Crucial Minutia
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Kimberlee Auerbach
Taking Pictures of Yourself? Narcissism Or Something Else?
17 Comments | posted April 26th, 2007 at 12:25 pm by Kimberlee Auerbach

I take a lot of pictures of myself. A lot. Whenever I am bored, anxious, sad or alone, I position my cell phone in front of my face and snap a shot.

I have written about this before. I once showed a friend one of my many self-portraits. His response was, “You sure do like you face.” I turned red and giggled. There are reasons, real reasons. I moved around a lot as a child and often didn’t feel real. Pictures make me feel real. I was a model for my dad’s company when I was a teenager and felt the pressure to look perfect, wear make-up, smile. Candid shots make me feel free.

But what if I do like my face? What’s wrong with that? Does it mean I’m cursed like Narcissus? Is loving yourself a curse? In today’s world, I think it’s quite an achievement.

As all of you know, Courtney Martin has written one of the bravest, most honest, heart-wrenching and hopeful books out today.

She was interviewed on NBC’s Weekend TODAY last Saturday and kicked some serious ass. A producer had asked her if she knew anyone in their thirties who could talk about body image. She recommended me, which was lovely and generous and so cool of her.

Well, they called and started asking me questions.

“When you walk into a room, how do you feel about yourself?”

“Beautiful,” I said.

“Yeah, but, what if…” He kept trying to find ways in which I didn’t like myself.

I admitted to not liking my skin. I’ve been picking it since I was twelve and often feel self-conscious when someone touches my arm. I told him that sometimes I stare at women’s asses on the street and think, Man, it sure would be nice to have an ass like that. Or boobs like that. But in general, I notice the light emanating from someone’s eyes. Their smile. Their warmth. In general, I feel beautiful and see the beauty in others.

The producer called me the next day to say I wasn’t quite right. I had good self-esteem, which was great, just not what they were looking for.

The thing is I haven’t always had good self-esteem. Far from it. It’s been a real struggle for me in my life. I have worked very hard to achieve balance, to not let the negative thoughts dominate and to let more of the positive thoughts in.

Pianists do scales. Artists sketch. Yogis stretch. Businessmen crunch numbers. Chefs experiment. You don’t get good at something unless you practice every day. I’m not suggesting we all take cell phone pictures of ourselves, but I do suggest we try to find a daily way to love ourselves more.

If you want some ideas, Jennifer Gandin has a few up her sleeve, and you can always read Courtney’s book. Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Therapy Thursdays

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 26th, 2007 at 12:25 pm and is filed under General, Relationships, Health, Art. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 17 responses

  1. So I think there’s a general conflation in our culture of confidence and over-confidence. It’s hard to tell the two apart, really. With over-confidence, usually someone has some aspect of themselves they’re insecure with and feel the need to cover up. They could draw into their shell, or they could go the opposite direction, proclaiming how beautiful/hot they are. On the other hand, are there people who really, truly, are narcissistic?

    Maybe. I mean, I think as we grow up we focus on those aspects of ourselves that other people heap praise on us for. And if beauty is that aspect, I can totally see how somebody can become infatuated with their own looks. But it’s still not real confidence. And yet, it’s not over-confidence.

    I don’t think most people heal their insecurities over time unless, like you, Kimmi, they work on them actively. I think they just get better at hiding them.

    April 26th, 2007 | 1:30 pm
  2. As I’ve said through out my still-young book publicity experience, I think it is a totally radical experience for someone–a woman in particular–in this day and age, in this place, to refuse to settle for self-hate. We must all figure out where we will feel best, with whom, and be there, with those people, more of the time.
    Kimmi, you are a great role model for me of beauty as defined by light and openness and exploration.

    April 26th, 2007 | 2:14 pm
  3. You guys are going to make me cry. Thank you.

    Ethan, I don’t think you’ve commented on one of my posts before. I feel honored.

    Courtney, you are a great role model for me too. You try to be gentle with yourself. I really admire that.

    Just a side note: kind of interesting, Narcissistic Personality Disorder has very little to do with loving your own face.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, pg. 661) describes Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

    * has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements);

    * is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love;

    * believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions);

    * requires excessive admiration;

    * has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations;

    * is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends;

    * lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others;

    * is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her;

    * shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

    April 26th, 2007 | 3:52 pm
  4. Wow. Paris Hilton is 9 for 9.

    April 26th, 2007 | 9:49 pm
  5. Ha!!!!!

    April 26th, 2007 | 11:17 pm
  6. Theo Gangi

    I always think of the myth where Narcissus just gets stuck looking at his own reflection. In a healthy dynamic, one looks at another and sees another. Narcissus looks at another and sees himself. Not trying to dispute your definition, Kimmi, I’m sure you’re right, this is just the way I think about it. It seems less relevant that he is in love with his face, but that he doesn’t notice anything else. People who hate their own face can be the same way– suicide always seemed to have an element of that myth to me.

    April 27th, 2007 | 9:50 am
  7. That’s really interesting, Theo.

    When I was looking for a good link for Narcissus, I found this:

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. When I listen to people and give them advice, I try to keep them in mind, see who they are as separate from myself, what would be right for them, not me.

    I never thought of suicide that way. Can you explain more?

    April 27th, 2007 | 10:24 am
  8. Theo Gangi

    It seems seriously depressed or suicidal people believe their suffering is more important than the people or world around them. Or, they are unaware of the people/world around them because their suffering is all that exists. It’s a selfish act.

    April 27th, 2007 | 11:04 am
  9. Thank you. That makes sense. Have you read Durkheim’s Suicide? He has a different take that’s interesting.

    April 27th, 2007 | 11:29 am
  10. Joie Jager-Hyman

    I have to chime in here about suicide being a selfish act. While I understand how it is tempting to see it that way for those of us who have lost loved ones to this act, I just don’t think it’s that simple. One of my best friends in the world took his own life in January. He was struggling with mental illness for years, and had been in the hospital since May of 2005.

    I know because I was one of the people who help put him there.

    Two years ago, he disappeared for 4 days right before he was supposed to graduate from Harvard Law School and start a 6 figure job in Philadelphia. My sister and I convinced–more like begged–him to get help. He checked himself into a hospital, struggled for years, and was no better off in the end. Of course, we were all grateful for the extra time. And the fact that he TRIED SO HARD to get better helped us in dealing with his death.

    I will never ever forget going down to his parents’ basement after the funeral. His mother wanted to give me some of his books (he must have had half the Strand down there). What was he reading? Graduate-level psychology text books. There were bins of them. Not only was he being treated by Harvard’s best psychiatrists, he was desperately trying to cure himself. He tried so hard to save his own life.

    Had I not had this good friend, I might think differently about suicide. He taught me to have blameless sympathy for victims of mental illness. Would you say that a person who dies of cancer is selfish? Someone who commits suicide is also suffering from a disease. This is not a rational act.

    April 27th, 2007 | 12:22 pm
  11. Theo Gangi

    I disagree with the premise that there is a such thing as a terminal mental disease.
    My great grandfather killed himself when my grandma was 9. There is always something more important than one’s own suffering.

    April 27th, 2007 | 2:13 pm
  12. Joie Jager-Hyman

    Sure, there is always something more important than one’s own suffering, but someone who is suicidal is not thinking in his or her right mind. As I said, this is not a rational act. It is not something that healthy people do as it goes against our baser instincts.

    Mental illness is REAL. Just as people with skin cancer have abnormal skin cells, people with depression or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder have abnormal brain chemistry. This is why we treat these illnesses with drugs. But, sometimes, as in any illness, drugs don’t work and people get sicker. Sometimes they die.

    April 27th, 2007 | 3:06 pm
  13. I hear both of you.

    I think suicide is complex issue. Durkheim looked at it from a sociological perspective. He believed that responsibility grounds us. If we are not connected to a job or family or community, if no one excepts us to show up, if we don’t feel someone depends on us, then we are free floating and more susceptible to suicide than someone else. I thought that was interesting.

    I’m sorry to hear that both of you have been effected by suicide — in different ways obviously.

    April 27th, 2007 | 6:31 pm
  14. Trudi Levine

    In a message dated 4/27/07 9:06:12 PM, TrudiL531 writes:

    Oh jeez. I started at the top and wanted to comment on one’s sense of self and then on the colloquial use of the narcisisism…now onto suicide. So, I may be writing forever.

    Perhaps the place to start is with the definition and explanation of narcissism. The thing which most characerizes pathological narcissism (as opposed to healthy narcissism which I hope we all have) is a lack of integration of sense of self and consequent to that lack of integration is an overwhelming suscepitibility to external reflection. Situations in which one experiences oneself as being positively valued are integrated with a sense of a grandiose and expansive self. One is not okay…one is GREAT!

    The other side of narcissism, which is not included here, is the incredible susceptibility to feelings of shame and devaluation. A slight, a minor rejection can be experienced as an experience of shattering the ’self’. One is not just sad or upset, but there is an experience of total worthlessness and anihilation.

    People who suffer (and do suffer) from pathological narcissism are often,when ‘high’ , expansive and are wonderful to be with.In their grandiosity they make you feel special and a circularity of experience with both you and them feeling fabulous ensues.

    What is sorely lacking is the sense which Kimberlee expresses so well, which is a balance of self experience which is complex and which fluctuates within normal bounds.

    The more painful side of narcissism brings me to the issue of suicide.

    Trouble with generalizing about suicide is that it can be done for many reasons. Everything from requests for overdoses of medication if terminal, to adolescents hanging themselves ‘by mistake’ for a sexual high. In between there are people who are bipolar, those who are depressed or psychotic and of course, those who are homocidal and use themselves as the object of their rageful murderous impulses.

    Leaving aside those who kill themselves unintentionally, those who are terminal and those who do it out rage,I think it is truly difficult to understand the total emptiiness and despair which confront many who kill themselves. Those who have suffered through psychiatric illness and unable to escape their demons are dead ended. Today at a conference in Boston on the Brain and Attachment , the speaker made the point that physical and emotional pain are registed in the same place and in the same way in the brain. A broken leg with the femur protruding through the skin is clear and evident pain to everyone, a broken soul with no hope and no attachment is not clear.
    One doesn’t contemplate suicide and act upon it if alternatives seem a possibility. It is a state of arationality and amorality. When I worked in inpatient psychiatry I could sense when someone was a potential suicide and I’ve never been able to tell why that was other than that there was a particular disconnect which was particular and unique.

    For the record…my grandmother hanged herself.

    The impact of this on my life has been…well a blog unto itself!

    See what’s free at

    April 27th, 2007 | 8:14 pm
  15. Thank you for weighing in, Trudi. I really appreciate your insights, clarifications and additions to the conversation. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother.

    April 28th, 2007 | 10:04 am
  16. nahoko

    “There is always something more important than one’s own suffering.”

    Theo, I am really happy for you that you feel strongly about this, I feel the same way. But I know for me, I can feel this way because I consider myself mentally healthy. An act of suicide is by definition a selfish act, but in my opinion, it should not be called that in a pejorative sense, or have any blame assigned.

    Joie, your friend was lucky to have you as a friend. Despite all the suffering, he always knew that you loved him and that you were there for him and he believed you. You gave him hope.

    An act of suicide inevitably leaves more questions than answers. Trudi, thanks for your insight.

    May 5th, 2007 | 12:53 am
  17. Joie Jager-Hyman

    Nahoko, I think you put it so well when you say “an act of suicide always leaves more questions than answers.” Perhaps focusing on how hard my friend tried to get better was something I needed to do to cope with it in my own way. I don’t have any real answers, just my take on things based on my own experiences and ways of making sense of them.

    Thank you so much for your kind words as well.

    May 6th, 2007 | 7:35 pm

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