A reference image for my therapist

When I was about eighteen, I brought a picture of Shay Mitchell to my hair stylist before a haircut, since she and I both have thick, dark hair. Eighteen is very young to have to learn the lesson that I learned that day*, which is that despite having similar hair texture, Shay Mitchell and I do not look alike. 

After that fateful day, I have given up the practice of taking a picture of a celebrity to the hair salon. It’s already sad enough when you have to look at yourself with your hair all wet around your face. Why add the additional heartbreak of realizing you don’t look like a Freeform/CW/Disney+ star into the mix? 

Physical reference images are crap. But sometimes I wish there was a way to bring a reference image to a therapist, just so they have some idea of what your goals are. I have thought a lot about what my reference image would be, if this became a widely accepted practice in the therapy world.

At first I thought the reference image would be one of those Christian lifestyle bloggers on Instagram who takes pictures at pumpkin patches wearing matching overalls with her five children. Having the swipe up feature on my Instagram stories and looking good in overalls? The dream. 

But as the long, essay-style captions of many of these influencers can attest, they struggle with self-acceptance and self-love, just like the rest of us. So I thought of the purest distillation of love and contentment I possibly could: the love a middlingly handsome, upper-middle class white boy in the suburbs feels for himself. 

For your consideration, the exact level of self-love I want to achieve: 

Halfway through my senior year, my Spanish teacher rearranged our seats to make room for a few new students who’d had their schedules changed because of the new semester. My seat wasn’t changed, but a friend of a friend was shifted next to J, the aforementioned middlingly handsome white boy. J was intriguing – he was a huge stoner, but also had great grades. He had popular friends, but was nice to everyone. I heard from a friend who worked at the movie theatre that he would sometimes go to Saturday matinees by himself – “how cool is that?!”** 

Anyway, because there wasn’t a lot going on in our Spanish class and we could pretty much goof off the whole time, the friend of a friend was able to have a lot of heart to hearts with J. In one chat, he confessed to her, “when I see girls around school that I know from class, I always say hi to them, because I know it makes them really happy.” 

WHAT? Can you imagine loving yourself enough that you would not only think that but SAY IT to a girl who will most definitely tell her friends who will tell their friends? I can’t even IMAGINE it. 

Honestly though, I couldn’t even be mad at him for this. Because I can say from experience that he did say hi to me around school***, and it did make me happy every time. Sometimes even happy enough to tell my friends about it. 

Once I came to school wearing a new jacket and he told me he liked it, causing my heart to swell with joy. A few years after that, when I gave the jacket to my sister, I gave it a loving brush with my hand. “Take good care of this baby. It’s served me well,” I said to her, with more love than anyone has ever felt about a brown pleather jacket from Forever 21, and with a faraway look in my eye. 

Like all hometown hotties, J did not age well, a process that began almost immediately after high school graduation. A friend of mine went to college with him, and reported that her college friends did not understand the hype. And now, years later I have determined from a quick Facebook stalk that he suffers from severe facial bloating. But I like to think that if I were to run into him on the street one day post pandemic, he would say a quick hello to me, and walk away feeling confident that he had completed his good deed for the day. 

I feel like I should wrap this post by saying that, yes, I am between therapists at the moment. 

*Somehow I managed to narrowly avoid this lesson in the 17 or so years of life in which I not only had access to reflective surfaces, but the ability to recognize myself in said surfaces.

**Uhh I feel like I have to say that this was before some events that would make this anything less than an innocuous statement.


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