By Ana Tinc
Loving yourself is staring in the mirror, and seeing your smile illuminated by tears,
Loving yourself is replacing a chocolate bar with the caloric measurements stuck on the tip of your tongue,
Loving yourself is letting out a deep sigh of in the shower and acknowledging the pain deep within your chest,
Loving yourself, is loving someone else as you walk out of their life.
Loving yourself is ignoring the self-doubt people stuff into your mouth,
Loving yourself is the quivering of your lips as you speak your feelings,
Loving yourself is standing up for yourself,
Loving yourself is putting down your cigarette and never picking it up again,
Loving yourself is loving your anxiety,
Loving yourself is acknowledging that you are not afraid of the dark, you are afraid of the dark within you,
Loving yourself is using the pounding of your heart as the beat to walk down the street.
Loving yourself is hard.
This is a love story. This is a story not of how I fell in love with someone else, but how I fell in love with myself.
I was twelve when my sister offered to wax my upper lip hair, I laughed at the thought. My thoughts then consisted of learning how to skateboard, memorising my time tables, and constantly asking my dad what we would be eating for dinner. I knew that my sister, who was four years older than me, and my mother, who was considerably older than me, often worried about their appearances. Often, they asked whether I could see their pimples emerging from a red, sore looking spot on their face, if their hips looked too thick in their jeans, or if I could see their leg stumble when standing in front of them. To me, these were just simple questions. I did not, and could not, understand how what they were really asking me was, ‘am I enough’.
I looked in the mirror as she pointed to the cluster of hairs forming around the curve of my lips. I had not noticed them before; I had never seen them as something to remove. I recalled the time in primary school where a boy would call my sister ‘monkey’ and myself ‘mini-monkey’. My sister would cry at his words, but like a mood ring, I turned red as I kicked his ego into the dirt. Maybe he was right; maybe I should have cried too. We sat down together as the bleach disintegrated our unwanted hairs.
He was fourteen when I spat humiliation onto his face and refused to let anyone wipe it off. We were both the shortest students in class, though, me, a few centimetres taller. He had only just hit puberty. His arms were stick thin, his legs, stilts. I was never really bullied, nor did I consider to be one. But I was. Every day, I could feel the particles of hair accumulating in the middle of my brow, the sprouting of a moustache, and the sweeping of sideburns. Ugly, manly, unattractive I would chant to myself. Sometimes, I would cover my lips with my sleeves. Sometimes, I would refuse eye contact so people couldn’t stare at the gross moustache I hadn’t yet removed.
‘Sometimes’ turned into most times,
‘Sometimes’ turned my anxiety into anger,
‘Sometimes’ made me so resentful for always putting myself down,
‘Sometimes’ stared that fourteen-year-old boy in the face and pushed him to his knees,
‘Sometimes’ laughed, that me, a girl, could grow more facial hair than him,
Sometimes, his hurt eyes would haunt my dreams,
Sometimes, turned into most times.
Most times, my sweat would drip down my spine as I awoke from nightmares,
Most times, my sweat formed the same pattern as the tears that trickled onto his collar,
Most times, I wanted to apologise, but I never did.
I was sixteen when I stood naked in front of my bathroom mirror. Steam fogged the edges, as I faced a self-loathing, hateful girl. We shared the same shade of brown eyes, but hers spat venom. We shared the same olive complexion, but her body was thin and elegant. I looked down at my own hips and waist line—I was not thin. I was the opposite of elegant. Our faces became distorted by despair, but one of us enjoyed it.
When the mirror turned opaque from condensation, and the words in my mind turned into grey, angry clouds, I stood in the shower, held my chest, and cried. It was not the first time I had thought I was fat, or weak, but it was the first time I realised that my appreciation for myself was replaced with self-hate. This marked the first day of my entire life. The clouds within my mind did not disappear, they did not retract to let beaming rays of sunshine through, but that did not mean that light did not exist.
I was twenty-two when I went to my first ‘women’s workshop’. Four girls sat in a circle, each one displaying some type of nervous tick. A flicking of a pen, the bouncing of a knee, the twirling of the hair. We all faced a vibrant, eccentric woman—yet calling her a girl felt wrong. She radiated confidence and happiness. The type of happiness you’d get organic, unhomogenised, biodegradable, unpasteurised, untouched by toxic negativity. At first I attributed it to her bleached hair, tanned skin and sense of fashion. Maybe she felt content because she fit.
She talked about respect, she talked about value and worthiness. She took out a five dollar note held it in her hand. She scrunched, she stepped, she spat on it. She asked us what its value was. She told us its value never changed. I shivered.
One by one, we shared stories of times we felt worthless. One by one, we realised we gave those memories power over our happiness. It was in that moment I cried uncontrollably.
I cried for confusing my passion with irrationality,
I cried for smothering my kindness to seem confident,
I cried for the meals I did not eat,
I cried for thinking that burning off my hair,
Would make others see,
The cluster of diamonds that radiated from my heart.
They let me cry,
And some cried with me.
It felt like the first day of my life. I did not wipe the tears away.
I left the room lighter. I felt the air in my lungs thicken with realisation. I felt the oxygen in my blood begin to heal the holes that I dug out of my beating heart. No one told me epiphanies had an expiry date; this was something I had to learn.
I was twenty-four when I saw my first psychologist. Sure, in the past, I had made appointments from as early as fifteen years old, but something always ‘came up’. This time, something bigger came up. I became sick, infuriated, exhausted, from the weight of the stones in my mind. I wanted to grab them, and through them off a cliff. My psychologist said I could not throw them off a cliff without throwing myself with them, so I decided to put them back down.
I told my psychologist of the first time I realised I hated myself. I told her how my anxiety coerced my pulse into chaos, how I spent so long trying to change the nagging, untameable, hurtful things I did that peeled my eyes open at night. She listened with her heart, and smiled with her gaze. She listened until I ran out of breath, and she told me that not once, did I stop loving myself. She said if I did not love myself, I never would have met her.
I did not want to understand.
I was also twenty-four when I attended my first queer ball. I did not go because I was queer myself, I went because the people I loved and appreciated would be there. We were a small group, but large enough to fill the hall with a decadent rainbow of positivity. Everywhere I turned, I saw weird people. Men in dresses and stilettos, women in suits, and a marching band for added absurdity. Each human being had their scars, whether they wore them on their wrists, or in their eyes, but not for a second did it detract from who they were.
We danced passionately to old songs, swaying, swinging, miming the lyrics off beat, not one person expressed themselves the same. And that is when I understood. Self-love was not easy, it was not something that came pre-packaged. Each of my friends showed self-love through their dance, through the scars that showed they were still alive, through the clothes that showed feeling good, did not necessarily mean looking good for others.
From then, I saw the stones in my mind as a mountain, ready to explore.