The ignorance of a child is one of the most enviable traits that us adults can attest to. Often we are unaware that seeds are planted in children and those seeds grow as the children grow. Good seeds produce good fruits. Seeds of self-assurance grow into confidence. Likewise, bad seeds produce bad fruits.
As a child, I sowed seeds of insecurity and comparison. Those seeds grew into deep-rooted self-deprecation and a shattered body image.
Truth be told, I cannot remember a time when I was not insecure about how I looked. Being the second child of three girls I can confirm that middle child syndrome is real. I was different from my sisters both in personality and in physical attributes. Needless to say, I was different from them in a less socially desirable and acceptable way.
As children, both my sisters were slim with just the right amount of baby fat, while I had much excess. Over those developmental years, everyone from family to friends to friends of the family felt the need to point out that I looked different, “hiii yang ini gendut ya, ngga mirip sama kakak adiknya!” (this one’s chubby, not like her sisters) like I need to be reminded constantly.
Naturally, I would get upset, and this, in turn, would show these another difference between my sisters and I, prompting them to remark, “ya ampun, gitu aja marah” (chill, don’t take it so personally) or “jangan gampang nangis dong”(don’t be such a cry baby).
When puberty came around, my self-perception went from bad to worse. While my sisters have long slender bodies and perfect skin, I developed child-bearing hips and suffered from hormonal acne coupled with excessively oily skin – exactly what a self-conscious teenager needs. The differences just grew more and more apparent as the years went on and I felt like I was dealt the worst hand.
God, how could you make me look so different from my sisters when you know that I would suffer significantly because of it?
My body image was so bad it got to a point that for the entire three years of high school, I was not able to look at myself in the mirror at all. Just catching a glimpse of my face on a computer screen or car window made me cringe at my own reflection. I would make funny faces to distract myself because all I could see were the many differences that I simply could not accept.
In the years that followed, my skin cleared, and I grew into my body. I learned how to dress my curves and paint my face. Every so often people would complement me on how I looked. And yet, nothing they said could change the way I saw myself. They told me I looked beautiful, but in my mind, my sisters were beautiful, and I didn’t look like them, therefore I couldn’t be beautiful.
In some twisted way, I’m thankful for the pandemic for allowing me the time and space to mend my relationship with the mirror.
The pandemic separated my sisters and me. So, I didn’t see anyone else that I could compare myself to; I only saw myself. I spent 10 months in quarantine just looking at my own reflection in the mirror.
Yes, 10 months and counting. Don’t ask, it’s complicated.
The point is in these 10 months I really got a good look at myself. Slowly but surely, I began to see myself for who I am, not only how different I am to my sisters. The distorted version that I used to see has developed into a much clearer image. The clouds of comparison faded away. The need to make funny faces at my own reflection slowly diminished. It was like meeting myself for the first time. A new relationship with my reflection bloomed – genuinely appreciating me for me.
The whole experience was incredibly freeing. I am no longer tied down and crippled by my own self-deprecation. I learned that I needed to change my own self-perception before I could begin to believe what others tell me. Self-love and self-acceptance come from within. So even if I don’t hear affirmations from others, I will be completely fine.
Remember, growth is never linear. There are and will be days when I don’t and won’t love the person I see in the mirror, and that’s okay. The main thing is that I now know what it feels like to see my reflection with clouded eyes, and the world of a difference it makes when I see my reflection with unclouded eyes. This way, I will always strive to keep my vision as clear as possible. I hope to take this lesson with me as I step outside of quarantine, to always remember that person in the mirror and the way I see her.
For those of you still struggling to accept yourselves, I encourage you to begin repairing your relationships with the mirror. Learn to look at your reflections for who they are, not who they aren’t. Frequency is key. The more you look at yourself, the more you get to know yourself, the clearer your vision becomes. Trust me, the process is worth it because self-love will take you so far. So why not invest some time to get to know the person in the mirror?