While we are all still in the midst of the pandemic, I made a decision to write a ‘distracting’ article, one that can make us laugh and see the humor in situations from the past. This is my take on self-esteem and the one thing that (almost) makes me lose it. Written tongue-in-cheek, I hope you enjoy this small respite from the daily stress of life as it is now.

I write about ‘it’, I talk about ‘it’ on TV, radio, and the internet.  I’ve given interviews about ‘it’. ‘It’ is even in one of the chapters of my very first book, And Then I’ll Be Happy!

The ‘it’ I’m talking about is loving yourself the way you are, loving your body and looks, as well as being proud of your unique self and accomplishments.   I thought I was the poster girl for ‘it’. Sigh, but I’m not, nope.

I still have rare moments when I suffer from GOTB Syndrome, a hidden malady that can gnaw away at my self-esteem.

Don’t run to Goggle the GOTB Syndrome. You won’t find it on WebMD, Psychology Today, or any other place. Your doctor or therapist doesn’t know what it is either. GOTB Syndrome is a condition I made up to explain a certain lack of self-esteem that I first encountered in my teen years.

GOTB stands for GirlsOnTheBeach—you know, the ones who never go into the water, the beach bunnies who prize hair, make-up, and a smokin’ hot well-oiled body over actually enjoying the sweet lure of salt water rushing over their skin. The only part of their bodies that they will permit to get wet is their manicured toes as they walk through the surf looking bikini fabulous and attracting the attention they justly deserve for being perfect.

Yup, GOTB Syndrome was a problem for me and, though I’ve gotten much better as I’ve gotten older, this syndrome occasionally returns to hit me when I least expect it. For instance—

I’m getting a manicure when all of a sudden I am struck by GOTB. Omigod! GirlsOnTheBeach! Here? One of them is sitting two stations away from me. She is made up to perfection including perfectly placed false eyelashes, perfectly coiffed hair, evenly tanned, and getting French manicure gel placed expertly on her long nails. Her jewelry gleaming in the lights, she tells the woman doing her nails that she’s going to Aruba tomorrow to relax. When her nail tech makes small talk and asks her if she is going to snorkel in the beautiful Caribbean, the solitary GOTB looks surprised at the question and then says, “Oh God no.  That would ruin my hair and swimsuit. I don’t want that water rat look. I just lie on the beach.”

For one brief minute my breathing quickens as I glance into the mirror behind my own nail tech Esther and instead of seeing the adult I am now, I see a water rat teenage girl with eyes red-rimmed from a day of swimming, prune-y hands and feet, a bikini stained with salt, and hair the texture of seaweed. I had perfected the ‘water rat’ look so assiduously avoided by the GOTB.

Thankfully the moment passed and I laughed at myself for remembering.

My teen summers were beach summers and I loved being in the water. Despite having a pretty decent bikini bod myself—due in part, to playing tennis every day—I was never a member of the unique sorority of girls who sought out the beach as a means of meeting boys. And while the boys they were looking to attract swam with me, dove with me, and generally joked around with me in the water, when it came time to hang out on the beach or go get lunch, they weren’t about to choose a water rat. They were looking for highly adorned beauty untouched by rough waves. They wanted someone who smelled of coconut tanning oil and not the sea—a girl who looked ready to go out and party, not someone who obviously needed to go home to shower and shampoo.

Those girls made me feel inferior. (My husband laughs when I tell him this and says, “You? Feel inferior? Oh come on now!”). It’s true though, that’s how I felt. But, as much as I longed to do so there was something in my nature that rebelled against becoming one of the GOTB. I could so easily have done it. What would it have taken? Hair, nails, make-up and no water, that’s what. The problem was I simply didn’t want to give up the ocean. So I swam, I snorkeled, I scuba-ed—and kept looking like a water rat. It’s no surprise that I was pretty much dateless on the beach.

Dateless, that is, until I met a certain cute boy named Alan who not only swam with me in the surf but actually stayed with me on the beach, took me out at night, said he loved my ‘surfer girl’ look and rented the movie The Deep for us to watch. In that movie Jacqueline Bissett’s character practically lived in the ocean. Her saltwater mermaid, water look did a lot for me. She made being a water rat look sexy. Who knew water rats were hot? Certainly not me.

The sad thing is that we all want to be a part of the group that we think is perfect, the group who, we erroneously see as the ones who have the dates, the limelight, the acceptance. In referring to our need to fit in, the song Less than Perfect sung by Pink asks the question, Why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why do I do that?

Why don’t we see our own value as an individual?

As the years went on my self-esteem grew as I did learn to value myself for my intelligence, my creative skills, and my own unique look. During college, I no longer cared about looking as perfect as the GOTB. I was having fun and doing what I wanted to do. I actually thought the girls who did nothing but lie on the beach afraid of getting wet were rather silly. They were just there as ornaments and nothing more. What fun is that?

GOTB Syndrome will probably sneak around a corner to ambush me every once in awhile. That’s being human and that’s normal. I can live with that. But, listen, if GOTB or any other personally named syndrome comes around and makes you feel less than the ‘imperfectly perfect’ person you are, try to remember what I had to learn—your perfection lies within your unique self. No one else is, or can be, you. You areperfect for you.

By the way the water rat look I wear all summer long has gotten a new name. Stylists now call it the beach-y look and magazines even tell you how to ‘achieve this gorgeous new look’. My own beach-y blonde, water-rat hair is finally in vogue. That’s progress.

© 2021 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved


  • Kristen Houghton

    Kristen Houghton

    Thrive Global

    Kristen Houghton is the award-winning author of the popular series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation.  She is also the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. Her horror novel, Welcome to Hell, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. Houghton has covered politics, news, and lifestyle issues as a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her writing portfolio includes Criminal Element Magazine, a division of Macmillan Publishing, Today, senior fiction editor at Bella Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel. Before becoming a full-time  author, Kristen, who holds an Ed.D. in linguistics, taught World Languages on the high school and university levels. Along with her husband, educator Alan William Hopper, she is a philanthropist for Project Literacy and Shelters With Heart, safe havens for victims of domestic abuse and their pets . mailto:  [email protected]