Self-esteem is super sexy

by Leah McClellan

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Yep, that’s me. A week ago today.*

I was going to hide out at home for a few days, and I was definitely not going anywhere tonight. I’m tired, first of all. Drained from a busy week plus an editing project over the weekend. Still coughing from a cold that started last Wednesday and didn’t let me sleep last night.

Fifteen purple blotches the size of pencil erasers over my face and neck were the real reason I didn’t want to go anywhere. Plus, I just had 20 stitches removed from a long slice that extends from my upper temple to just where my eyebrow ends.

It’s just a flesh wound, don’t worry**.

I had two small lesions—little spots that looked like burns or scrapes but never heal—that I knew were cancerous because I had one removed before. Too much sun over the years. But they had to wait because I didn’t have health insurance for awhile: it’s one of those things that’s really tough when you go from working a regular job to freelancing and, in my case, a preexisting condition didn’t make things any easier when it came to finding affordable health insurance.

So glory hallelujah, praise the saints, rock the casbah, and woo-woo! I had them removed last Monday, much to my relief. Turns out, they’re even less dangerous than the kind I had removed six years ago—this type of cancer doesn’t spread.

I didn’t expect such a big cut, though, but two small ones would have been all lumpy, or something.

But I know the scar will be minimal based on previous experience, plus I have one of the top docs in Philadelphia (I really lucked out when I made the appointment).

Still, I have this big thing covered with a narrow little bandage for a few days, post stitch-removal. It’s not real pretty with a fading, yellowish bruise all around it. Plus those purple blotches.

For some reason, I developed a bunch of raised blood vessels on my face—telangiectasias, technically—sort of like when your eyes are all bloodshot. Or the smallish kind of “varicose veins” that women tend to get on their legs—those tiny, little red ones. But they sort of gathered together and made red spots on my face.

Worse, I had a big red one on my left cheek that looked like the worst of the worst kinds of pimples you get when you’re fourteen or so—wonkers, as me and my friends called them. The painful kind. But this is a cherry angioma, in technical terms. Very common.

I looked like I had a big ol’ zit, just a few hours shy of popping time.

I think it’s why that pimply faced kid at the wine store asked me for ID a few weeks back. Not kidding. He was totally serious. If he had been a waiter I’d have tripled his tip.

Anyway, having a giant zit on my face for the last couple of years (plus two on my neck that weren’t as big but more spread out and a bunch of small red spots) has done absolutely nothing for my self-esteem. Plus, I was divorced almost 5 years ago (after several attempts), which definitely didn’t help. Plus career and work issues, plus finally jumping ship from a “regular” job to go back to freelancing, plus my dog dying, plus two cats dying, plus another cat almost dying, plus a fixer-upper house I bought with a leaky roof that leaks in the kitchen and not much extra to fix the fixer…I’ve had a lot on my plate.

Sure, I work on all sorts of personal improvement stuff all the time, including my inner peace and all that.

And sure, I’m basically sane and have my shit together—for the most part—but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m bouncing around town like a fluffy poodle off her leash or something.

I see self-esteem as having two components, at least: one is the inner knowledge of our inherent worth. We might know, down deep, that we’re smart. Talented. Capable. Skilled or educated or experienced in one thing or another. Warm, compassionate, and loving. Worthy of love and respect. Attractive in our own special way no matter how we compare (or don’t) to cover models or the latest trend in male or female physical beauty.

That’s the deeper side of it.

On another level, there’s the day-to-day self-esteem as we interact with others. It’s a balanced, peaceful sort of feeling; we’re neither better than others nor worse.

We are just who we are, we speak confidently, we handle conflicts well as they arise, we look people in the eye, we get our needs met and meet the needs of others, within reason. We have fun. We laugh, we smile, we’re happy.

That outer self-esteem is all about feeling good about ourselves inside and out, including our appearance: how we look, talk, act, and anything else that anyone sees. What we look like (or don’t), what we weigh (or don’t), what shape we’re in (or not), what we wear (or don’t), and so on. Healthy self-esteem is part inner knowledge of ourselves and part knowledge—and confidence in—our outer selves.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had a lot of healthy self-esteem of both sorts. I’ve also had times when it’s sunk down pretty low, though. Not so much on the deeper level—hey, I know what my capabilities and talents are, and I know I’m pretty amazing though I have my doubts sometimes, like anyone, as I enter into some new, challenging area. The outer level—not so much. Or not always.

And with some of the things that went on in my marriage, well, let me put it this way. Somehow the end result was that I felt like I must be the most hideous person in the world. Yeah. Believe it or not.

I look in the mirror and I see a pretty woman, if I turn my head certain ways so the light is just right. A certain angle—wow. Great. Photos—well that’s tough.

I think a lot of women in their forties, like me, are adapting to fading youth and sagging jawlines.

I’ve looked in the mirror sometimes or at photos and have been completely disgusted. I’ve blamed myself—those lines around my lips must be from those years of smoking or being angry at my ex-husband and pursing my lips or something. Those many bottles of wine pre- and post-divorce must be why I have those raised blood vessels or even the cancer.

I know better, or maybe those things are relevant, but most of me doesn’t care a whole lot about superficial looks, but part of me does. More than I’d like sometimes.

And that giant zit and its cousins hasn’t helped matters. So today, after my dermatologist pronounced my surgery complete and see ya in four to six weeks, I reminded her about the laser treatment she said we could start today.

In just a few minutes, 15 spots—including the wonker on my cheek and the two on my neck—were fired up and destroyed.

What was red and fairly small is now purple—all 15 of them—and most are exactly the size of a pencil eraser in an oddly uniform fashion. Like dabs of purple ink that caused an allergic reaction, like hives, that make them raised. And the zit is Mt. Vesuvius rising up from a deep, dark lake.

And even though I was exhausted this evening from a busy weekend and little sleep last night, there was no way in hell I was staying in.

I didn’t have any place in particular to go except the dog park and the grocery store.

A headband around my head to cover my scar (and hide my messy hair). A scarf around my neck—hey, it’s chilly, and I didn’t want to freak anyone out with all these purple spots, though it really didn’t hide them. It was just a gesture. And off we went. Me and my two dogs, that is. Jack, a beautifully huge yellow and white Retriever mix, and Missy, a splashy (gorgeous) Boxer.

The park shimmered in the sunset. Walkers and joggers passed me and my dogs as we walked, some of them smiling at me. I smiled back. My dogs celebrated their freedom and ran and ran in the enclosed section just for dogs. Tuckered out, they willingly jumped back in the car after lapping up a bowl of water, and I drove off to the grocery store.

It’s a big one, complete with a second-level cafe, multiple food bars, une boulangerie, une charcuterie, un marché aux poissons, la boutique du vin….very European. Or trying to be. Always packed.

I have never had so many good-looking men smile at me in a grocery store. Women too. It’s true that the grocery store is one of my personal peace projects, and I always shop mindfully and make it almost a “sharing peace” sort of event by being kind and compassionate to everyone (I used to dread grocery stores and got annoyed more often than not), but this was different. I was glowing, and I knew it.

I was just filled with peace and happiness. And some sort of self-confidence or self-esteem that I hadn’t felt in awhile.

At the dairy and egg cases, I pondered over eggs. I don’t eat eggs, but they’re good for my dogs, and I debated over a box of 18 at the same price as a different brand with only 12 eggs. Are they organic? Do the hens run free? So many different labels—screw the Omega-3 crap. I just wanted to know if they’re from free-ranging hens, chickens that are, hopefully, treated somewhat humanely.

An attractive man about my age stood right next to me, also examining the eggs. It was distracting, but I didn’t mind.

We’d already exchanged glances and acknowledged one another’s presence in the vegetable section, and I knew he was single—hey, it’s like gaydar, and mine is sharp—and I knew he wanted to talk.

I stayed quiet, but I didn’t step away like I normally would these days, just to be alone to think.

He didn’t initiate, though he stood there for so many long moments, only inches away from me, that I knew it wasn’t coincidental. Or maybe it was. Didn’t matter. I initiated without hesitation.

Turns out, he knew a lot about eggs. It was a pleasant chat, and though I had no interest in prolonging it, it was nice. I gave him my warmest smile when I wished him a wonderful evening, and he smiled back in kind.

And you know what? I really didn’t care that he could clearly see purple blotches all over my face and neck. Really.

I didn’t care that my headband had slipped a tad (I checked it later) and most of my yellow and red barely-covered scar was exposed. I didn’t care that maybe—just maybe—he had it in mind to flirt a bit when he saw me at a distance and changed his mind when he saw I had a health issue going on. Who cares? I wasn’t there to pick up men.

And since when is it a crime to have surgery for skin cancer removal? Since when is it somehow wrong to have laser treatment for stuff that’s not supposed to be on your face? Since when is it wrong to not look absolutely perfect? Since when is it not possible to have a pleasant, friendly conversation with someone just because you don’t look your best?

Self-esteem is attractive. Self-esteem—no matter what you look like—is sexy.

And no matter what you look like, even if you’re the most beautiful person on the planet, if you don’t believe you’re beautiful or attractive or perfectly acceptable, nobody else will.

And even if you have a bunch of purple blotches all over your face and neck, twenty stitches recently pulled out, and a big ol’ used-to-be-sort-of-zit-now-in-its-last-hours-before-it-falls-off, if you feel good about yourself, if you like yourself and how you look, that’s what people really notice.

Self-esteem is really super sexy.

Comments are always welcome.


* You can’t see (or can only barely see) the red spots in any photo I’ve ever posted online because I’m pretty much a pro not only with make-up but also with camera angles and lighting. I admit I photochopped one awhile back, when my hair was temporarily red, which is, of course, another post for another time. It was fun erasing the zit.

**Monty Python


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