A few big things have happened in my life recently, the biggest being that I got a new job. I sort of hit the jackpot, actually, as I now work for one of the top rated companies in Chicago with all sorts of ridiculous benefits (Super amazing healthcare? Free on-site gym? Beer on Fridays? Once a month massages??). I am now making more money than I have ever made in my life, which, as a former non-profit worker, isn’t necessarily saying much, but I am finally where I feel that I “should” be at 35 years old as far as salary goes. And that, THAT, lets me sleep soundly at night. Especially as a single mother, security has become #1 on my list of priorities.
I am beyond excited, but more than that, I am grateful. I feel like I have been slogging through an at-times frustrating career path to get here. Crappy pay, some fantastic coworkers, some terrible bosses, some SUPER terrible bosses, sexual harassment (“Oh yeah? You’ll get used to it,” a la Girls), and generally being heavily overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. To be somewhere where that is no longer the case feels amazing.
So it’s my first week and I am going through orientation when they tell me they’ll need to take my photo for company use. Sure! I say. I have a new outfit, one that I allowed myself to purchase to celebrate the new job; I’m happy; I have been sleeping great and am ready to go. I stand in front of the designated spot and the photographer takes a couple photos on her digital camera. “Do you want to see?” she says. “You can pick out the one you like best.”
“Sure!” I say, chipper as ever. And then I see them.
They are all awful. I mean, bad. To me, at least. I’m smiling, but there are bags under my eyes. My recently bobbed hair is sticking up funny. One of my eyes looks bigger than the other. My face looks… weird. It was a strange, almost out-of-body feeling, like I didn’t even recognize this person in the photo.
“Oh man,” I said. “These are bad!” I didn’t want to come off vain, but UGH, the idea of having one of these photos as the Forever Photo of me at my new company was horrifying. I knew that every time I saw it (which would be every day, as it would be associated with every email and IM sent), I’d grimace a little inside. I had to risk being seen as vain. “Can you take it again?” I asked.
“Sure, no problem!” she said. “But I have to run to a meeting, how about we do it again tomorrow?”
Even better. The next morning I spent an extra long time on my hair and make-up. I wore a shirt that I particularly liked. I put on earrings and a killer shade of lipstick. I practiced smiling in the mirror. Should I go full teeth? Half smile? A slightly raised eyebrow, showing a playful nature yet hinting at a bit of danger? I decided to go with what felt right in the moment. I mean, I don’t want to overplan this, right?
The morning came and went, no photographer to be found. I worried my hair would start to crap out, but a couple bathroom breaks later and it still looked satisfactory. Finally, in the afternoon, she came by my desk. “Are you free for that photo?” she asked.
“Photo?” I said, feigning confusion. “Oh yes, that! I had completely forgotten! Sure, I can squeeze you in!”
I stood up against the wall, smiled, click click click, and we were done.
“Let’s see,” she said again.
And there they were. Four equally terrible photos of me. Dead behind the wonky eyes. This time, I couldn’t hide my emotions. I went into full teenage girl meltdown.
“Oh my god, is that what I look like!? No, you can’t use these, NO. Oh my god, these are terrible! Babble babble babble babble!”
“What do you mean, they’re not bad!” said the photographer. But she took pity on me in my next-to-manic state. “Ok, let’s take some more.”
Well, now I felt stupid. Trying to smile naturally while feeling embarrassed and vain and teenaged is hard. But I tried. We tried a few different angles. All of them looked terrible to me.
“What is it that you don’t like about them?” she asked, as we inspected the latest photo on her camera.
I thought about it. What was it, exactly? The answer came to me, simple and sad.
“My…face,” I answered.
This prompted laughter and a lot of “oh no, you look good!” and the like. But it had hit me. The painful realization that this is what I look like now.
Those bags under my eyes that I began to notice two years ago after Kiddo was born? I always thought “Oh, they’ll go away once I finally just get some good sleep.” Those bags were here to stay. This was just my face now. Those lines? Those dark spots? The beginnings of what one day I will inevitably refer to as my “jowls?” Those all were happening. Now.
I have always looked younger than my age. I always was annoyed getting carded in my early twenties but learned to love it in my early thirties. But beyond this, I think I have always had a sort of disassociation from how I looked in my head and how I looked in reality. I know I’m not the most beautiful woman in the room, by far. But I just thought I looked… different… from how I was appearing on camera. This has been documented and explained before, so I get it, in theory. But in practice, it was harder to accept.
The more important question is, why am I complaining about THIS, of all things, when I have just landed my dream job? When every other aspect of my life is better than it has ever been? How terribly vain and #firstworldproblems of me! But perhaps like my friend Keith, I’m not used to everything being so wonderful, and that may make me a bit nervous on its own. When things are good, I may be looking over my shoulder for the next bad thing to come.
Or am I just trying to find bad things because I have trouble enjoying the good?
Or am I just a superficial asshat?
I asked my co-worker if I could use a more flattering, highly-filtered Instagram photo of myself instead of one of the images trapped in her camera. She nervously laughed and I assured her that I was JUST KIDDING, HA HA HA. I pointed a finger at the image that caused the release of the least anxiety toxins into my blood stream and went back to my desk, defeated.
Looking in the mirror that night, I saw the Jill I was more used to. Mirror Face Jill. I liked what I saw. For the most part.
But I self-consciously thought about how I looked in those photos for three straight days, nearly non-stop. And it made me feel bad about myself, for many reasons.
I am generally a good person. But I know that I am a vain fool as well.
(Image courtesy of http://corporate.hallmark.com)