*This post was originally written a while back on Jan 12, 2008. I re-read it recently & felt compelled to highlight a common fear we all have, the fear to love and be ourselves.
Do you have any idea what it feels like
to be ordinary?
Looking at me now (the favorable aspect of this statement is subjective), you wouldn’t think that I was ever at some point in my life ordinary, plain or god willing, normal. But if being ordinary is all you know, then you either expect that it is your due and live with it or go against everything you are expected to do and be. There came a point in my life where I was sick of being trampled on, taken for granted and pushed around. I refused to accept my fate as a wallpaper, part of a backdrop; Someone that’s glanced over with guilt-free ease. But more about that later.
If you’re one of the lucky ones born with good genes, then attention is as normal as breathing, compliments an everyday occurrence as unappreciated as a tram turning up on time. For me, it took effort to stand out and even so, for the wrong reasons. Back in the days I was one of the “privileged” kids whose parents had enough disposable income to invest in braces so that I could one day have perfectly straight teeth. Those fish lines and studded metals were my only solitary piece of self-indulgence. As the years rolled on from primary to secondary to college, I developed a disorder where I had no trend sense. I was always behind on what was “in”. In fact, I was rather oblivious to fashion. I didn’t read Vogue or reflect a shred of knowledge in exfoliation or manicures. I was so frustrated with my muted self and lack of ‘Cosmo’ growth that I stopped caring. And that was when I discovered myself.
I did what any other frustrated teenager would do. I started chopping off my hair without a care. I dyed all sorts of colors. I went under spinning needles and studded guns. Wore whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted – still do to all of the above. I was the girl who dared a short-do when all the other girls had ribbons in their hair. Funny thing was, being alienated in the way I looked, made me feel less alone. I was no longer non-existent. And although I wasn’t aware that I was being accused of being a serial attention seeker (I guess short purple hair was a bit loud), I couldn’t have been more at ease with myself. What I thought was a curse, turned out to be a blessing. Who would have thought that the mismatching of accessories and colors would one day be a sub-culture of fashion rebels? I developed my own style and personality sans the confidence. It was never there. So I learned to fake it. I learned to look it, seem it, at times ooze it, but never really had it.
Last Wednesday I went for a photo shoot. Biba, a salon academy offered me free haircuts and colors if I agree to be their hair model. Hah. Who would have thought that there would be a way to eliminate my not so petite ass? Hair modeling is all waist-up. God is fair after all. As nerve wrecking as it seemed at that time, the offer was too tempting to pass. Free hair cuts and colors? Imagine how much I’d save! I went into their salon in Brunswick 3 times in 2 weeks prior to the shoot. I was milking that cow for all that it was worth. Then when the time and date of the shoot was confirmed, I started to feel a familiar sickness in my stomach. It was that feeling of dread I used to feel when I was younger, when I walked past makeup counters in malls and see the concerned expressions of beauty specialists – as if trying to beckon me to their counters so they could heal me of my shame.
See, I lost my flawless skin in high school. I’m not talking about the occasional one-zitters most of you are blessed with. I’m talking (klingon to some of you) severe acne. I know for a fact that most of you would not know what I’m talking about. Simply because in an all girls school, there wer only a handful of us who had an Armageddon face. The statistics are shocking, I know. I felt like my life took a stand when it got from bad to worse to ‘I-give-up’. It never bothered me until people started making comments like “Oh you should see a specialist!” or “Oh poor thing…” I’m not making this up. There were days I would refuse to leave the house because it just got so bad, it was just ridiculous. I avoided mirrors and any form of reflection because I hated how I looked. I hated crowded places and walked with my head hung low or by the walls hoping that no one would notice me. I thought it would go away but it stayed with me till now in my 20’s – although not as bad as before, the thought of it coming back haunts me every single morning when I look at myself in the mirror.
So imagine, the thought of a stranger applying make up on my bare scarred face. Some photographer taking my photos and probably swearing under his breath for wasting his time on this lousy shoot, knowing he has to spend a good couple of hours to Photoshop away my flaws. An unfortunate thing occurs when you are always on guard and insecure about yourself, you develop the ability to ‘mind-read’. You can almost see their thoughts through their expressions like subtitles over their frowns. It’s difficult for me. For years during and after my facial obstruction, I was so reliant on covering up my flaws with makeup that I became totally and utterly dependant on it. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I gathered the guts to leave home without any. I refused to allow my insecurities to take a hold on my life. It was extremely liberating. I challenged myself to get over my fear. That this is just an experience and I have only but one life. I know all this might sound slightly dramatic to you. It’s just a photo shoot! Some guy with a camera snapping some photos. Relax girl! – I hear you sister. And that is exactly what I told myself when I walked in to the studio without a speck of make up on my face and sweaty palms to match.
Her name is Olivia. She tells me not to be nervous as she pats my face down with toner. I asked her if it was obvious. She assures me that I’ll be fine. So, I closed my eyes and tried not to imagine what she might be thinking as she dotted away my imperfections with concealer. After my nerves calmed down, thanks to casual banter, I started to – shock and horror – enjoy it. It felt nice, to have someone fuss over my face for an hour and half. Feeling the cool liquid foundation being sponged on, the flick of the blusher brush over my cheeks. Then when it was finished, she showed me to the mirror with a flourish as if I were the ugly duckling about to see myself as the swan. I was surprised there wasn’t a trumpet fanfare.
It didn’t look like me. There was this horrible, creepy doll staring back at me from the mirror. She’d changed the outline of my mouth, drawn in a new one outside my own lips and filled in with this glossy lipstick – it looked as if I had my mouth stuck to a pot of strawberry jam, and I hate jams. It was, to say the least, disgusting. There was so much mascara on my lashes that I had an expression of permanent surprise – just as well because it masked my look of total shock. I looked hot, don’t get me wrong. But it wasn’t me. I didn’t look good on my own merit. These make-up artists, you can give them Amy Winehouse and they’d make her look half decent and sober. They are magicians. Two hours later, I took off as much makeup as I needed after the shoot and jumped on the first tram back into the city. I remembered feeling elated. I experienced something new, different and above all, faced one of my most consuming fear and insecurity. The best thing was that after I came home and stripped my face off all the residues, I was relieved to see myself again. Bare skinned – plain and flawed. I realized that I have finally learned to love myself, finally see and love myself for who I really am and let go of another dependency – the one to hide myself.
There are many opportunities for us to overcome our fears and ultimately change the way we live and see the world through once again, fresh and uninhibited eyes.