Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

Pretty

I wish I was pretty. 

That was something that I used to think every day – when I looked in the mirror in the morning, if I caught my reflection in a window, when I looked at other people, and pretty much any second in between. I wish I was pretty. I wish, I wish, I wish.

Every teenager feels insecure, but a lot of them don’t have much reason to be. I was one of the unlucky ones. Puberty hit, and whilst it seemed like every other girl was moving on from training bras to ‘proper’ bras, I got acne. I wrote about this in another post, but to catch you up: I’ve had acne since I was ten, and although now my skin is a lot better, it used to be awful. I would get really big spots on my chin and my nose, thousands of tiny spots across my forehead and big globs of spots over my cheekbones. It sucked. Big time. I still remember the first time some spot treatment actually worked and my Mum ran her hand over my forehead and said ‘Oooh, smooooth’. I tried every skin cream and pill that the doctor would prescribe, but nothing really worked. My skin only really improved in my last year or so of school and now, after a year of university, I only ever get blackheads and a couple spots every now and then. Still, I can’t help but think about how I used to feel completely insecure every day, hating how I looked.

I wish I was pretty. I wish I had different skin. I wish I wasn’t ugly. 

I suppose there’s a lot that can be said about the media at this point and how it wrongly portrays teenagers – I mean, come on, the amount of films and TV shows I used to watch where everyone had model looks didn’t help. But it isn’t just the media that’s to blame.

I remember going to the cinema with a couple of friends and we were chatting before the film started. One of them had a spot on her chin – just one single spot on an otherwise unblemished face – and she was almost in tears. She went on and on about how awful she looked, and kept saying ‘Just look at it! It’s so disgusting!’. In my head I was rolling my eyes, so I finally plucked up the courage and in a completely self-deprecating/joking manner said ‘Hey, at least you don’t look like me!’. They both looked to me, and singly-spot-on-her-chin girl said ‘yeah, I guess you’re right’ and then they went on to standard girl chatter.

That was probably one of the first times that I realised that other people looked at me to reassure themselves. I mean, sure, I’d always think that I looked awful and thought everyone was judging my appearance, but it hadn’t really ever been confirmed before then. I was pretty miserable for the rest of the outing and more than likely for the rest of the month – again, I was a hormonal teenager. It really doesn’t matter when people tell you that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, because all you can think about it what’s on the outside. I wanted someone to tell me that there was a new treatment where I could get new skin or a different face or something, just anything to make me feel even just a little bit prettier. I’m also pretty sure that I believed with every inch of my being that if I was prettier, it would solve all my problems. People might like me more, I’d probably do better in school, maybe I’d get a job – all the important things for a teenager, clearly.

I’m not entirely sure where I planned to go with this blog – I suppose in typical blog fashion, I didn’t have a plan other than to vent about my problems and hope that maybe someone can relate. It would be nice, though, if looks weren’t as important as they are – although we all pretend they’re not.

Skin Deep

In my moments of procrastination, I tend to watch TV that requires the least amount of concentration and, yesterday. I turned on the ‘Idiot Box’ (name courtesy of my Dad, despite the fact that he watches Wheeler Dealers so often it’s not true) yesterday and started watching some good ol’ Catfish.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, I do not mean this:

Instead, I mean this:

Now, ‘catfishing’ is known as pretending to be someone you’re not online in order to hook someone into an online relationship. This programme shows the truths and lies of online dating, started by the host Nev who had his own experience after his online girlfriend turned out to be not who she said she is. People involved in online relationships (who haven’t met their partner in real life) email Nev to to help them meet their love. Sometimes, the person they meet is exactly who they claimed to be, just with a few insecurities or something along those lines, but more than usual it’s someone completely different.

You may wonder at this point where I’m going with this.

This isn’t a TV review (although, if you want my opinion, Catfish:the TV show is entertaining to watch – which is all I’m looking for in between bursts of revision. In actual fact, I had a realisation in the programme which probably isn’t that life altering, but it made me feel like I’d just had an epiphany.

As I was watching, it was a typical episode where the guy goes to meet his girlfriend who claims she is a size 6 blonde bombshell, but is instead several sizes larger. I kept on thinking, ‘Why would someone take part in an online relationship and why would you pretend to be someone you’re not? Surely you know it’s never going to end well?’. Then as I kept watching, it started to sink in – ok, it’s pretty obvious anyway, but still – that the people faking their identity always happen to be a lot larger than they pretended to be.

Before any of you start sending me abuse about how you should judge someone’s personality and not their appearance, this isn’t exactly where I’m going with today’s rant. I’m the first person to jump into the argument that personality should always be favoured instead of appearance, as would most people, but what does this programme in particular tell us about our society? It shows us that, despite everyone’s claims that they favour personality, in actual fact people still favour appearances. Why else would we have so many people pretending to be someone they’re not? To hide their appearance, perhaps?

Nowadays, I’m a lot more confident in my appearance than I used to be thanks to a great family, some awesome friends, and those few wonderful individuals who drop a compliment to a stranger like it’s nothing, when in fact it means the world. Hell, even when a stranger smiles at me on the Tube (which, if you’re a frequenter of London, you’ll know that smiles hardly ever happen) it helps to brighten my day.

I had serious confidence issues and consequently I was always self-conscious of the way I looked thanks to an early hit of puberty. My lovely hormones caused a huge bout of acne which essentially crushed my confidence in days. It sounds melodramatic and tons of people will say, ‘Everyone gets spots, just deal with it’ and I don’t see myself as vain, but acne did ruin a part of life starting at the age of ten. In primary school, whilst everyone else around me had lovely skin I was there with spots and blackheads. Starting secondary school, it felt even worse because I didn’t know anyone and – in year 7 – not many others had acne like me.

I’m incredibly lucky that all I’ve had to deal with is acne because it could have been so much worse – there are people out there who have to deal with something much worse than that, but it still affected me. I tried every acne cream/soup/wash that I could find and so many different types of pills that would supposedly help that I’ve lost count, but they never worked.

^^This is me in year 7 (excuse the silly expression) and it’s the only picture that I can find on my facebook that I haven’t deleted which shows some acne. Before you ask – yes, I did spend hours going through all my photos to make sure there were none of me that showed any really bad acne because I couldn’t bear the thought that people would look at me and see the acne. There are many times where all I wanted was a different face and I couldn’t understand why I had to have the acne when other girls in my school had perfect skin. Seriously, some girls literally get nothing; their ‘puberty’ just involves getting bigger boobs. HOW IS THAT FAIR??

Anyway, so I had many teenage breakdowns over acne – as I’m sure many teenagers do – but luckily the acne has died down now after eight years of turmoil. I still have some, but it’s less noticeable and it doesn’t have such an awful affect on my confidence. In fact, I even tried to get into modelling at one point and, for all you out there who have confidence issues, the best way to get rid of them is through yourself in the deep end. Don’t go on whacky diets or operations, just go stand in front of a camera and smile. It sure helped me.

So, what the hell is this post all about? Is this just a chance to get my sob story out there? …Not exactly. Actually, I think I wanted to make a point about our society or something deep like that. It just hit me that the only reason we have programmes like Catfish out there is because there is still such a huge problem in our society about appearances. Be that if you have a lot of acne, a bit of extra weight which people put too much focus on or even if you have a misconception on the way you look. If you even look at people filming celebrities, the commentators will talk about their clothes, or how they look a big bigger then normal and therefore she must be pregnant, because surely she wouldn’t do something as awful as putting on weight! Heaven forbid! Celebrities just can’t be like us regular mortals where a bit of extra weight is practically mandatory.

It’s silly to say that we live in a society where everyone thinks that personality is the most important thing, because it clearly isn’t true. I wish it could be different, but I suppose time will tell.

Let me know what you think ~ Eleanor