Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Here's my take on photoshopping and body image

I like airbrushing my pictures.
I love playing with color settings and adjusting the lighting.
I enjoy when other photographers have the decency to tone down the high definition on me. My pores thank you very much.

So you're not going to find me telling you that you should be posting unvarnished pictures of yourself online. You won't see me harping that airbrushed pics set an unfair standard for tweeters everywhere.

I think the real problem is when you chase perfectionism to the point that you're changing the very essence of your being.

I'm talking about a deeper level here. I mean hiding aspects of your personality for the approval of others.

Sometimes we can sanitize ourselves so much that we lose the authentic self.

If you catch a glimpse of some of my pre-CNN Headline News (now HLN) broadcasts, you're likely to find a stuffed-shirt, vanilla-talking 20-something cub journalist, who looks something like me. Except this version of "Robin," say from 1998, sounds more like a programmed robot than the Atlantan-by-way-of-Ohio that you see on the air today.

I was consumed back then with getting viewers and bosses to like me. I was awash in trying to speak perfectly, sound credible and never make a mistake. I had what I call the "I-hope-you-like-me" disease.

I'd take my bosses’ suggestions and amplify them to hard-and-fast rules.

If they suggested I try to dress in a more sophisticated way, I'd ditch anything casual and lean more toward the "Church Lady" dress from SNL. If they said "that laugh," I'd squash my belly laugh that's so hardy, it regularly makes me go hoarse. If they said "we want more gravitas," I could furrow my brow like a Ron Burgundy wannabe.

However, the moment I started filling someone else's prescription of the "perfect news anchor," I started to lose my authenticity. Your authentic self is the very essence of the real you that makes you fascinating, different, comfortable to be around and a live wire with spark.

It came to a point where I had become a cookie-cutter news anchor. I was so stressed about being likable, I became plain boring.

Then I started having panic attacks on the air. Then I started fearing the panic attacks, which made them come more often. As you might imagine, it's kind of hard to deliver the news when you can't breathe.

I started to think I had lost the ability to do my job.

Enter Dr. Amelia Case.

My husband's chiropractor not only adjusted people by aligning their spines, she also helped adjust people's outlook and mindset. After months and months of really looking at how I viewed myself, she helped me see where I had extreme views about the importance of being liked. I couldn't see any benefit to being disliked. In other words, I had put everyone's opinions about me above my own opinion of me. Doesn't that sound messed up?

I had to do a "mind flip" and see where I was likable and unlikable. I examined how both of those characteristics benefited me and people around me. I started to see the value of my quirks and how my authentic self was wayyyy more interesting and relatable than this vanilla, "nice," by-the-numbers person I was showing the world.

It took a while, but I got comfortable talking on the air like I'd talk to you on the phone. I started to laugh out loud if it was a natural reaction. I started wearing things true to my own personal style, whether they were stereotypical of a news anchor or not. In other words, I became comfortable with the real me on air and was OK if the viewer or others in my life decided to not "like" me.

Think about it: The people we find most fascinating in society aren't necessarily the ones who are the most "perfect." We humans are more fascinated with the flawed human who owns their faults and stands in their center of authenticity and embraces it. We can't get enough of the celebrity women who are saccharine-sweet on one hand and throw lightning bolts with the other. We root for people who fall on their face only to get back up again. We love people who are confident enough to stay in the present and not get distracted by the little movies each of us plays in our heads about what we fear about the future or regret about the past.

It's funny. It was only after I let go of my debilitating need to be liked that I found my biggest successes in broadcasting. I think it's partly because by showing peeks of our authentic selves, we subliminally give the people around us permission to accept their own authenticity. As a result, we experience this kind of bubble of acceptance and shared experience.

I hope that's what you feel in the mornings, if I'm lucky enough to have you as a viewer. I joke that you are fine just as you are, when you wake up in the morning, bedheaded, sheet marks across your face, pre-shower and cranky from no coffee. You are a standing member of the “Wake-Up Club!” Always welcome!

But the deeper message I hope you feel is that your authentic self is celebrated here, and you're likely to find even bigger successes by being your true self.

No, I don't think you have to stop applying digital makeup to your online photos to prove your authenticity. Just like I don't think you should feel you have to be all made up in every photo either.

What's most important here is that you value your own opinion about yourself more than you value someone else's opinion about you.

Celebrate the authentic you, which is deeper than what any picture shows.