Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.’
– Gabriel García Márquez
What do I see when I look at myself? Or perhaps who do I see?
Do I see the girl I once was? Innocent and care-free, protected from criticism and ignorant of pain. I had no interest in fashion back then, no sense of personal style. My mother cut my hair and I wore hand-me-down clothes, but I loved them. I’m told I was bullied at school, but I don’t remember it. Whatever was said just glanced off me, like the cliched water off a duck’s back. I climbed trees, I ran around, I laughed and squealed…do I see that girl still inside me? She must live in my unapologetic enthusiasm for the ridiculous, my tendency to become over-excited, but sadly, I think her innocence is gone.
So can I see the teenager I became? Skinny and gangly, growing self-conscious as my body changed and the pressure to be an adult began to weigh heavily on my shoulders. I developed insecurities, I struggled to fit in. I was desperate to be the same as my friends, no matter how wrong the look was for me, arguing for Adidas popper trousers and cropped tops. Hindsight has not been kind to my choices! I experimented, I learned how to dress, but the criticisms necessary to improve wounded me. Finding myself became a battle and the insecurities that sprang from not knowing who I was haven’t gone. They can still raise their ugly head at a harsh word or an awkward encounter, and then all I want is to blend into the background and hide.
But the battle was won, and I am now a woman who knows who I am. Is that who I see? Professional, outwardly confident. Secure in myself, accepting of my quirks. Happy to admit to being a science geek, a movie buff, an unashamedly terrible driver… No longer bothered if I don’t quite fit in or if I’m thought to be ludicrous. Capable of turning my back on my critics and never thinking of them again. Able to literally trip and fall on my face, and laugh it off without dying of shame. Is she who I am now, or is she just a front, hiding the insecurities from general view? When I’m tired, when I’m lonely, when I’m lost and out of place, her face becomes cracked and fragile. She becomes a house of cards that must stand up against a gale.
Do I look at myself as a whole or a combination of parts? In pieces, I only see what I don’t like. My Hobbit-like hairy feet with extra toenails that no one but me ever notices. My veiny hands that seem old before their time. The tired shadows under my eyes that I can never sleep enough to resolve. I could go on… I don’t like to focus on the details because then I lose what I do like. How running has given my legs definition again. How my bum fits snuggly into my jeans or curves under my dresses. How, even when fatter, I still kept an hourglass shape. How the whole seems to be worth more than the sum of these parts.
Instead, should I see myself as others see me, unfiltered by my past or my emotion? My juniors’ relief when I arrive on the ward to help, my parents’ pride when I drag them to another graduation, my sisters’ laughter when we are all together…the look on his face when I stand naked before him, his desire for me, again and again. Reflected in their eyes, I don’t look the same and it is refreshing. My self-styled flaws diminish and fade, and I only see real imperfections. These are OK – reality is fixable, reality is manageable.
My self-image changes every day and with every new experience. It is a mosaic of my history and I like what I see. I love how I am still everything and everyone I used to be, but am better for what they have done. I love how even the parts that I don’t like just make those I do all the more special. But most of all, I am grateful for my optimistic view of my self-image…it certainly makes everything else easier!