I Was Camera Shy As A Teen, And I Wish I Hadn't

I Hid From The Camera As A Teen, And I Wish I Hadn’t

September 26, 2021 Updated September 24, 2021

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

When I was a teenager I hated my body. I thought I was fat, even though I was as tall as I am now — 5’6″ — and if I weighed 125 pounds soaking wet, that was a stretch. And I have always had big breasts, disproportionally big if you ask me, and people would stare. I tried minimizer bras, bulky shirts, anything to deter people from looking. It didn’t work. The more that they glanced, the more self-conscious I became. I was so consumed with the way that people looked at me, I was certain that there was something wrong with me. And because of this body dysmorphia, I was thrown into a lifetime of eating disorders.

When you are so self-conscious of the way you look, it can be hard to even glance in the mirror. That was me. I shuddered when I saw my reflection. I just wanted to be normal, whatever “normal” meant. I am not sure, but it certainly wasn’t me. When you can’t borrow your mother’s strapless bra for a fancy dress in eighth grade because it is too small, it impacts you. And because of my obsession with my looks, I avoided having my picture taken when I was a teenager.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

I can remember walking out of the camera’s view when I was an adolescent. There was no way that I wanted anyone documenting the horror that was my body. I didn’t want people to have evidence of what I looked like. If there were pictures taken, I would often hide behind someone or something, get annoyed at the photographer, or ask for it just to be from the waist up. I would have loved the crop feature back then. In actuality, the chest-up pics were worse than full body. They actually made me look bigger than I was, just because of the angle. Today, knowing that my kids won’t be able to see what their mom was like as a teenager makes me really sad.

I got my big breasts from my grandmother. She was 4’11” with the biggest chest that you have ever seen. They were literally half of her body. It sort of skipped a generation with my mom, who has average-sized breasts, what I considered normal at the time. That was what I so desperately wanted. Now I have a daughter, and I wonder what her genes have in store. It scares me a bit, because I want her to be happy with whom she is.

Is it a bad thing to be well-endowed? No, not at all. The problem lies with your inability to love yourself, and the slippery slope that sends you falling into diet culture. My mom had a ThighMaster and a personal stepper that I loved to use in secret. I did Buns of Steel videos and tracked my food with Richard Simmons’ Deal-A-Meal. My self-image was so bad and I was desperate to be anyone other than who I was. Looking back, it is truly a tragedy.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

This has carried over into adulthood, and is probably just as bad as it was when I was younger. I cannot tell you how many times I have joined a new gym or had a Weight Watchers membership. Dozens. I don’t know that I will ever be truly satisfied with the way that I look or the person that I have become. However, I have stepped out of my comfort zone a bit lately and embraced what I believe that God gave me. I bought an expensive dress that was well tailored, but showed off my breasts and wore it to dinner. In public. In front of other people. This wasn’t a step in the right direction — it was a giant leap. Five years ago, I would have never worn it. Today, I am making progress. I am feeling better about whom I am, and the skin that I inhabit.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

That is the woman that I want my daughter to know. I want her to see that it is OK to be you just the way that you are. And that no matter what you look like, it is exactly what you are intended to be. I may have been abundantly blessed in the breast department and uncomfortable with it, but I have a few things that I am happy about. I am 42 years old with very few wrinkles. Yes, I use creams and cleansers and toners and all of the stuff. My husband laughs, “Your lack of wrinkles isn’t because of any of that crap you put all over yourself. You have your dad’s skin and I guarantee that face has never seen a drop of moisturizer.” That is 100% true and a win for my genetic lottery, I guess.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

Do I wish that there were more pictures of me being silly and funny and just all-around happy? Of course I do. Despite the fact that I was incredibly self-deprecating, I had a really happy life growing up. I have wonderful brothers and parents who have supported me through all that I have done. Don’t get it twisted; they tried their best to make me feel good about myself, I just didn’t believe them. And I hid my thoughts for years. I blame none of this on them.

My mother took plenty of pictures; I just found a way to manipulate myself in (or rather, out of) them. Like hiding behind others or a giant object like a stuffed animal or bush. There are lots of pictures of the big stuff, parties, Christmas, graduation etc. It’s the candids that I avoided, but that’s OK.

Courtesy of Colleen Thomas

I can’t change the fact that I wouldn’t get my picture taken back then, but I do it all the time now. I want my children to remember me, as I am, the woman with crazy hair color who drove them to school in her pajamas with red lipstick on. Some behaviors never die. I still try to hide behind my kids when I can. But I am getting better. I am getting better for them. And thanks to the digital age, I take pictures of them on the daily. It is truly ad nauseam, but they have documentation of everything. That, I will never regret.