By Faith Cheam
Ever since I could remember, I’ve always wanted to be as independent and carefree as the young adults finding their soulmate at 18 whom I would read about in Young Adult novels and the rom-com movies that Hollywood never fails to pump out on a seasonal basis. My middle school daydreams were always the same; find someone cute that wouldn’t loathe my existence to call mine, own a thousand pairs of lowcut converse sneakers in varying pastel colours, and sneak out to the malls at night to waste time with friends. As I slowly inched to adulthood, the dream evolved into the archetypal teen rebellion consisting of alcohol, delinquency, and… other rebellious endeavours.
I barely did any of the latter, which was surprising. What I DID was obsess about my looks, or more like what I thought was wrong with my face and body. For most of my life, I grew up hating the way I looked. Perhaps it was because of the years of bullying I went through, or the fact that I greatly differ in physicality from most girls around here. I’m tall, and I have an athletic build and a rather stout bone structure. I never really felt like I was beautiful or normal per se. My interests greatly contrasted my peers, too; I loved reading fictional and historical books extensively, my taste in music would be called “archaic” by many, and the current trends would bore me. Sometimes I’d feel like I was born in the wrong era (as clichéd as it sounds), and the relentless bullying didn’t help me curb that feeling at all. I thought the faster I grew up and disassociated from people my age at the time – or more specifically those who bullied me – the closer I’d get to being free from cruel judgement of classmates and conservative adults in my life.
It was a strange, vindictive kind of solace, but at the time it was all I could console myself with.
Thus, I went about my teenage life experimenting with a ridiculous number of phases, fashion styles, you name it. I drifted from the pink-and-glitter clothing I wore as a kid to the #SWAG trend of 2010s and then progressed through a kitschy hipster style for a short while before going off the deep end and experimenting with cybergoth (which was honestly the most despicable thing I’ve ever done) and punk. Some would’ve called me a trend-follower or a flake, but I was just having fun. The idea of transforming my appearance at whim was exciting and refreshing. I thought of experimenting with fashion as a dress-up game I could never lose, but I’ve come to realize that it was a horrible coping mechanism for my extremely damaged self-image. I used clothing to cover up the fact that I hated my body, and I did everything I could within my power and miniscule allowance to achieve a paradigm of an aesthetic so that I could pass off as “the slightest bit beautiful”. By the time I had gotten sick of cybergoth fashion, I felt extremely unfulfilled and unhappy, but I couldn’t understand why. “If I had been experimenting all the while to make myself happy, how could I feel so lost?”
That was the day I decided to take a long break from social media. I had reached my limit; nothing that I used to consider beautiful would bring me joy, and styles I could copy and hide my insecurities behind just seemed like a tiresome pipe-dream. I had exhausted myself trying to make myself beautiful by fitting into a scene when I refused to observe beauty that exists from within, and in my unique physical characteristics. That day, I made it my personal mission to unlearn the cruel insults from my peers and bitter relatives, and even if I couldn’t love myself, the least I could do for myself was to unlearn self-hatred. It was anything but easy. Looking in a mirror when hiding behind a façade was easy, but when man-made beauty was taken out of the picture, it was like viewing myself without rose-tinted glasses. All there was to see was just… myself, in the rawest form. During this time, many of my insecurities came flooding back; my nose felt too big, my cheeks seemed too puffy, my forehead looked about as huge as a whiteboard, stretchmarks littered my butt from all my years of dancing, and I hated the fact that my body frame was atypical and had many masculine traits. What was therapeutic about my hiatus from the internet was the sense of peace I had. I could really concentrate on how I felt and what was dragging me down, and my brain wasn’t constantly assaulted by advertisements that made me feel unequal and a beauty standard that guilt-tripped its followers into following the status quo; a narrow description of female beauty.
I learned how to accept myself for who I am, and now I dress the way that I want to and that will make me happy. I’m done with letting negativity influence the way I view myself. It is never easy; many times do I notice myself questioning just how much I love myself and accept my identity – both physically and in personality, and I’m sure many of you reading this may feel the same. I want you to know that it’s okay to feel the way you do now. If you genuinely love yourself, that’s great – but if you don’t, I hope you find something beautiful and brave within yourself that will enable you to dare to be true to who you are, and to dare to love your body for all its beauty and imperfections alike. At the end of the day, those who try to bring you down and hurt you will move on with their lives, and letting their spiteful comments stick to you and mess with your head will only mean you’ve let them succeed in hurting you and others they don’t approve of. You may not be able to control what others think of you, but you’re in control of what you think of yourself. Your insecurities may become your greatest enemy, or your self-love can become your greatest power.