This isn’t a real post, it’s half a post. It’s another one I redrafted several times, but I kept lapsing into serious rants about self-image. In short, this is really just a follow-up to the previous post, about getting a compliment during a note passing incident with a strange man, and feeling very anxious about a post I had written (about me feeling anxious about writing).
Firstly, I can’t cope with compliments. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t really know how to react. My brain gets a Windows error. Then I freeze up. Then this happens:
I also said, y’know, that no one had ever said… that particular thing to me before. Which, wasn’t strictly true. My point was, it sounded completely alien. Seriously, like klingon or something. It’s not a word I would use to describe myself… I mean, not that many people would (except maybe narcissists. And Christina Aguilera), but in my case it really clashes with my haphazard personality. I spend my days sitting at my desk in joggers or lurking in coffee shops wearing ripped jeans and Chuck Taylors with gaping holes in them. This reality makes compliments like that hard to take. Also, I have an extensive catalogue of disparaging comments that stretches waaaaay back into those dark days of ‘high school’, which contribute to my general deflection of compliments.
I’m beginning to wonder if insults stock-pile in the psyche. Maybe they’re like a worm virus: one negative comment sinks in, replicates itself and then forwards itself to… everyone in your address book… (Okay, maybe I didn’t think this metaphor through properly). What I’m trying to say is, maybe the damage control of negative comments is difficult to manage – much like that of a worm virus. You think you’ve sorted the problem and then months later, it will reappear and wreak havoc all over again and you become super-infected by negativity. Unless, of course, your psyche runs on Mac OS X.
In which case, my psyche got infected during my teens. Puberty wasn’t kind to me. My nose went from being one of those cute-button-noses to looking like it was broken (but it wasn’t). In addition, I had goofy teeth and it was only when puberty hit that I got landed with the hellish years of orthodontic treatment. My skin mutated into hideousness and my eyebrows, for some reason, grew seriously out of control (they rivalled Madonna’s in the 80s). In a time before GHD straighteners, my hair transformed from long, blonde adorableness to a frizz-tastic, static nightmare, which seemed to take on a life of its own – reaching forth from my head and attaching itself to the polyester v-neck jumpers worn by everybody in the school. On top of this uncomfortable set of changes, I was at an age where suddenly fashion and style were important. And I didn’t have a clue about either (I still don’t).
Here’s a run-down of a few high school incidents that readily spring to mind:
- One day, a popular girl marched up to me (popular entourage in tow) and asked me HOW ON EARTH I could wear blue socks with black shoes. I was stumped for a response, mainly because I hadn’t even realised the error of my ways. Looking down at my shoes, I flushed with red trying to think of something to say. Eventually, I uttered: ‘It’s a free country…’ a popular response in the mid-nineties as it was applicable to almost anything. Sadly, its applicability did not stop it from being super-lame. The girl snarled and stomped away with a herd of her fashioncentric friends, as if my mismatching socks and shoes had somehow been a personal attack on her.
- Once, during an English class, we had to play a description game, where someone had to guess which person in the class was being described to them. My classmates described me as: ‘She’s got blonde hair, and big teeth’. Bingo. The boy who was guessing (who I also happened to have a pretty big crush on, at the time) instantly pointed (that’s right pointed, without actually saying anything) at the girl in the back corner. Me. Blondie big teeth.
- In a drama class, we had to improvise an argument with another person. My drama teacher reiterated (several times) that the argument was to be purely fictitious and we were not to make personal digs at each other. My partner shrugged at me and murmured: ‘You got a big nose’. AND THEN DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING ELSE.
- A boy I was going out with, broke up with me because every time he saw me, it made him feel physically sick. (True story).
It’s a fact of life that high school is hell for the under-confident. I think the fourteen-year-old me is the one who hears compliments, and they’re just so hard to believe in and amongst the hundreds of big nose/big hair/big teeth insults. I feel like I’m being lied to. This is partially due to my school days, but mainly down to watching way too many American high school movies in which the “unattractive” girl is dated by a cool jock in order to win a bet.
For the record, I still don’t understand fashion. And sometimes I still wear inappropriately coloured socks with black shoes. Sometimes I wear socks that don’t even match each other. With holes in them (take that, girl from high school!). Sometimes, I’ll get up and I won’t even change out of my pyjamas – which are fleecy and pink and covered in little cakes. Sure, you can call me beautiful but you haven’t seen me eat cold, leftover bolognaise direct from the fridge. At four in the afternoon. Wearing fleecy pink cake pyjamas. Using only my hands (take that, boy I used to go out with!).
This post doesn’t really have any sort of conclusion. Except that high school was hell, and compliments make me uncomfortable. But I think I said that at the beginning.
So, moving on… Here’s a little follow up about my anxious feelings of writerliness (that’s totally a word). A few things have happened over this past week to settle the nerves. One of them was watching Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creativity, which I found kind of beautiful (take that, compliment guy with red biro!) and inspiring.
Anyway, next time, a proper post. Promise.