I hate being photographed and avoid mirrors because of emotional abuse in the past. How can I overcome this, and how can I make sure I don't give my kids messed up ideas?
I grew up being told that I was fat, lazy, stupid and ugly, ugly, ugly.
Growing up was rough. I can't think in detail about my childhood because I start to cry. I was raised by parents who didn't like each other and didn't like me either. I was a sensitive kid, which didn't help at all. My earliest memories are of being afraid of my father getting angry because I didn't want to get yelled at.
It went beyond yelling, to a point that would warrant a call to child protective services today. For instance, I recall getting a "spanking" when I was 5 because my parents left me sleeping in the car, and I forgot to lock the car door when I woke up and came inside. What I remember is what the room looked like as my dad thew me across it.
I was also 5 when my parents told me how other children were born, but told me I was crapped out into a toilet. I cried and told them that it wasn't true, but they just laughed.
I was a beanpole shaped kid until I turned 8 and gained a bunch of weight all at once. It was hard being a chunky kid. There weren't any girls' clothes that would fit properly back then, and I ended up wearing those old school boys' Husky jeans from Sears. The kids were merciless, and so were my parents. I tried dieting but had no clue about nutrition at all, and stayed overweight. I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis very young and didn't know how I could exercise without bringing on a flare. My mother, who's naturally quite slim, amped up the "lazy" talk at that point but didn't actually do anything to help.
Then puberty hit, and I wound up with severe acne. I honestly looked like a pizza, it was that bad. I would look in the mirror and just cry. My dad once took me out shopping and, out of the blue, turned to me and said "you really are ugly." My parents took me to dermatologists, but there was no helping it. I tried absolutely everything, as my mother (who had acne until finishing menopause) piled make-up on me and the kids at school asked me if I ever washed my face. (The answer was yes, and probably too often.) The acne lasted until I went through two courses of accutane as an adult, and even recurred a few years after that. The acne has largely subsided as I've aged but my skin is still extremely oily.
In spite of being pizza-faced and overweight, I never had trouble getting a date, which mystifies me to this day. I won a scholarship to college and moved away from home on the day that the dorms opened. I married a wonderful man (after taking those courses of accutane before the wedding) and have two awesome children.
I also dropped 40 pounds, mostly because my metabolism changed after having kids. I know it works the other way around for most women, but for me, the weight just fell off. So, my acne's largely resolved, I'm thin (I wear a vanity-sized 2 or 4), and logically I know I can't be as ugly as I think since people don't run screaming when I enter a room. But, I haven't been able to get past thinking that I'm hideous.
Those fantastic kids of mine have a grand total of one family photograph with me in it. We don't have anything recent. The kids' school thought that my husband and I were divorced since the kids bring in photos with their dad but nothing with me.
I can't stand to be photographed and avoid it whenever I can. When a camera comes out, I practically run in the other direction. If I see a picture of myself, I zero in on every flaw, and there are lots. Every wrinkle, pouch, patch of leftover melasma - they're all I see, along with my giant nose, thinning hair and my tiny little deep-set eyes. I was looking through a friend's Facebook feed recently and saw a group photo from an event I was at. I scanned the group and actually failed to freaking recognize myself in the photo. Once I realized that one of the people was me, I was shocked at how normal I looked, until my brain started pulling up every problem with how I look.
Mirrors and I don't get along either. I can do a full face of makeup without a mirror, and when I'm around reflective surfaces, I look away from my reflection as much as I can. Places with mirrors make me actively anxious. Yesterday I went shopping for new clothes and saw myself in a dressing room mirror. I had to work to actually look at how I looked in the mirror to see how the clothes fit. I also zeroed in on how some parts of my body are lumpy, and my first thought was "I'm fat," but I'm not, dammit.
I'm at a point where my kids are old enough to be absorbing some of this, and I don't want it to contaminate them. I tell them every day how beautiful they are, but one of them has already pointed out that he looks like me and that I don't like how I look. I know it's not logical, either, and that I should be able to enjoy how I look or at least accept it. But it's not happening.
My mother still criticizes how I look every time I see her, which isn't often. Memorably, she came to visit me in the hospital right before I gave birth - right before I got wheeled into the delivery room - and whispered in my ear how awful my acne was and how terrible I looked. The other people in the room were taken aback when I told my mother out loud "that's nice, but there's really nothing I can do about that right now," as they didn't know why I was telling her that. It still stung, even though I knew at the time how out of line she was.
I've tried talking with my parents about the past, but they're not interested. They've told me that I must be making things up because they aren't like that. But I'm telling the truth.
I'm reluctant to pursue therapy just because of the time commitment, and because I've tried therapy before for depression and anxiety but didn't seem to get much out of it. I'm on medications for anxiety and depression and probably will be for life, but they aren't helping this.
What else can I do? Are there books or other resources for people like me? What has worked for others? And, most importantly, how can I stop this issue from affecting my children?