A few weeks ago I was sent a wig to review for my website. It was a sandy blond color and the cut was very different than the black, shoulder-length style that I usually wear. Shannonlee, my photographer who would be taking pictures for the review, asked me to send over some selfies of me wearing it so she can get an idea of the color for the shoot.
If there’s anything this girl likes, it’s taking a good selfie.
If there’s anything this girl hates, it’s taking a bad selfie.
I was having a good day. I spent the day getting a makeover and wearing my new thigh pads with one of my favorite dresses. I looked good, I felt good. I got home and switched hairstyles and selfied away. After a few pictures, I looked though them to see which were the best photos to send over.
They were terrible. All of them. The wig looked good, my makeup looked good, but everything else was just….humbling. I hated how I looked in every single selfie. I tried more photos, I tried different angles, nothing helped. It was borderline devastating. A flood of emotions and thoughts hit me. Was this how I really looked? Is this what I looked like all day? Is this what people see when I am out?
I sent over two of the least terrible selfies and changed back into male mode. My spirits were remarkably lower than they were fifteen minutes ago. I deleted the photos as soon as I could. I tend to go to extremes when I am stressed or worried or frustrated and this was no exception. I think I look cute most of the time but maybe I was fooling myself. It’s not about passing because there is no such thing, but how we feel about ourselves is often tied into how we feel about how we look.
We have all been here. Sometimes this feeling lasts with us for a few days, sometimes we can shake it off after a moment or two, sometimes this crushes us so much that we never dress up again. There have been times when I walked past a mirror at a department store and checked myself out. It’s a real confidence booster to see a reflection that looks good, but there are times when… well, what reflects back is different than what you thought you would see. These moments hurt and they catch us off guard. All of a sudden that confident strut turns into something else.
There have been times when I bought a new outfit and sent an hour doing my makeup, choosing the perfect heels and accessories, and fixing my hair and feeling excited to go out and looking forward to seeing how everything comes together and then…wham! You don’t look as cute as you hoped you would. You were expecting a transformative moment but you still look like…you, but you with longer hair and lipstick.
A new outfit, new hair, amazing makeup can be a magical experience. Every makeover I get from Corrie Dubay or MAC is amazing. I can stare into the mirror and look for “me” but there is only Hannah. But the opposite is true, too. The more I dress, the less this happens as I know what I look like, I know what I will probably look like, but when this feeling hits it catches me unaware and cuts deep.
This happens. To all of us. This happens whether you are trans or cis. We all know this heartbreaking, humbling, depressing feeling. There are times when we just don’t feel cute. There are times when I dress and I look and feel amazing, but the very next day I dress again and I feel absolutely horrible.
What some of us don’t know is that this is a real thing with a real name. It’s called gender dysphoria. According to Wikipedia, gender dysphoria is the distress a person feels due to their birth-assigned sex and gender not matching their gender identity. People who experience gender dysphoria are typically transgender.
So, what do we do when this happens? How I shake it off depends on how it’s hitting me. Dysphoria hits me from a physical and from a psychological perspective.
About two years ago this feeling was hitting me hard and hitting me more often and for longer than it usually did. Every time I did my makeup I just wanted to cry. My face was very angular, my features harder, and overall structure was just very…well, not cute. I had just lost a lot of weight and although I liked my new body and felt healthier, I missed my old face. It was fuller, rounder, and had a different, softer look than what I had now. Simply put, I hated how I looked and it was affecting how I felt about myself.
For years I had been doing my makeup for my old face. I had my techniques, my methods, my tricks. But I had a new face. I needed to learn how to do makeup for it. I scheduled a makeup lesson with Corrie and we discussed my goals and what I was struggling with. We spent two hours going over new techniques, how to contour, different products and how to minimize and accentuate my features.
I felt like so much better. I know this all sounds shallow but I think you know what I mean. Even in male mode I feel better about myself after shaving when I let my facial hair grow for a week. I don’t like looking, or feeling, like a slob. I like to look my best regardless of what gender I am presenting as. I feel just as good in a suit as I do in a summer dress.
But the psychological attacks can’t be overcome with a makeup lesson. I can feel absolutely terrible about myself even after an expensive makeover and a new dress. It’s usually triggered by how I look, but the voices and thoughts in my head are worse than any bad selfie. Not pretty enough. Too male. Too ugly. Quit fooling yourself. You’re an embarrassment. Stop doing this. Throw your clothes out.
As I said, I tend to go to extremes. These thoughts can break your heart. These thoughts are hard to push out. They linger and stick around and hit us when we least expect it. These thoughts come back when we see a cute dress and that voice tells us that we’ll look awful in it. They can cause us to purge but we all know purging is silly because in two weeks we are kicking ourselves for tossing out our stilettos that we spent $80 on only to have to replace them.
What helps me is knowing that these thoughts and feelings will pass. I may be able to shake them off in a few hours or in a few days. Sometimes they hang around in my head until the next time I dress up and get, in a way, a second chance. More often than not the next time I dress up I will feel differently about myself and it erases any doubt or hurtful thoughts. Sometimes looking at photos of me that I like helps.
We all have off days. We all have bad days at work. If we are artists not every painting will be good. If we are carpenters we will sometimes hit our thumbs with hammers. If we are chefs we will sometimes burn things.
It does not mean we should hang up our berets and aprons. It just means we had a bad day and we need to try again. An off day will sometimes create feelings of doubt, frustration, and depression. A bad day will make us question our self-worth and make us wonder if what we’re doing is what we should really be doing.
A bad day just means we need to try again. Sometimes we need to try more than once. I have had weeks where every day at work is difficult and makes me want to find a new job, but then I’ll have an amazing Friday and everything turns around and I love life and the sun is shining and birds are singing and I wonder why I even wanted to quit in the first place. Dressing and makeup are like that, too.
It’s also important for us to remember, especially in the early days, that no matter how expensive the makeup or the wig, we will not look like Kate Beckinsale, Sandra Bullock, Selena Gomez, or your favorite celebrity icon. I remember the thrill and letdown of what I looked like after my first makeover. I loved my look but at the same time I was disappointed I did not look like Elizabeth Hurley. We must accept we will not look like them, but we will look like us.
As for the wig…I had my shoot two weeks ago and my review will be posted soon. Of all the outfits we had to shoot that day I saved the wig for last because I remembered the selfies. If that feeling hit again I didn’t want it to cloud over the whole shoot. It’s not the wig’s fault, the hair is beautiful, it was the psychological trigger thew wig had on me. I changed my hair and walked into the studio, nervous because of how I thought I looked and nervous because of how I looked a few weeks back. Shannonlee took some photos, I changed back into my hair, and held my breath while I waited for the pictures.
A full review and photos will be coming soon, but here are a couple pictures from that day.
I heart them. I love the color, I love my smile, I love my look. I am a different girl than the one who took bathroom selfies. What changed? The wig is the same, my makeup was professionally done both times. But we can never forget that there is a difference between a selfie and pictures by a professional photographer. Lighting and camera angles make a difference, too.
I am also bad at selfies.
These are things that I will remember the next time this feeling hits. Because it will. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month. But it will happen. You are not alone in feeling this. You feel this. I feel this. Our partners feel this. Everyone reading this sentence feels this. We all feel this more often than we would like but this does, and will, pass.
I may not look like Elizabeth Hurley, but I look (most of the time) exactly like Hannah McKnight. And that is a wonderful feeling.