In the Spring of 2009, I had just returned to work after giving birth to my third child, when I received an excited request from the PR team to participate in a photoshoot for a media article about the turnaround of Gatorade. Those were still the glorious days when it didn’t really occur to me that any photo taken might end up on the internet… to be searched by anyone… for EVER. Given that I was only a few months postpartum, I was carrying some extra pounds and not to mention a phenomenon that many new Moms will relate to – EXTREME helmet hair. Something happens after you give birth that causes your hair to puff up like a fucking mushroom, no matter how hard you try to straighten and condition it. In retrospect I now also wonder if postpartum hormones are the cause of highly questionable fashion choices. I was SO into the jacket that I chose to wear in that shoot, thinking it was some kind of combo of power business chick meets Italian fashion chic. Little did I know that it actually made me look like some kind of overbearing “horsie” mother.
Fast forward a few years and to my surprise, I was featured in a Forbes magazine article online. My initial excitement at seeing my name pop up in such a credible outlet through my google alert… was quickly followed by the horror of realizing that the helmet hair picture had been picked to accompany the article. Not only did I have to deal with my besties mercilessly taking the piss out of me for THOSE BANGS, but the joke just NEVER ended. As recently as a year ago, one of my closest friends would delight in repeatedly googling that particular article to “run it up the search engine” so that anyone googling me would first be greeted with that image.
And I don’t know if it’s the great benefit of getting older or my own personal reaction to the ridiculously perfect online universe that we now all live in, but I have come to realize in recent years that there is something gloriously liberating about embracing the ugly and just not giving a shit. More recently, this scenario played out again – this time in the freeken Wall Street Journal. Oh yes – a FULL scale picture of me in workout gear looking like I had just sucked on a lemon! I could do nothing but recognize my obvious complete LACK of modeling talents, and wonder how bad the rest of the photos had been in that particular shoot, for this one to be the one that was selected.
But here’s the lesson: when you embrace your ugly bits, you really have nothing to hide, and it’s amazing what that does for your self-confidence.
I look at the perfectly coiffed Instagram and LinkedIn world that my kids are growing up in, and I worry terribly about the expectations of perfection that it creates. At the worst extreme, we already know that this is leading to far higher levels of teenage depression when these kids simply can’t live up to their digitally constructed expectations. Perhaps the more widespread reality is that our over-filtered lives contribute to the next generation’s unwillingness to take risks, make mistakes, screw up, be embarrassed, and grow in the process.
Which brings me to the most wonderfully inspiring insight from the team at Strava, the social network for athletes, just a couple of weeks ago. They introduced a new marketing campaign to the world under the concept of #AthletesUnfiltered – making the point that they may be the one and only social network where the users are more than happy to post the ugly realities of their athletic accomplishments, because the physical activity itself is so much more valuable to record than a perfectly filtered picture of it.
It got me thinking that this is yet another reason why getting our kids to participate in sports and physical activities is so important in their upbringing. Not only does it teach them the critical lessons of teamwork, setting goals, winning, celebrating, losing, bouncing back from loss and leadership, it also introduces them to a world where nobody gives a shit what you look like. Where you find yourself among a like-minded community of people who don’t care when you have to pull off the side of the road during a bike ride to drop your pants and take a pee; where it’s normal to eject snot from your nose onto the pavement during a cold morning run; where your sweaty selfie right after your Flywheel ride drips with the confidence of someone who knows their face is bright red, patchy and ugly, but it doesn’t matter because they just achieved something in that cycling class that the perfectly coiffed person walking by on the street didn’t.
Next time you see an ugly photo of yourself online, think about the upside and the downside of that photo. OK yes – we all cringe when we see a photo that doesn’t showcase our best side, but maybe embracing that realness is the key to greater self-acceptance. And more importantly, it builds greater self-confidence to go forth and crush the opportunities in front of you because you’re not wasting precious energy worrying about the way you look. Instead, you’re throwing your effort into delivering memorable results. THAT, I believe might just be the liberating awesomeness of living life #Unfiltered.
P.S. The Tough Mudder is a perfect venue for some unfiltered athletic images. Here are some of mine.
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