Masquerade: What Lies Beneath

I never thought I would sit here and write an editorial for NetStyleShopper like this one. It is personal and not what you would usually read in a fashion magazine, which is the type of content we aspire to give our readers.

Michelle Larin - Editor

Michelle Larin - Editor

This piece is about my own personal experience as a woman struggling with the concept of “being enough”.  At the age of 29, a litigation lawyer, editor of NetStyleShopper, singer and a homeowner, most people seem to think I “have it all”.  In some ways I do - undeniably. Yet, for years I suffered with brutal self-esteem issues.  I am opening up about this because I think it is important for women everywhere to know that even those of us who seemingly appear to have “wonderful” lives, are riddled with hidden demons we are in a constant battle with.

Three years ago, I was a dress size 10-12 (6-8 US) weighing in at 59 kilograms.  Now, that may not seem like much, but standing at 161cm tall, I looked a little plump.  What I saw in the mirror was far worse.  I pictured myself as a completely unlovable human being.  I was ashamed of the physical body I presented to the outside to the world.

I’ve always battled with body acceptance issues.  In the seventh grade in high school, one boy labeled me a “fatty” and others would taunt me with the name “monkey” for my so-called “hairy arms”. I had no friends and spent the first year in the library chatting with and assisting the librarian. What followed were many years of shattered self-esteem I have since worked hard to rebuild.  I have struggled with feeling “pretty”, as I have always lived with that hurtful and all-consuming feeling of inadequacy.

So what have I done to deflect from these feelings and project an appearance of self-assurance?  I overcompensate in every other aspect of my life within MY control, i.e. my creative and intellectual development.  I became the girl who learnt how to sing, regularly performed as a singer at school assemblies and outside functions, who strived to achieve first in my class in every subject (even though I attended a school in Sydney’s western suburbs where my peers frowned upon those who achieved academically) and developed and held the core belief that I was destined to achieve something great in life.

At the end of 2001, I graduated as Dux of my high school and went on to study journalism and law at the University of Western Sydney.  But for me, that wasn’t enough.  In 2004, I won the best student journalist award at the Journalism Education Association’s Ossie Awards.  I was only the second student in the history of the Ossie Awards to win three categories. I graduated first in my class in communications and received the Dean’s Medal. I then transferred to Sydney University to finish my law degree, where I attained the result of first class honours.  I now work for one of the top three law firms in Australia.

You would think, having achieved all of this, I’d have a developed sense of pride in being the person I am.  Instead, inside me all I felt was a gaping hole of emptiness.  During high school, my years at university and even my first few years in the workforce, I would forgo having a boyfriend, not just because I wanted to concentrate on achieving, but because I felt like an ugly person.  Every guy I had ever liked rejected me and I kept telling myself that’s because, “I’m just not enough”.  Three years ago, in order to “change” this, I made the decision to overhaul my physical appearance.  I had perfected the “inside” – or so I thought – and now it was time to take action to “perfect” the outside.

Over a three year period, I lost 11 kilograms and dropped to a dress size 6-8 (2-4 US), and what comments did I receive? Not, “Wow, you look amazing”. Instead, “You look too skinny.  You’re aging because you’re too thin.  You looked much prettier when you had more weight on you. You need to eat”.  These comments can be contrasted with remarks made by my then boyfriend about how the girl he eventually cheated on me with has “a better body than me” and that I would benefit from doing “more squats”.

The girl he left me for has silicone breasts and I recall him once saying to me when we were together, “With that face, you would be deadly if you had fake breasts”. In other words, he had found a “flaw” in me I had never even turned my mind to.  So now, when I felt I was looking the best I ever had, I had several people, including my then boyfriend, attack my self-esteem.  This frustrated me.  Why couldn’t people just keep their insensitive comments about MY appearance to themselves?

When I was “fat”, I was critcized and when I was “skinny” I was criticized.  The truth is, I am not perfect and never will be.  Not everyone will find me attractive.  What’s important however is my recent realization that every fibre of my being is enough for ME.  I may not be the most beautiful woman in the world, I may not have the best body in the world, I may not be the best lawyer in the world, nor the best singer, but I am the best I CAN be.  I am proud of that and, in the end, that’s what counts.

We live in a world of constant comparisons propagated by popular media; causing people to be jealous, bitter and cruel to one another.  How different it would be if we could just accept each other for who we are and for the value we can each contribute to society!

A couple of weeks ago, I had a photoshoot with a woman who has shown me incredible warmth and kindness, Nathalie Tabba from Beautography.  I happened upon Nathalie on Facebook and she had wanted to do this shoot with me as a way of helping me “see” just how beautiful I am – both inside and out.  At the age of 29, I admit to finding the thought of turning 30 more than slightly daunting.  The one thing in life I have in essence “failed” at thus far is learning to love myself.  As a result, I haven’t been able to meet a man capable of loving me.  I accepted Nathalie’s generous offer to capture in images my body and mind in what has been - to date - my best state.

After doing this shoot I received criticism from certain people about the potential of these images to damage “my professional integrity”.  To me, these images capture the comfort level I have achieved with my body and a part of my true identity. I felt beautiful and sensual in the moment they were taken and I know I will cherish them as I get older and my body changes and evolves into something more wonderful.  To me, my mother is the pinnacle of beauty.  At 54, she is aging gracefully, but her real beauty is that which radiates from her heart and in her unwavering support for me. She has never judged my appearance; her love is unconditional and I dedicate this photoshoot to her.

No girl or woman should be compared to another, nor should they be made to feel the need to change anything about their appearance, unless they want to do so for themselves. No one should be subjected to the unfair comments and judgment of others.  Those people who say hurtful things are simply projecting their own insecurities onto someone else in an attempt to justify the feelings they harbour towards themselves.

We each offer a unique beauty to this world and we all need to learn to accept it, embrace it, love it and own it. This is what I am now trying to make a conscious effort to do - and I hope you will too.

-  Michelle xx

Photographs by: Nathalie Tabba of Beautography

Make-up by: Nathalie Thomas of Graffiti Face Makeup Artistry: 0401 522 477

Hair by: Clair Chidiac of Clair's Hair Design