A few years ago I would look at myself in the mirror and see a girl, too pale, too small with hair that never looked right and skin that was never pure enough.
To be honest I’ve always been rather lucky with my looks. My skin has always been relatively zit-free-ish, even during puberty, and I’m only a little bit too short as I remember 18-year-olds being much taller when I was little and I’ve always been skinny.
I used to have ears that stuck out of my head like giant maple leaves, my nose looked like somebody had found the one that had been knocked off the Sphinx and stuck it on my face instead. I had braces for half my child hood because my teeth were anywhere they weren’t supposed to be. My skin was always much paler than the other kids who used to get brown in the sun, while I would only go bright red. And for a while I hated my freckles because they were unique in my little village except maybe for those of my sister.
I later came to appreciate my freckles and miss them as they began to fade – though they’re still there, thank god – partially because I got used to them and saw them as a part of me and also because my big sister has always been a type of role model to me, if she likes it or not, and she was always so confident about her looks. She used to say things like:
A face without freckles is like a night sky without stars
Of course I did not see it to begin with, but today I think my freckles are part of what makes me beautiful.
I grew into my large ears and my nose, I got used to wearing sun cream when others didn’t need it and I learnt to appreciate that I was pale, because it worked well with my freckles and my eyes that come out more clearly that way. I don’t know if I already looked like this a few years ago, but however I could not see it.
My best friend J. told me one time a while back that she thought I was pretty. Not the normal pretty, but a unique type of pretty. At the time that wasn’t good enough for me, because I wanted to be “pretty” like all the other girls were. I wanted the tanned skin, the nice, brace-less teeth, the boobs that everybody was already getting, the perfect hair and the nice handwriting.
My boobs – and now if it’s getting too personal for you, you can just skip this paragraph 😉 – arrived very late, probably at about fourteen or fifteen, by which time all the other girls had gone out to buy themselves cute, pink or blue frill bras that would look out from under their low-cut top. Low cut tops just showed a couple of chest bones with me for a while.
My environment of course didn’t help me feel more glamorous or pretty. I may have mentioned my wonderful time from seventh to ninth grade when I was bullied. I used to be called anorexic for being skinny and flat-chested for being a late bloomer. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t know the word sexist pig yet.
When I moved to Germany my friend told me that I needed to look in the mirror and tell myself I was pretty. I did it. But I didn’t believe it.
However, today, I looked in the mirror. I had no make-up on. It was just after brushing my teeth. My hair was not done up in any way, I was wearing a bright orange T-shirt I won at a church karaoke charity event once and my pyjama bottoms. And I thought to myself: I am pretty. And I smiled because I meant it.
Maybe I had to grow into my natural beauty, maybe I had to regain my confidence or – gain it in the first place. But I’m happy with myself. I still don’t feel as womanly as I thought I would be when I was little, but that’s also something I need to accept. My mum says I have child-bearing hips (because they are wider than any other part of my body) to tease me. What’s more womanly that the ability to give birth to a whaling, pooping piece of human being? Not that I’m planning on doing so, but I try to see it as a sort of complement.
You must be wondering why I picked that title above. It hasn’t been about food or my friends at all yet. And if not, then you’re a really relaxed person who just goes with the flow and congratulate you.
On Tuesday I am going to the cinema and for me it’s mandatory to have a nice meal sometime before or after the film, so I suggested to my friend that we eat after. She said okay, but I don’t eat anything after five o’clock. She said she feels good when she feels hungry later in the evening. She also reassured me that she loved eating and she was just trying to lose a little weight, that’s all.
At the moment I’m reading a book by Laurie Penny called “Meat Market – Female flesh under capitalism”. In the introduction there is a quote I find very fitting and very true:
(Women are) corralled into rituals of consumption and self-discipline (…) three quarters of women in countries where food is plentiful go hungry every day in an effort to take up as little space as possible.
Another two friends of mine went vegan for a while – one of them thinner than I am is still trying to lose weight “just that last bit on the belly”. The other one has succeeded in loosing a lot of weight and continues to eat barely anything at all. In total I have but three friends here in Germany who don’t want to lose weight and one of them is a guy. There are about five of my friends who are trying to lose some.
I’ve heard all sorts of theories: Dieting with carbohydrates, dieting by eating only certain times of the day, dieting by going vegan, dieting by eating nothing for one whole day and of course doing sports – which I suppose it legit as it’s healthy I guess.
But with everyone on a diet, I find it hard to enjoy eating. And I don’t think it’s ever going to end. Of course, if somebody doesn’t feel comfortable with their body because they don’t like it, then they can lose weight if they want. If it makes them happier. But our bodies are always changing. We will always be dieting. We will always be trying this or that new way of slimming down. There’s an entire industry built on fat-loss. Everybody thinks they are too fat and every one else seems to have the answer.
It’s an endless on-going quest to obtain the perfect body. But we will never have the perfect body. Going by Plato (Greek philosopher with a lot of weird ideas) there is the idea and then there is reality. We have seen the idea somewhere and we can try to achieve it, but we never will. Even the most symmetrical circle will never be a perfect circle because only the idea of it is perfect – and idea that will only remain an idea.
Someone who is bulimic may be thin enough, but does not feel good unless he or she looses more weight.
It’s all in our head, isn’t? Aren’t we all a little bit bulimic?
And I’m not saying let’s all let go of ourselves, get obese and die of diabetes when we’re only forty.
I’m saying I like the way I am. I like my sometimes B, but mostly A-cup-sized upper body. I like my pale skin and my freckles. I like my legs and my hips even though they have stretch-marks on them and I love my smile even though my sister says my teeth are too large and my eyes sparkle back at me when I’m happy and confident.
I feel that we are far too prone to self-destruction – if we destroy our own bodies by willingly starving, by punishing ourselves with a knife or a razor blade to our wrists and arms, by drying up our skin in the solarium or if we destroy our home, our belongings, our planet. We are so careless and always, endlessly striving. I just wish that we can one day – including myself – come to terms with the way we were born, inside and out.
So, yes, I can now say: I know I am pretty.
Can you say the same?