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Published September 18 2011

Swift: Beauty is skin deep; insecurity is deeper

I recently was involved in a project that required shooting photos and a video.

This in itself is difficult for me. Most reporters get involved in newspapers because they don’t want to stand in front of cameras.

Furthermore, I have never felt particularly secure in my looks. One grade school scrapbook includes photos of me, accompanied by my own brutal critique written in a girlish hand: “Ugly teeth. Ugly hair. Weird shirt.”

Things have improved over time. Yes, I’ve become more accepting of who I am and what I’m really good at. I’ve realized that in the casting call of life, some of us are Angelina Jolie while some of us are Angela Lansbury.

I thought I had made peace with all that superficial stuff.

But there are days when I still fall prey to this culture’s preoccupation with youth and beauty. I’ll look in the mirror at my 45-year-old face and realize I don’t look a day over 50.

Or I’ll realize that, due to high humidity, my hair looks like a rodeo clown wig that was overfluffed in the dryer.

Still, I had agreed to participate in this project, and wanted to make the best of it. So I shoehorned my body into Spanx, put on a suit that had attracted compliments in the past and doubled my makeup and hair time that morning.

When finished, I thought I looked pretty good. At least the dogs seemed impressed, although their view may have been partially obliterated by the hairspray fog.

But when the actual video shoot commenced, my anxiety soared. The group included many well-dressed professionals, including a few who were much more image-savvy than me. They all looked so together, so chic.

Why did everyone else look like “Sex in the City,” while I looked like Phyllis from “The Office?” Why hadn’t I straightened my hair? And why hadn’t I searched the Web to see if Spanx were available in prescription strength?

Even more so, I hated that I even cared. I loathed that uncomfortable, no-win feeling of comparing myself to others. On an intellectual level, I knew I was a smart, strong woman. But on an emotional level, I felt like that shy junior-high outsider in a school locker room.

But then a funny thing happened. As I talked to other women involved in the project, they also mentioned how insecure they were about being photographed. “I wish I could have done this two years ago before the baby weight,” they’d say. Or: “After standing next to that really chic woman I kind of felt like a Teletubby.”

Suddenly, that school locker room was getting pretty crowded.

The realization both bothered and soothed me. What kind of culture makes women so obsessed with physical perfection that even beautiful, smart, accomplished females suddenly regress to age 13?

At the same time, why do we spend so much time assuming everyone else has it figured out? Why do we, as one wise friend said, compare our imperfect insides to other people’s seemingly flawless outsides?

Anyway, it was a learning experience.

I learned never to judge another woman until I’d walked a mile in her Manolo Blahniks.

And the next time, I’ll spring for the prescription Spanx.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com