Mosaic Woman (Part II)
7. Good Enough
I will never forget the day I looked into the mirror and decided that the only acceptable part of my face was my eyes. I was only in middle school and yet already so aware of who the world expected me to be. I remember pausing in front of a small decorative mirror at my friend’s home and studying my facial features. I forced myself to find one thing I could work with; there had to be something there in one of the mirror’s quadrants worth loving. I settled on my eyes, and even now, all of these years later, I still have a difficult time making peace with the rest of my face. I have learned to love one part of myself, which I suppose is better than loving nothing at all.
I want to apologize to my forehead for every time I have referred to it as being too big. I want to learn to love the lines under my eyes, instead of throwing money at them to try to make them go away. I wish I didn’t feel the need to hide my smile or tuck my jawline behind my hair. I wish I had learned to love the face I was given before I learned how to make it the face I thought I should have. I wish I had been kinder to myself all of these years.
8. There’s Lipstick On Your Teeth
I never used to let myself wear lipstick. I always did my eye make-up, but my lips were off-limits. Why would I want to do something that would draw more attention to the smile I have always been so desperate to hide? Wearing lipstick felt like an invitation for bullies. It’s like putting a flashing neon sign in front of a place you are trying to keep a secret. It’s counter-productive. It’s not something that someone who looks like me should ever dream of doing.
Neither is smiling with my teeth showing. Or laughter. When I am around someone new, I instinctually place my hand in front of my mouth whenever my teeth risk exposure. I can’t let them see my weakness; I can’t let their image of me be ruined.
I love those few precious moments when I meet someone new and they don’t yet know the truth about my smile. I’m able to pretend that I am just like everyone else, and I revel in it. But eventually, I slip up, and they know.
Sometimes, they just give a slight glance downwards. Other times, they audibly exclaim, and I am so embarrassed. I have heard everything from statements about my teeth being ugly to questions about whether I am missing one. The older I get, the less the comments sting; I am not sure if that is because I am stronger now or just numb.
9. Cheap Date
I do my best to brush off the comments about my teeth, the same way I do with the comments about my body and eating habits. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to tell myself that what I’m seeing is not real. I have to remind myself that my mind wants me to see a body that is not there; I have to remind myself that part of my mind will never be my friend. Food anxiety plagues me and makes so many common social situations unbearable. I can’t just go out to eat on a date; getting used to eating lunch in the breakroom at a new job is equally anxiety-inducing. I can’t eat around people I don’t know well. It is in those moments that I wish I could just shrink myself away and disappear.
The more I try to live in these moments unnoticed, the more I seem to draw attention to myself. My coworkers will comment on the types of food I am eating, the amount of food I am eating, the containers of food I eat from, etc. My dates are confused when I don’t want to drink the drinks they have ordered me, and they always seem to have an issue with my nervous fidgeting. Why is what I am eating so important to everyone else?
I admit that my eating habits are not perfect, but I am trying. Learning how to undo these behaviors has not been easy. Trying to build myself up each day when there is always a part of me trying to tear me back down is exhausting. Trying to take care of myself in a world that preaches self-care and then criticizes you for participating in it drains me. This body is my body, and I am trying to learn how to love it. Asking me why I eat the way that I do only makes that harder.
10. It’s Easier If You Just Swipe Left
My romantic relationships have always suffered under the weight of my eating disorder. Part of the reason my first boyfriend broke up with me was that I wouldn’t go out to dinner with him. My college boyfriend told me that my body was disgusting, even though I was well into my recovery. He even threatened to leave me because I would not take care of myself. I have had many awkward first dates where my date is eating, and I am not. I know that it must be odd for them, but going out to dinner with a stranger is odd for me. I am just trying to do the best that I can, but it never seems like it is enough.
Allowing anyone to get close to my body is its own separate battle, and one I do not often choose to partake in. If I think my body is disgusting, then I assume that everyone else must, too. It is often so much easier to just completely avoid dating than it is to be so open with someone new.
Part of the reason I have always hated dating apps is that I am afraid of the way someone will react to how I look in real life. When I still used to use them, I always made sure to post a photo without make-up and a full body photo so that all of my potential suitors could have an honest, well-rounded image of me. But showing my crooked teeth was not something I felt as comfortable doing. And yet every time I didn’t show a new date my teeth prior to our first meeting, I felt like I was lying to them. I felt like they were expecting one version of me to show up, and instead, they got stuck with a person they never actually agreed to meet. If I could choose my perfect way to meet someone, it would always be randomly in person; I just want to make sure they know what they are getting into before it is too late.
11. I’m Really Not That Funny
I have often thought of my appearance as being one big joke from the universe. I am generally conventionally attractive until you get to my teeth, which then leads you to my jaw, and then you start to notice every little detail that is out of place. Sometimes when I smile, I feel like I should preface it with a “just kidding” and “I’m sorry” just to comfort the poor soul stuck looking at me.
How sad is it that I feel so compelled to apologize for what my face looks like? What kind of world are we living in that we are conditioned to feel worthless for not fitting a cookie-cutter image the majority of human beings will never be able to become?
Sometimes, I feel guilty for working as a make-up artist in the beauty industry. How can I contribute to the beauty standards that played a role in my destruction? How can I sell products that are made to make money off of people with low self-esteem? I am promoting the very ideals that have destroyed me; instead of helping someone else learn to love themselves, I teach them how to look lovable in someone else’s eyes.
I have had to be the mirror for clients who could not bear to look at themselves. I have had to reassure them about their appearance when their own eyes were deceiving them. I have given confidence to others that I have not been able to find within myself. Maybe this makes me a hypocrite, or maybe I am just trying to make up for the harm our beauty standards have inflicted on me. I just hope that the image I reflect at them is nicer than the one their mind wants them to see.
13. Correcting My Vision
I long for the day that I can finally look in the mirror and see myself as I am. Maybe it will be tomorrow or next week; maybe it will be twenty years from now or maybe, it will never even happen. Regardless of what the timeline might be, I will keep dreaming of the day I can finally return home to myself. I may not be able to go back to the little girl who started starving herself in the sixth grade to try to fit in or who decided that her eyes were the only lovable part about her just a few years later. All I can do is try to make the most of who I am in this moment, in this body I was given, and with this face to call my own.
The only chance I know that I will always have is the chance to move forward each day, no matter how small of a step that day might be able to make room for. Some days, you will have breakthroughs, while others will lead to breakdowns. What is most important is that you are waking up each day and trying to live a life that you are proud of in a body that is doing the best that it knows how to take care of you.
And today, I put on the damn lipstick anyway.