I remember I was 19 years old and looking at myself in the mirror. Staring at the girl that stared back. Hating everything I saw there.
My face. Way too round and puffy. Where were the angles of cheekbones, the sharp jawline, I wondered.
My eyes. Too small, too dewy and exhausted-looking. I hated that I seemed in a state of perpetual intoxication. I laughed when jokes were made about it but those words cut deep like knives.
My nose and mouth. Upturned like a pigs nose, connected with lips asymmetrical just below. Hiding teeth that didn’t look perfect. I was not perfect.
I hated that I was not perfect.
My body. My poor body. As mean as I was towards the features sitting above the collar, I was vicious to the features below. Abuses manifested as refusal over basic needs. An exploitation of vices to drown out the resentment in favor of some alternate form of being. The cycle worsened my perceptions, made me despise my image.
I am sorry for that girl all those years ago. How caught up she was in this notion that beauty was everything. As if being beautiful would make her happiest. So lost in the perception of others, drowning with no chance of rescue. To think of her makes my heart ache.
Get this: outside validation is not a sustainable source of energy.
A simple assertion, you think. Makes a lot of sense when it’s sitting plain on a page. When you take it for more than words, the resulting change in perspective is liberating. Took me six years to figure it out. Six long years.
19 was not the worst of it. Confidence in me worked in ebbs and flows for a long time. Some periods saw me on top of the world whilst others had me back in front of the mirror. Scathing.
I grew up and into myself enough that I could feign not caring about opinions on a regular basis. In reality, I very much gave a damn about what others thought. I wanted everyone’s love and approval. I wanted everyone’s admiration most of all.
Vanity is a double-edged sword. If what you want is infatuation over the idea of who you could be, by all means try and wield it. Beauty is a covetable thing and when you have it, you can use it like a weapon.
A double-edged sword. Vanity builds a persona inside your head. Creates thoughts that hurt you and invalidate everything about you. What are you without your looks? Vanity will tell you plain that you are nothing at all. Gifts given to you in the forms of talents and passions take a back seat to beauty. It’s all you have to give– all that people want from you anyways. This world you inhabit is made possible because the people there think you’re hot.
This idea was not as deep-seated in me when I first began to court Vanity. I still had my other pieces on the table. The shedding of these other pieces was slow but sure. Diving into the fashion industry after graduation catalyzed the metamorphosis. Not only was I getting inside validation for honoring my looks, but outsiders praised me for it too. Conform with the standards and all your dreams will come true. That’s what I heard. As smart as I was, as grounded, I couldn’t shake this idea from my head.
At 23, self-resentment reared its nasty head at me once again. This time it was in Paris. I scrutinized every bit of me as I did before and cursed the image looking back. Face not right, body not right, clothes not right. What more did I have beyond this outer layer? Now, Vanity told me nothing. I had nothing more.
This was my lowest point. The sword I wielded for so long betrayed me, cut me deep. I bled, turned into a shell. Small bits of validation fed the monster controlling me, kept me wrapped up in its influence.
I began to fight it after I found a community that valued me for more than my image. Friends that loved me for insights I had. They eased me out of Vanity’s grip. From my lowest, I climbed up and out of the pit, shed the concerns over my looks ever so slightly.
Freeing myself took ages. For two years I held onto my concern whilst simultaneously whittling away at it. I found passions I once forgot about. I had moments of disgust when looking at myself in mirrors. Wise voices led me to embrace hobbies far removed from the world of self-destruction I frequented. I refrained from enjoying myself to preserve what I thought was ideal for my image. Conversations with friends dealing with their own struggles in this area opened me up to receiving wisdom about the whole thing. Vanity refused them my whole story.
On and on it goes.
We are all faking it. We are all fed an idea that this is the ideal and that we must fit into it. With looks most of all.
What happens when you let that go?
Liberation came for me in 2020.
After leaving Paris heartbroken, I returned to my hometown in disarray. The shock of severing ties and leaving the place I loved left me scrambling to put myself back together. My future looked dismal, my lack of accomplishments stung. I pined for answers and in this pining, forgot about Vanity altogether.
In my abandonment of my old crutch, I entered a new phase of living. I embraced what I loved and who I loved. I grew up and out of my cage. In this way I am more beautiful than I ever was before. No longer chained to these old ideas of beauty, I found the most authentic kind. In myself, in others. This perspective opened up the world to me; showed me everyone else. I can look into the groups of people and see what they’re thinking on a Friday night.
No longer caught up in myself, I can look beyond.
Being in New York now, I see what I once was clear as day. In clubs where people cannot look past themselves, I drink them in. Study their own envelopment in my former vice. I take notes, I wonder. I do not envy. Beauty like this is fleeting. To try to hold onto it wastes time, energy. I realize this now. I embrace who I am outside of the beauty I’ve got in these short years.
That voice still lingers. Tells me to consider this over that. I do not engage with it. From the conversations I’ve had most recently, from the people who have entered and re-entered my life this year, I have far too much to lose.
Goodbye, Vanity. Goodbye forever.