*BONUS BLOG POST TIME! IT'S A LONG ONE, TOO - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED* Tonight I want to share some super personal things with you - things which have challenged me, made me ecstatically happy, left me shaking with rage, some that even made my Mum cry.
Anyone who has known me for any length of time - especially if they knew me as a kid, will tell you that I'm a pretty outgoing person, with a "Screw what anyone else thinks" attitude. For the most part, they'd be right on the money. I love getting up on stage and performing in front of an audience, I rock up to my Nannying job in Black Milk leggings covered in Monsters, and on one occasion in my early 20's I went out to party wearing a tiara created with my own hair. All of that said, I only enjoy being the centre of attention IF I'm doing so on MY TERMS.
What many people don't know, is that I'm actually absolutely TERRIFIED of being LOOKED AT.
You know that feeling when you rock up to a class or a meeting five minute after it started, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the room stops what they are doing, and STARES AT YOU? You get so nervous that you kick someones chair on your way passed, accidentally drop your pencil case as you take your seat, and you just KNOW that you're making so much noise while you're getting settled, that everyone is super annoyed with you. Your mind starts playing tricks on you as ridiculous thoughts race around your head.
"Oh crap, they're all still staring! Shit, why are they ALL staring at me? Is my dress tucked into the back of my undies? Do I have a booger hanging out of my nose? There's totally a booger hanging out of my nose, isn't there? I don't even have any tissues with me! Gah! Stop looking at me, dammit!"
This is exactly how my mind worked, pretty much all of the time, right through school, and it still does every now and then.
So from the minute I decided that it would be a good idea to hire a professional photographer and have a series of portraits taken for this blog, my stomach instantly started doing somersaults. One night, I bit the bullet, and sent off an enquiry email at about 1am. I barely slept and spent the next day exhausted, running on adrenaline as I got through my Buddy Coaching calls.
In the following days, I started to feel a little better about my decision and tried to step into a space of genuine excitement, by thinking about how this meant I absolutely HAD to get a hair cut, and that I could totally pick out some new outfits for the occasion! I shared the news of the impending photo shoot with a few friends, and my business coach with an air of nonchalance, as if this was the sort of thing I do every day. Really, I was telling them for an added level of accountability, so I couldn't back out!
As the day crept closer, that little voice inside my head started getting louder, and more specific, until it was practically SCREAMING my deepest insecurities at me.
"Just who do YOU think you are, hiring a professional photographer?"
"Really Kym? YOU'RE doing a photo shoot? In PUBLIC?!?! HAHAHAHA! This is a joke, right? What is the photographer going to think? As if he'll even want to shoot you!"
I did my very best to ignore that ridiculous voice, and replied to every email as we planned and nutted out the details of what I wanted. I told myself I was being ridiculous, I'd met Ben before at a friends wedding, he'd taken a photo of Jordan and me that happens to be my favourite one of us together. I knew he understood my style, and that he'd be able to take photos that would help me stand out from other Life Coaches.
When Ben first arrived, I felt slightly ridiculous posing in my lounge room, but we quickly figured each other out, I calmed heck down - Lucy the Hell Kitty and The Sassy Ms. Honey B even came out to play for the camera!
Well it turned out, that THIS was a particularly sunny Sunday afternoon, so just about every man and his dog was out and about. We wandered slowly by crowded cafes and distracted traffic at busy intersections, before I posed on park benches or leaned on quaint little bridges, thoughtfully watching ducks and geese go about their business.
Of course I was laughing at how silly we must have looked. But inside, I was registering every single person who looked at me, trying to quiet that voice in my which was scolding me for being so ostentatious and flamboyant, and ignoring the thought that everyone was judging me.
We rounded out the shoot with a few more shots back at The Kitteh Palace, and with me feeling super proud of myself for actually DOING the shoot at all, and especially for the fact that I had FUN!
The next day, Ben sent through all of the proofs for me to choose from. This freaked me right the hell out. So much so, that I procrastinated getting back to him for about a week. I ummed-and-ahhed for days, tearing apart and scrutinising my appearance in every photo, before FINALLY deciding on 10 images.
I almost dreaded getting the final high resolution images back from him, knowing that I would have to start sharing them!
I've essentially had the first half of this post drafted in my head and ready to go ever since the photo shoot, although I was still tossing up whether or not to actually share it.
There have been a number of really significant events this week, which have convinced me that I HAVE to share these photos, as well as the following stories.
For those of you who don't know, when I was a little girl, I had a hemangioma or Strawberry Mark, which at its' peak covered about 90% of my face, neck and along my sternum. While Strawberry Marks are not uncommon, mine was at the time, one of the most severe known cases in the country, as it affected so much of my face, as well as my airways, and my throat. Due to the internal swelling, I wasn't able to swallow food, or breathe through my nose, so for the first few years, I lived with a feeding tube into my belly.
Given that my parents were the first of all of their friends to get pregnant, there was a LOT of anticipation and excitement about my birth - so it turned out that we had a massive group of family and the kind of friends you think of as "Family" who considered me "their" baby, too.
There were plenty of ups and downs along the way, but ultimately, I was a really happy little kid. I was proud of my Strawberry Marks and thought they were pretty. I have vivid memories of standing in front of the bathroom mirror when I was tall enough, finding the flowers in the pink lumpy shapes on my cheeks, thinking to myself just how cool they were. Seriously, how lucky was I to have pictures on my cheeks just like My Little Ponies had pictures on their rumps, or Care Bears had on their tummies?
All of that said, I was born smack-bang in the middle of the 80's, and at the height of AIDS hysteria. People were afraid of anything they didn't understand (and still are), and my Mum once told me a story of some guy dragging his kid off a carousel in a shopping centre and telling her off for taking me out in public, as if I posed a danger to his kid.
I can remember a photographic assistant at the Children's Hospital admonishing Mum for letting my sister and I look at the photos in MY medical records, as if photos of my own birth mark were too graphic for us to look at, or something?
I can't even imagine how difficult that must have been for my Mum (Who for the record is extremely humble, unassuming, and nowhere near as outlandish as I am), or for my Dad - but they NEVER hid me away from anyone. Every year, Mum and I would line up with everyone else at K-Mart for our annual Pixie Photo session. Every year, she would order a deluxe package with blown up portraits, laminated calendars with magnets glued on the back for both sets of grandparents, and all of their friends. I'm actually pretty sure she still has a calendar from 1990 on her fridge.
As I started to grow, I turned out to be that kid who'd be out on the dance floor at every party - rocking out to whichever band was playing - on my own half the time, but having a blast. I was out there, doing my thing, dancing to blues guitar and singing along to words I didn't even know yet, and not giving a shit who cared. Not once did Mum or Dad try to stop me, no matter how uncomfortable they might have felt.
Now the reason I'm sharing all of this, is because during the week, I've come across two articles, written by two different mothers whose daughters were also born with Strawberry Marks.
The first article, by Beth Seaver appeared on xoJane, was titled 'My Kid Has a Big Red Dot on Her Face, Here's How Not to Be a Dick'. Naturally, it warmed my heart and it made me so unbelievably happy to read, so I posted it on my personal Facebook, knowing that Mum would read it. As fate may have it, I was catching up with my parents, as well as all of Mums siblings and a few of my cousins that night for family dinner, so the article came up in conversation. We all agreed it was amazing, and I highly recommend reading it. Mum found herself agreeing with many of the points raised in this article, and today she told me that no matter how challenging or unfair things felt at different times when I was in and out of hospital, she always came home feeling lucky knowing that I was relatively healthy, and that I was going to be fine.
On Wednesday, following on from my posting 'How Not to Be a Dick', I was tagged in a Facebook post by Mia Freedman's blog MamaMia, (although the article was originally published on The Huffington Post). To say that the experience of reading the article was a stark reminder of exactly why I NEVER read any thing on MamaMia, would be an understatement. I felt physically ill for having read it, and it brought up some very painful memories.
Before I post the link to this article, I want to make it EXTREMELY CLEAR that I am NOT attacking the author of this article for the choices she made. I'm absolutely certain that she felt that she was making the very best decision she could - with the information available to her at the time. I want to acknowledge how courageous she must be to speak publicly about what was an extremely difficult and painful decision for her to make at the time - especially when she must have known how her decisions would come across to an audience who have never been faced with the situation she was.
Now, as full disclosure, I DID undergo cosmetic surgery as a child. I had a facelift in 1991 at age 6 (when elective cosmetic surgery was still relatively new), and about a year later I had laser treatment under a General Anaesthesia (I woke up screaming afterwards, and was sick for the rest of the afternoon). I want to stress that my Strawberry Marks had mostly disappeared by this time, and that deciding to put me through both of these procedures was very difficult for my parents - especially considering that I was well and truly OVER the whole hospital thing by that point.
I can only speak to my own experiences here, but the article I'm about to link to paints an extremely vivd picture of what I felt when I underwent a "test patch" without anaesthetic. It was by FAR one of the most traumatic and physically painful experiences of my life so far. From being on the receiving end of laser treatment, I felt that the sensation was a metric f*ck-tonne more painful than a flick with an elastic band, and I'm beyond furious that the same comparison that my parents and I were told of, was then fed to these parents across the world, a whole FIVE YEARS LATER.
I'm furious that they were advised that the procedure would be beneficial on an infant from the age of 13 months old.
And I felt physically ill at the thought that the procedure was REPEATED again and again, WITHOUT ANAESTHETIC.
I'm angry that procedures like this are being sold to concerned parents who want to protect their children from potential bullying or cruelty - as if removing a birthmark (one which generally disappears by its own nature) is an appropriate way to go about that.
I don't want to go into the other issues this article raised for me - although there are MANY - including how f*cked up I find it that girls like me were sent messages that something about our physical appearance that we were either proud or unaware of, was inherently wrong and needed to be corrected or removed.
Ultimately what I've learned from reading both of these posts, is just how important it is for me to show up, allow myself to be seen, and LOOKED AT - even on days when I feel like I look kinda crappy - let alone on days when I feel totally amazing, and I'm posing for professional photos.
I'm not conventionally "pretty", but I'm ok with that.
I regularly take and post "No Make Up Selfies" on social media - sometimes with bed hair, often while I'm still in my pyjamas.
I'm still learning to think of myself as beautiful, no matter how many times I hear other people tell me I am, but I'm getting better.
I'm unique, and I love that what makes me stand out these days is not my wrinkles, or the few reddish spots on my face, it's my personality, and the confidence in who I am and what I can do because of the experiences I've had.
It's important for me to be seen, so that parents facing these decisions either now, or in the future can see just how amazing us Strawberry Marked Girls grow up to be.
It's important for me to show up and share my stories, so that girls with Strawberry Marks know that they're not alone, and there are more of us who've been through similar experiences to you. I want for all of you to know that you are beautiful exactly how you are, and please don't you EVER let anyone treat you as if you are less deserving of the wonderful things this world has to offer.
Don't ever settle, compromise, or allow anyone to ignore your voice.
I want to thank Ben Gunzburg of BENSHOOTSPEOPLE for the amazing portraits he took, and for helping me to feel so relaxed during our session. It was a lot of fun, and I totally look forward to working with him again in the future.
But most of all, I want to thank my parents (and I know that my Mum will have been crying through this entire post) because reading these articles has reminded me to be grateful every day for just how f*cking incredible they were, and still are. I want them to know that they were not just doing "what mums and dads do", they were doing what OUTSTANDING Mums and Dads do.
I want my Lil Sis to know how amazing she is, and how much I still appreciate those two years when she would ditch her friends on the playground if they didn't want to include me in their games.
Thank you to everyone who's read this post, sincerely. There is a huge part of my soul that has been poured out and into these words tonight.