Yesterday I was having a chat with one of my writer friends about putting your face online. He has just launched the second novel in his series about Ardamin, a clone inhabiting a dystopian future (check the series out here on Amazon) and he has been promoting the latest novel on Instagram, including showing himself with his book.
So far, so normal. Unless you’re me, or someone like me. I’ve been running this blog since April 2013 (with some gaps for life events) and I’ve never put my face, let alone my body, on view. Over on my Instagram account there are maybe three instances where I’ve revealed myself as an adult. That’s out of 581 posts I’ve put up over there. And… to be honest I fight every day not to take them down. I may yet do that.
When I was nine, we moved house, from a big city to a village. I was The New Girl. And some boys in the class below me immediately started calling me Superfat Seven. Until this point, I don’t think I’d ever thought about how I compared to other kids in my class. I was just me. That name would follow me everywhere I went, and I dreaded walking home from school if they were on the same street (which they often were) because the name calling would follow me home. I’ve seen photos of myself at that age and I can’t see why they chose that name, looking at it objectively. I had pudgy cheeks, but I wasn’t the huge lump that I very quickly saw myself as due to this name. Looking back, I guess the sole reason I was bullied was because I was The New Girl. That was it. But, the name had life-changing consequences.
I’ve never been diagnosed (I’ve never sought it out), but I’m almost certain I have Body Dysmorphia. I will do almost anything to avoid having my photograph taken. Even with family photos as I was growing up, I desperately wanted to grab the camera and throw it to the floor. But I was a well-behaved kid and knew that cameras were expensive so… I didn’t. I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror. The only thing I focus on when doing my hair in the morning is the hair itself. When going somewhere where I have to be presentable, I focus on the neatness and cleanliness of the clothes themselves and whether what I have chosen is objectively ‘good enough’, not how I look in what I am wearing, because I will never accept how I look.
I have learned to mask the depression and anxiety that this has caused, but it has become entangled in other issues over the years. Unravelling it all seems like another lifetime’s work. Masking is what we do to get by in life, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for one minute think that anyone else is bothered by how I look, nor do I think I am the focus of their attention. This is all about my inability to accept myself.
What has this got to do with writing, with being an author? A hell of a lot, actually. Marketing your novel when the perceived wisdom is that you will be more approachable, more memorable, more relatable (I hate that word so much!) if you show your face, is a huge problem for someone like me. I know so many other authors who have their Instagram account filled with themselves. Their posts are bright and engaging and… relatable.
The upside is that I used this crushing mental health issue (because it is a mental health issue, let’s be honest) to my advantage when writing Callie, the main character in Anti-Virus. The cause of her situation is very different and entirely more violent than childhood bullying, but I was able to build on my personal experiences to create her story. So, there is that.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It may be true. Sometimes though, it would be such a relief to be strong without having to go via Superfat Seven Highway to get there.