A friend recently sent me a fifth-grade photo of himself, wondering if I could guess who he was.
It was pretty clear.
In my second-grade class photo, maybe third, I’m surrounded by a sea of perfectly composed little girls, their braids neat, hands folded on their laps, gleaming patent-leather Mary Janes, skirts, tight, bright smiles.
There I am, a happy mess — hair that desperately needs brushing, my front tooth missing, well-worn sneakers.
Except for the gap teeth, I’d say that’s still me. I’ve always been someone who — as early photos reveal — is often less worried about appearing perfect than having fun and being comfortable, the sort of kid whose worst tantrums erupted if my clothes felt constricting or I had to wear shoes I couldn’t run in.
In an early photo, taken in a London park, I’m wearing a lovely wool coat, holding a paper bag and looking a little anxious. It’s not clear if I am holding a cookie or about to feed some birds. But I recognize the mix of style (boiled wool double-breasted coat with nice sleeve details), anxiety, food.
These three themes, including feeling antsy if I can’t travel overseas every year or so, have remained consistent for me. I love great food and enjoy cooking and entertaining. I’m a worrier — my sweetie’s nickname for me is N-squared (for Nervous Nellie). And I do passionately love elegance and beauty.
I had my photo taken this week for an article about me in the local newspaper. What an agony of self-consciousness! What to wear? What decisions will people make about me when they see it? Will it make them want to buy my new book — or avoid it because of something in my demeanor, clothing, smile?
I was so fretful about how I would appear, not so much from vanity as…not sure. Fear of disdain? Of losing readers? (Surely my choice of clothing that day, a black blazer and softly draped cowlneck blouse, would also gain me some!)
I was badly bullied by a small gang of boys for three long years in high school, and have ever since felt terribly self-conscious about how I look, even though I know objectively I’m attractive and can dress stylishly, even on a budget.
It’s hard to shed that teenage persona, of fearfulness and judgment.
When did you realize who you were — and are you still OK with being that person today?
Did a photo reveal it to you?