I got a text message today from my best friend that read, “This was on Instagram this morning.”

I debated not viewing the picture and just letting ignorance be delicious bliss, but how awful could it possibly be? I could deal with a photo with my face contorted or with my body carrying an extra 10 pounds of camera weight. And I knew the photo wasn’t of me naked or in some other vulnerable position because I have successfully spent my twenties avoiding requests for sexually suggestive photos. All so that I wouldn’t have to shit bricks when I got text messages like, “This was on Instagram this morning.”

Then again, it had to be something important if my bestie thought it warranted reporting. So I winced and pressed the “Open” button.


There she was, my 15-year-old self with her braces, fat face and shackling Peter Pan collar. She’s grinning, but I know she was as uncomfortable taking the photo as I was seeing it on my phone nearly 14 years later.

Granted this photo was taken as I was struggling to climb out of my ugly duckling phase, but I’m still uncomfortable with it floating through the infinite abyss of the internet without my permission. I’m especially self-conscious about it floating through such an aesthetically charged space like Instagram, a place where I have not taken up residency because, visually, my life just isn’t that interesting.

This could have been a lot worse.

In truth, I was only slightly embarrassed by the picture of me in high school. But what about the Shayla from two years before? Back when I was at the pinnacle of my awkwardness? I don’t worry too much about that possibility, only because not a lot of evidence exists of me between the ages of 11 and 13. Back then, I was equipped with big glasses, 20 extra pounds and a debilitating case of low self-esteem. Not only did I avoid cameras then, but I would purposely position myself in rooms with mirrors in a way that I would not have to see my reflection.

Still, what if one of the few photos of me during that time makes its way online and spreads like wild fire in my present social networks? Then what?

Part of my confidence with the people I know now is that they have no clue of the person I was then. I’ll have no choice but to be utterly humiliated. I imagine in my nightmares that people will stare at those photos with bug-eyed disbelief.

“That’s Shayla?!” they’ll exclaim. Then their faces will scrunch up in disgust like they smelled something putrid. “Gross.”

Others will laugh the kind of laughs that are too big for just their mouths to contain. So it sends tears shooting out their eyes and their feet stomping into the floor. People around them will have to ask, “What’s so funny?” And the person laughing will have no choice but to share the photo of the ugly girl with the stiff short hair and thick glasses.

Soon it will be as if the whole planet is laughing at me, while I cry alone in my bedroom and wish that I was never born so as to save the world from the abhorrence that is my 12-year-old face.

And then I’d have to come to grips with the fact that I’m an overly dramatic spazoid because none of that would ever happen.

The photo might illicit a few snickers at worst, but so what? I STILL don’t want those pictures to be seen — ever. And if that makes me self-conscious or shallow than I’m perfectly okay with that assessment. I just don’t like people seeing me at my worst physical self, no matter how young I was or how effectively I have managed to evolve beyond it.

So let’s show a little discretion when picking what photos we show the entire world shall we?


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Helena on XOJane! 

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  • I don’t see what you see. I see a cute little girl – not someone to be laughed at. Learn to love her as she was then, because she will always be with you.

    • dirtychai

      I know right! I went “awww”. She looks like a good kid.

    • SL

      I know – I instantly thought oh gosh how cute is she!!!

  • mEE

    do you still struggle with your self-esteem? I only ask because I also went through a WICKED awkward phase. I look back at those pictures now and some are truly horrible but they make me laugh, and the majority of the others are fine. I have a different perspective on myself now as adult than I did when I was a kid and my mother decided instead of a perm to give me a jheri curl. yes, that actually happened, in the year 1998! I can look back and see that I wasn’t some horrible monster with jheri curl juice dripping out of my head. I was just a kid.

    • SL

      I’m tempted to ask on on earth is a jheri curl??? But alas, I do know – just thought they went out of vogue way before 1998, like bell bottom pants and dashikis. :-)

  • c0c0puffz

    Sadly I had a patted down Afro at the age of 15. So I was often mistaken for a boy because I wasn’t allowed makeup or a perm.

    • I think that’s great. 15 is too young for makeup. I have a college aged daughter who has never had a perm. I taught her to embrace her natural hair

  • The author seems super-sensitive, as if she still struggles with self esteem. It’s just a dated photo.

  • Honestly, consider yourself lucky! As someone who went through a major hurricane most of my pictures and my family pictures was lost :( so don’t be ashamed of your pictures or your past because it beats the alternative of not having those things to reference or physically there. Besides, you were cute!