As my readers know, dealing with being a compulsive attenion-seeker is something I struggle with. As I sat in my car on the way to work today, I thought back to my college years:
I’m an 18-year-old girl on the verge of her womanhood. I have yet to experience what it’s like to be a sexual creature, although I know it’s time for me to experience something — after pledging to wait until marriage to have sex, even us virgins have curiosities, needs, and desires to explore things we’ve not yet felt physically. By the looks of me, nobody would expect me to be so chaste. I strut the college campus in heals and a short pink skirt, the buttons on my blouse leaving little to the imagination. My hair is perfectly curled and my face is all dolled-up as if I’m going to a girls’ night out instead of Intro. to Philosophy. A girl in jeans and t-shirt gives me a dirty look and says to her friends, “Gee, I wish I wore my skirt to class today.” Before I can even utter a comeback, she’s off laughing about some other trivial thing and gets lost in the croud of all the other university students walking from point A to point B. “She’s just jealous,” I think, as I continue my model-like walk to class.
Another day, an older gentlemen in his fifties stops me in the quad and tells me I’d be a perfect model. I laugh and tell him how silly that is considering I’m too short to be a model. He goes on to say how I need to stop criticizing myself and be thankful for what God gave me and to use it to my advantage. I see him occassionaly around campus; each time he runs me down to ask me if I’ve become a model yet. Being a naive girl in need of compliments, I don’t realize how creepy and innapropriate it all is.
It’s after class and I’m walking to the parking lot. A young, male student follows behind. He asks me if I have a boyfriend, and even though I tell him I do, he badgers me for my number. I laugh, flash him a smile, and politely tell him that I’m not interested in going on a date with him. He continues to pursue me, even as we approach my car. In an effort to get him to leave me alone, I scribble a fake email address onto some scrap paper instead of just telling him to go away. I don’t even recognize how in an instant I could have been hurt or raped given we were the only two around, and yet, it was me who let him follow me all the way to my car.
I’m chatting with a former college poetry professor about a short-story I want to get published. He showers me with compliments of how great of a writer I am, but then somehow the conversation turns sexual and he’s asking me if I’ve ever had an orgasm. I tell him that as a professor, he shouldn’t be talking to his students that way. He doesn’t hestitate to tell me that I’m no longer his student, and that he can flirt all he wants. I remind him that I have a boyfriend and that he has a wife, but that still doesn’t stop him from continuing his innapropriate behavior. When I log off, I feel disgusted but elated at the same time. And then guilty for feeling elated. I cry to my boyfriend and tell him what happened, and yet a part of me still feels special for being targeted by an older, sophisticated, married man.
Fast-forward to now. I haven’t worn a skirt in six years, nor have I worn a shirt that exposes my breasts or navel. I only wear heals to appropriate events. I no longer take two hours to put on make up just to go the the grocery store. I can’t imagine walking around in heals when everyone around me is in tennis-shoes or flip-flops. I can’t imagine feeling okay knowing a million guys are looking at me wanting only one thing. I can’t imagine…being the girl I was in college. The girl who welcomed attention, even if that attention degraded who I was.
But even going back into my childhoood, attention was always there. My mother with her camera, putting lipstick on me and teasing my hair. Attenion seeking was all I knew, because a pretty face is all I had, and the attention I got from it made me feel on top of the world. And yet, I never believed I had a pretty face, despite my mother bragging about me as a child or the many guys who pursued me in high school or the pictures I started posting of myself online in college; pictures of me in nothing but a white button-up shirt taken by a photographer who was probably more interested in my looks than his portfolio. It was as if everyone on the face of the planet knew something I didn’t, but the more I put myself out there, the more I flaunted my looks, the more special I felt when someone would tell me I was beautiful. It made me feel special because I didn’t see it. I still felt like an ugly person, the person my mother made get picture retakes at school because the first ones were “bad,” the person my mother said went through an “ugly phase,” the person my mother sat down and plucked her eyebrows because she just couldn’t “stand them” anymore. But when I got attention for my looks, for one brief moment, I didn’t feel like that ugly, little girl.
I may not wear heals or skirts anymore, but I’m still that girl. I’m still that girl who thinks she’s ugly, yet posts picture after picture of herself on facebook, editing out the flaws and changing the lighting so she looks prettier than she actually is. I’m still that girl who needs constant praise or else she feels less worthy. I’m still that girls who can’t see what her husband sees when he tells her how gorgeous she is at eight in the morning in sweats without make-up. I’m still that girl who hates her looks, even though she’s “beautiful.”
So yes, I am a compulsive attenion-seeker. It’s something I struggle with. I’ve come a long way since college, but even though I’m smart enough now to not let strange men follow me in a parking lot, I’m still not able to post a candid picture of me as my default on facebook (candids won’t get you compliments on your looks).
It’s a contradiction to have someone who thinks she is ugly be so into her looks, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense. I can’t just accept myself for who I am and therefore feel the need to fill that void with hair, make-up, and an outfit that flatters my figure. If I hear it often enough, it must be true, and yet after 25 years, I still don’t see it what everyone else sees.