I have a birthmark, a big purple one. And it takes up my entire left leg. If I am wearing sandals you see it. A dress, you see it. A long or short skirt, you see it. Basically, if I ever tried to rob a bank with shorts on, I would be identified immediately. “Wanted: Woman with Purple Leg Who Walked out with $5 Million” (I have big ambitions).
For the last 40 years, I’ve been learning to accept myself, appreciate what I have and honor what makes me different. But some days are harder than others, especially now that summer is almost here and we start to shed clothing.
I am a journalist and news anchor and I have spent the majority of my adult professional life in front of the camera. As a woman, you already have an intense amount of scrutiny when it comes to the way you look, particularly on TV. The comments on your clothing, hair, makeup and weight are relentless.
I get more feedback on how I look than on what I say. I spend hours every day reading, calling sources, analyzing, reporting, writing and interviewing. And yet, at times I am reduced to the wrong color dress, an extra five pounds or showing too much cleavage.
The idea of adding scrutiny over my birthmark has often felt too much. Imagine turning your TV on tomorrow morning and seeing me sitting there with a dress and a purple leg. I can’t help but wonder: “What would you think? What would the executives that pay my salary think? Would it distract even more from the incredibly important news we’re trying to deliver? Would your opinion of me change? Would you think I was ugly or pretty? Would you wonder what exactly happened to me?”
Those are the thoughts that run through my head everyday when I get dressed for work. Instead of dealing with all those unknowns, I have previously chosen to cover up with pants, tights, whatever. But as the days get longer and warmer, those decisions get harder. And guess what? It hurts.
Worrying thoughts have encapsulated my life in some way for as long as I can remember — from teenage angst in dating, to starting college and meeting new people, to entering the work force and choosing a career that thrust me into the spotlight, to finding my husband and meeting everybody in his life.
Once when I was 13 years old, I had just began to think about boys and their opinions. As I was getting dressed for school on a hot, early June day, my mom and I had discovered a cream to use to cover up my leg and create the illusion I had two “normal” legs. Well, this morning the color just wasn’t right. Despite our best efforts it looked wrong and fake. As hard as I tried, it just wasn’t working. I got so upset, crying to my mom, wondering “why me?” That was a bad day.
But not all days were like that. In college, I embraced my birthmark, showed it confidently and proudly — some would say too proudly. I wore shorts that may have been too short or a dress that looked more like a T-shirt. In both of those instances, there was one theme: questions of acceptance. Will he accept me? Will the world accept me?
Yet I never asked the most important question. Do I accept myself? Instead, I found different ways to cope, including a decade-long eating disorder, chronic anxiety, overachieving and trying to be everything to everybody so they couldn’t see what I was hiding: a lack of self- acceptance and self-worth.
So often, as women, we base our self-worth on others. But, to be most comfortable in your own skin is to accept yourself, to like yourself. To me, this has been the hardest thing to do. With time, I am beginning to realize that I can choose to elevate my self-confidence and self- acceptance or knock it down. For me, seeing it as a choice is crucial and it’s a choice I have to consciously make every day.
How do I do it? How do I not constantly allow myself to only be a reflection of others? I am working on that. I owe it to myself.
I am beginning to try and notice when I say horrible things to myself in my head that I would never say to myself. The next time you wonder if other people think you are smart or pretty enough, pause. Ask yourself, like I have been doing “Does it even matter?” When I go home and hug my kids at night, do they care? No, they think I am the smartest, kindest, most able-bodied person they know. And I’ve found that helps me put things in perspective. Remind yourself, as I try to do: This is who you are, and everyone else just needs to accept it.
I’ve also found mantras help. When you look in the mirror, come up with a mantra, and repeat it throughout the day. I have a reminder in my phone that my husband put there. It pops up every day, and it says, “Believe in yourself…God, family and friends love you very much.” While it’s just a sentence, I need it.
And, take care of yourself. We spend our lives taking care of others, making sure everybody else is doing well. But what about taking care of you? Go for a walk or a run, eat good food, drink water and most importantly find a way to reflect or meditate. Your meditation may come in the form of exercise, walking the dog, or yoga (my preferred method.) All of this contributes to getting one step closer to self-acceptance. After all, we have only one body and one mind with one chance to use them.
Finally, root for yourself but remember it is OK to have hard days. I still have them, particularly when the air turns warmer and I worry about my different body and how the world will judge it. But, the struggle just makes us stronger. We are only given what we can handle.
I will leave you with this, you just read my coming out story. I have never publicly revealed that I have a long, purple leg. While I hope you accept it, if you don’t, know that I can handle it.
Today is a good day.