This astonished me. And I’m someone who’s dabbled in the removal of body hair (though I never really thought of myself as a strident feminist except for during the times when I used to wax my own legs). I can’t help but think this attitude of young girls is being taught to them early — who else saw that video of the mother forcing her five-year-old to get an eyebrow wax? And it’s a real shame because these girls aren’t getting the chance to grow up and then decide for themselves when they’ve got a bit more maturity and the idea that there are options for all these things. Maybe there’ll be a massive rebellion in the near future and hair in all places will be back in vogue (these things are subject to trends like all fashion and beauty). But I won’t hold my breath for it.

So I had all these thought wandering around my head when I went to see my physio. Apparently my years of wearing cute (but unsupportive) ballet flats may have contributed to the collapse of one of my arches which is currently causing pain when I walk (save the sympathy — I’m not that hurt). I was ordered to stop wearing the cute ballet flats and find myself some shoes with real (or any) arch support. No word on how long. I’d also figured out for myself that wearing heels was a bad idea, since that increased the pain. My brother (who’s almost a physio himself) inspected my shoe closet and said the running shoes I’d bought mid-year in order to compete in the 10k fun run were the only suitable shoes I owned. Now wearing joggers with regular clothes — especially jeans, not that I’m wearing those much in this weather — just sends me straight back to high school. Which is part of my thing about self image — I see myself as someone who’s grown well past that daggy girl in high school, yet somehow such a simple thing as wearing joggers with jeans can send me right back there again. The picture in the mirror looks all wrong; it doesn’t match the picture in my mind.

It was similar when I hit the shops the next day looking for the ordered arch-supporting shoes. All I could find were these clunky things that brought out all kinds of ugly-old-lady-shoes prejudices I didn’t even know I had. Or sneakers (the cool kind, not running shoes). I vaguely thought about getting a pair of those, but the thing is I wear dresses and skirts practically all the time (I did share the pre-Frocktober frock count, right?) and I didn’t really think I could make sneakers-and-skirt my new thing.

I discussed this with a friend earlier in the week and she agreed, saying my the time you get to your mid-20s, you already know what looks good on you, what works, and it’s really far too late to be trying a new look. Exactly. You’ve got this image of yourself, the self you present to the world, and if you try and change that it just messes everything up. I wound up with clunky black shoes which make me feel clumsy and schoolgirl-ish. I keep seeing people and hoping they don’t notice my shoes. I know this all sounds superficial, but cute ballet shoes (and, occasionally, heels) is part of who I am. Not quite a decade ago I made a choice about that part of my self image and I’ve found it really strange to have to change this.

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