I made a pact with myself last year to take a selfie and share it every November 21st.
The date has special significance to me; November 21st, 2013 was the night I met some of my closest friends who put me back on track to being a smug, self-loving bitch after six months of struggling with my herpes diagnosis. I wrote about that night on this day last year, but I left some gaping holes in the story—I wasn’t yet out online as herpes positive. It’s funny to read that post now and see my secrets already spilling out at the seams. I was ready to talk about herpes and abuse and confidence, but the spark hadn’t caught.
Because I couldn’t elaborate on the finer details, I focused on how it felt to be alive again, the sensation of being present in my body and in my life after a long trauma sabbatical. In the 2013 selfie, I was still faking it with the hope of making it, putting on the mask of my old self in case it decided to stick. I didn’t realize that the photo would become the Face photo, embedded in countless aggregated articles about me and my work.
That’s ironic, because November 21, 2013 was also the night I wrote about in my first essay for Women’s Health, when I talked back to a guy who made a herpes joke and realized I wanted to be its face. Everyone who was at that party remembers that moment ten different ways, especially the man I was bantering with. What really happened isn’t quite as neat and flat as it is in the article. There are parts I left out, parts I’ll save for another year or two. But November 21st is forever lodged in my heart as a day that matters.
So I celebrate it by taking another selfie. According to 2014 Ella, it’s “a day to check in with myself, to pout at my computer screen, and to fully be in my own skin.”
Today I roved around midtown Manhattan with the delightful Kim Hoyos taking new headshots, and I’m excited to share those photos soon. Short hair is a real good look for me. But the selfie I’m choosing for this year’s anniversary is one I took on Photo Booth this morning, pre-makeup and pre-leather jacket.
I’d say it represents 2015 Ella well: a little tired, much more assertive. It manages to say both “don’t fuck with me” and “state your case, I am listening.” And compared to last year’s selfie, holy shit do I look older. 2014 Ella tried to be cute to cover up the fact that she had absolutely no clue what she was doing (then again, does anyone ever?). I felt like myself, but I was hyper-conscious of how that self looked to other people. The last thing I wanted to be was intimidating or haughty—I was terrified I wasn’t qualified for my internship at TED and that everyone would discover I was a giant fraud. If the 2013 selfie was Traumatized Ella, the 2014 selfie was Imposter Syndrome Ella.
Now I have a haircut that reflects my age, but twenty-three is also in my posture, in my eyes. I have seen some shit and that isn’t a bad thing. I won’t pretend to know exactly who I am, but I know that she has strength and value. I still worry that people will think I’m arrogant, but anyone who takes the time to read my blog before judging me gets a decent sense of my anxiety and insecurities. Every year I get better at telling my story instead of selling an agreeable version of it.
One thing is for sure: I’m done minimizing my success to make other people more comfortable. Especially dudes. Y’all can deal with it.
Thank you to everyone who came into my life this year, and everyone who likes my gratuitous selfie sharing sprees on Twitter. Y’all are my truest friends.