I was 5 years old, thin and sickly living in a hospital for the past few weeks. My mother would tease me that I was “thin as a stick” thinking it would get me to eat and take my medicine. I had no appetite, but I had no choice either.
I was 7 years old, and my sister was making fun of me because I had to use shoestrings as belt. All the other regular belts were bigger than my waistline, and not enough holes. I had to use shoestrings or wear skirts – which made me look like an “old maid” according to my grandmother.
I was 10 years old and was still adjusting to the new school. I was one of the smallest students in our year, and quite clumsy. The boys loved to tease and bully my kind. My mother insisted because I looked like skins and bones that people think I was weak. She believed I was weak, too. I think she still does today.
I was 12 years old, excited for the first acquaintance party at school. My mother insisted I wear the white blouse with the pink gauzy skirt. She said I was beautiful and for the first time, I felt beautiful. In the middle of the party, the school principal (a nun) took me aside to scold me about my dress. She said the gauzy material made me looked a “slut” and I had to cover up or go home. I had no other clothes, so I went home.
It wasn’t the first time I was called a “slut” at school. That same year, my history teacher gave me that name when my friend and I wanted to go to the girls’ restroom together. Why? I have no idea.
I was 15 years old, just a few years within puberty. My body changed, I was no longer thin and sickly looking. I’ve reached my maximum height of 5 feet (still short), but I looked healthier. People have noticed I was getting a little rounder. Some were happy, some told me to start a diet and exercise plan.
I was 17 years old, and my boyfriend just broke up with me. He said it was because I had to focus on my studies. I felt it was because I wouldn’t have sex with him. My friends told me it was because he met another girl who would (and probably did).
I was 19 years old, and my so-called friends were comparing faces and bodies. They kept saying they were ugly when they obviously were not. I thought they were trustworthy, and I loved them. So I decided to share my greatest insecurity (which I regret now): my starfish type of body. I called it starfish because my head was of average size, my ankles and wrist were very small, but my bust, waist and hips were bigger than I would’ve liked. They laughed and used that to tease me that I look pregnant every now and then. I am no longer friends with them.
I was 21 years old, a few weeks back from summer vacation at the beach. I was at a job interview when someone from the building asked me if I was not from the city. I was too dark, she said. I didn’t look like a college graduate from a prestigious university. I still got the job.
I was 23 years old, having an after-work drinks with a few workmates. We were talking about “love life” and my lack thereof. One of the guys told me that my standards were too high for someone like me. He said I shouldn’t aim too high if all I could offer was my intelligence. I had no answer to that.
I was 27 years old, and I just broke up to the only girl I’ve ever loved. And she told me that looking the way I was, she understood why guys never liked me. And that I would never find another person who would love and accept me. She was my only option.
These were not new words. These were the same things she told me all throughout our relationship. I was nothing and nobody without her. And I had to go back to her if I didn’t want to grow old alone. I never went back, and I moved oceans away from her.
I was 28 years old, I finally decided to join a yoga class. It was mostly for my mental health. A way to shut off my overthinking brain occasionally. My mother loved the idea of yoga for me. She said I was getting fatter since I’ve moved away, and exercise would help me become thin and beautiful.
I guess she was right that I wasn’t beautiful. And it was even proven true when I tried dating. I’ve met men who seemed nice and polite on chat, but totally disappeared after meeting in person. I guess they didn’t like what they saw.
But one man honestly told me that “idiot guys” (his words) don’t look beyond the surface. He told me not to waste my time with idiots who can’t see beyond my skin and look into my heart. I’ve been following his advice since then, and he’s now one of my trusted friends.
I’m now 30 years old, and I wish I could say that I’ve reached the end of my journey, that I woke up this morning loving everything about myself. But that’s not true.
I still don’t own a full-length mirror because I don’t like looking at my whole body. There are still times when the first thing I noticed are the scars on my skin or pimples on my face. I still can’t wear sleeveless shirts in public because my mother will judge how much I care for myself by the color of my armpits. People still think that my standards for a lifelong partner is too high for an unremarkable person like me.
Even so, I am doing my best to find the beauty amidst my flaws. When I hear the voices telling me that I am “ugly, worthless and undeserving” I answer back with all the good things I believe I have. Sometimes, it shuts them down, and other times it keeps me up all night.
I know being so concerned about the physical beauty seems petty. It sounds dumb compared to other problems in the world. But I’ve realized that if I want to make a mark for myself in this world, I had to start with accepting myself for who I am.
And I am trying so hard to accept myself: warts and all. It’s just hard, after years of being taught to think little of myself. So many years I was conditioned that “to be humble” was to make myself as small as possible. That I had to accept the taunts and criticisms, and words should not hurt me.
But they did. I’ve been teased for being either “too thin” or “too fat”. I’ve been sexualized for just being myself. Somehow I’ve been tagged as both “slutty” and “ugly”. Each word slowly diminished whatever self-worth I had.
And even though wounds inflicted by these words were invisible, they were still there. And they ached as much as the physical wounds I bore from a lifetime of clumsiness.
Although, it did make me believe that saying:
“what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
Because it did. I was stronger now than I was before. It’s from this strength that I fought the urge to claw at my throat after every meal, to dig out those I felt were making me uglier.
It’s from this newfound strength that I didn’t go through with “the plan” after silently suffering for so long, and I was able to celebrate the 30th year of my life. It was a difficult battle with my inner demons (it still is), but I’ve won and I’m here.
And if you started reading this hoping for a grand redemption at the end, I’m sorry to disappoint. My journey to self-love is just at the start, and the road seems way too long.
“Beauty is a construct based entirely on childhood impressions, influences and role model” Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock BBC)
My childhood impressions of beauty and happiness was faulty, I admit. I thought that if I can make myself skinny, flawless and perfect I would be happy and content. Books, magazines and media all aided in that unhealthy concept.
But happiness is a choice. So, I choose to be happy in all my imperfectness. I choose not to listen to the whispers but make my voice louder. I still have that darkness within me, but I am choosing the light and I will continue to do so.
This journey is only beginning, and I will surely reach the end.