As I sit here with one week to go before my 27th Birthday, I can’t help but think about just how far I’ve come in the last ten years. The 17yr old Fiona Cooney was a very different person to the one you see today. She had a mouth full of braces, hair so long it would make any traveller girl jealous, and let’s not forget a face full of caked on make up that was always a shade or four too dark. As you can imagine I was quite the vision! The braces were unavoidable, the hair and make up however were weapons I deliberately chose in an effort to shield the world of what I believed to be one of the ugliest faces imaginable!! Think ‘Cousin It’ and then you can get some idea of how I wore my lovely locks back in the day. The purpose of my hair was to cover up as much of my face as possible-paying particular attention to the hideous pointy thing sticking out of my face-otherwise known as my nose. You couldn’t have paid me back then to tie my hair up. During one of my earlier jobs, my manger insisted I wear it up in a pony tail-I remember this almost sent me into cardiac arrest. The idea of having my face fully exposed terrified me, to the point where I contemplated leaving the job. My manger wasn’t the only one who had a problem with my ode to Cousin It look. My mum and I fought constantly as she begged me to let my hair off my face.
The second tool I used in my mission to disguise the ugly truth of my appearance, was god’s gift to insecure women the world over-makeup! Inches of makeup were applied to my face on a daily basis in an attempt to mask my pale, freckly skin tone. I remember a boy in my class asking me if I had fallen into a puddle of makeup!! The funny thing is I wasn’t always like that. For the majority of my childhood I was a take no prisoners tom boy with one mission: make it to the Olympics as a gymnast! I couldn’t have cared less about what I looked like! I think this all changed once I hit High School. All of a sudden boys stopped being impressed with the fact that I could beat the majority of them in an arm wrestle-or that I could do 10 back flips in a row. Instead they turned their attention to the girls with the increasing bust lines and shapely figures. I did not fit into this category, infact there were lamp posts in my school with more curves than me! I always blamed the dam gymnastics for my lack of development!!
The point where my insecurity turned into obsession was around age 15. The mirror and I began an unhealthy rollercoaster of a relationship. I could spend hours looking at my reflection- picking out my flaws and trying to come up with ways I could hide them. There were days when the person staring back at me was so hideous that I couldn’t face leaving the house. I remember one instance when I had agreed to go with my friends to a disco, however I backed out of it at the last minute as I believed I was too ugly to go. I now know that what I was going through back then was a condition referred to as Body Dimorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD works in a similar way to Anorexia. It is a disease of the mind and results in people seeing a distorted vision of themselves when they look in the mirror. A person with Anorexia sees themselves as fat, even though the rest of us see a skeletal frame. People with BDD see nothing but ugly, even though to the outside word they make look completely normal if not attractive. For years I allowed this disease to rob me off a normal life. It affected my relationship with my family and my friends, as they struggled to understand why I was so hard on myself. It also resulted in me shying away from the opposite sex, I mean how can you accept that somebody wants to be with you when your convinced you’re hideous!
Luckily for me I had a breakthrough. Moving to Dublin and taking a job at a local cinema changed my life. In the past I had all but avoided male interaction for fear of being made fun of, however this particular job forced me to work alongside guys. It soon became apparent that the way I looked made no difference to them. As cheesy as it may sound they took the time to get to know me for me. Slowly but surely my guard began to drop, allowing my inner freak to break free! These days some of my most treasured friends are guys, which is a testament to the progress I’ve made.
Although I will never be able to fully rid myself of my previous BDD driven tendencies, I’ve certainly come along way. My relationship with the mirror-like any real relationship has its ups and downs. Some days I like what I see and some days I don’t. However I am so bloody happy that I woke up and finally realised life is too short to let fear or insecurity hold you captive. After all the greatest asset a person can have is their personality. In the words of the great Lady GaGa "I'm a free bitch baby"!