One Disney movie that I remember vividly is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I followed the story of Quasimodo who goes through a lot of pain in his life because of his deformed face. I was curious to see whether or not Esmeralda, a beautiful Gipsy girl, would really accept his love towards her.
But when in the middle of the story, a handsome guy comes in, I realized that I had imagined something that was impossible. After all, though, it is a more realistic ending one in which Esmeralda ends up marrying Quasimodo. This story also taught me a lesson that neither being beautiful nor being ugly can guarantee you a life free of abuse.
A couple of days ago, I read an excerpt posted on a friend’s social media wall about a girl who was harassed by a priest when she did her confession at church. I reposted it on my wall and got an unexpected reply from a friend. She told me that she also experienced the same thing. The perpetrator was a a priest who happened to be really close to the family after her dad passed away. I was shocked. Even more gut wrenching was that she was still a minor when it happened and it happened for a long period of time. Because of the complicated power relation, she could not report what happened to her. She further said she once thought that beauty was a curse.
When she said that, my mind wondered to who I was as a girl. I used to think that I was not beautiful. My school years were filled with stories of me being a sidekick to a friend who was liked by a lot of boys. Growing up, I also felt that I got the least attention from priests, and the adults who became my teachers and coaches in different clubs.
Also read: Obsessed No More: My Battle with Body Image
So unwanted I felt at the time, at some point I longed for being catcalled, an irony since I am now strongly against it. Back then I was sickly and had a battered self-image. I have dark complexion and curly hair, none of which meets the beauty standard. I jokingly asked my friends to find me a boyfriend, thinking that it would be a proof that I was wanted too. I did not have any boyfriend until I was 28, and that relationship did not end well either.
Little did I know that this problem was not uniquely mine. Other girls had self-image issues that were no better than mine. I still remember how some of them looked proud when being catcalled by boys.
As I grew older, I read more about self-acceptance, about women’s movement and gender equality. I shared more stories with people from different countries, and listened stories of their experiences that left scars in them and shaped how they now act towards others. I grew more confident.
I also became more concerned about sexual abuse and harassment, possibly because of the stories I’d heard. I recently heard a story about a guy who boasted about being able to marry a woman who is from different ethnic group because he got her pregnant. Instead of being frowned on, his neighbours praised him because she was beautiful. This doesn’t sound like the basis of a good relationship.
No one should grow up feeling threatened or worthless because of their physical appearance. Now I try to be mindful of what I say to others. I no longer remark, “Halo, anak cantik!” (Hello, beautiful) when my friends post pictures of their baby girls. A girl should feel that what’s inside their heart and brains is what matters the most.