Writing and artwork by Tatum Van Dam
PART 3 OF 4: (im)perfection
A couple years passed, and I was now about to be a high schooler. In the months prior, I began to take an interest in fashion (which, I’m sure, my trendy mother was stoked about). My wardrobe had transitioned from skinny jeans, Hollister shirts, and hoodies into colorful dresses, skirts, and blouses. Now that I could bond with my mom over fashion, I finally worked up the courage to present her with a few of those “locker room problems” I was continuing to face. She, like any mother should be, was more than happy to help. She was also sad (rightfully so) that I had been too shy to bring them up earlier.
Ultimately, things were starting to look up… until I continued to look down.
I went on a vacation to Hawaii with my family. There is no way you can go to Hawaii and not go to the beach. Generally, when twelve year olds think of the beach, they think about swimming and body surfing and collecting shells and letting the pressure of the waves bury their feet into the quicksand; however, in my adolescent eyes, going to the beach meant exposing my body to the world, and even worse — exposing my body to my family. (Maybe that’s why I prefer cold weather over the heat — because I prefer to bundle up as opposed to dressing down).
Remember the kind of tank tops mentioned earlier that I bought in second grade? The cotton ones with the two inch straps? Every time we went to the beach on that trip, I wore one of those over my two-piece bathing suits and into the water. Not only did I wear a non-waterproof tank top into the ocean, but I also wore board shorts that gave me burns from the wet fabric rubbing against my dry thighs. I became so self conscious that I was willing to look and feel like an absolute fool in front of the people who, I know, accept and love me the most.
I eventually overcame the swim suit obstacle, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said part of me still feels a little too imperfect and a little too self aware to be revealing that much of myself to the world around me.
Post-Hawaii meant I was also a post-middle schooler. In High School, things continued to improve in the realm of fashion, but it did not help that I was now surrounded by plenty of older, makeup wearing, bubbly personality-ed girls who somehow managed to always look like the Danville kid’s standard of perfect.
I remember trying to match this level of “perfect” by applying makeup for the first time. A few years back, I had attended a birthday party where the party favor was a little makeup kit with a few different colored eyeshadows and blush. I put on a slightly noticeable amount of the blush with the tiny plastic bristle-haired applicator, escaped the bathroom, and went downstairs to present my newest upgrade to my family. Without having said a thing, my mom asked me why my face was so red, and my face became even more red as I ran back upstairs to her bathroom — searching for her makeup remover before she could realize I had tried to put some on.
Obviously, high school Tatum didn’t know the first thing about applying makeup, and my personality was a result of my bubbled-up self conscious thoughts. Timid, uneasy, and only funny when I wasn’t trying to be. Thinking back on it, those girls at school were “perfect” because of their confidence. It wasn’t about their new clothing or their pin straight hair or their mascara-filled eyelashes — it was the fact that they weren’t afraid to be themselves on the inside and the outside. The inner me was starting to come out, which I have the Monte Vista Drama Department and Mr. Connor to thank, but the terribly awkward outer me acted as an antagonist. I knew I was a bright person on the inside, but why did I struggle so hard to show it?
At last, high school came to an end, and now, it was time to experience life away from home. I chose to attend The American University of Paris. The results of being in another country at a new school with foreign people were shocking: you can be yourself and people will accept you for you.
This realization didn’t come right off the bat; but, it did come faster than usual due to the fact that I had an immediate roommate named Anni. Anni was like the sister I never had — truthfully. She taught me how to properly use a hair straightener, how to apply makeup in a non-clownish way, how to rock a pair of sneakers with any outfit, and, most importantly, she taught me to learn that I am enough.
Spending a year away from home in a foreign country taught me a lot about myself… and just when I thought things were getting better, they began to revert back to normal when I returned home — away from Anni and away from the streets and people of Paris.
Among other important scholarly things, my first year of college taught me the do’s and don’ts of properly applying makeup (with just the right amount of blush), and my self-conscious self inadvertently taught me how to become completely dependent on wearing makeup in order to feel like I looked socially acceptable. Post-Paris, I wore a full face of makeup every day**, even if my only plan was to take my dog on a walk or get a coffee down the street. I couldn’t stand how bare my face looked without it. Looking in the mirror and seeing my face without makeup felt like I was looking at an entirely different person — and not an attractive one.
So, for the next year, I continued to wear a full face of makeup every single day.
(**By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a full face of makeup daily. In my case, I became a little too dependent on it to make me feel like I looked nice. And I began to think that, without it, I was unattractive).
It wasn’t until my skin started acting up that I decided that I was going to stop wearing so much makeup. After a week or so of wearing a for-the-most-part clean face, I realized that:
- Nobody noticed a difference aside from myself, and 2. There is no point in worrying about what other people think.
I was right, and I am right. Literally nobody sees my imperfections aside from myself. I am my own worst judge.
I mean, obviously, I still find myself caring about what other people think. I’m just trying to figure out how not to overthink things so much in order to overcome my insecurities, and maybe writing whatever this thing is will help.[share]