As much as we would like to do as advised by the many memes on Facebook that tell us to move on from whatever darkness lurks in our past, it is (needless to say) a lot easier said than done.
We often try to convince ourselves that we have in fact discarded whatever low life has kicked our way. Psychology would say that this is repression. Whatever it is, I do believe that it pretty much haunts us all.
When I was younger, I was told over and over by other children that I was ugly. It was not always so explicit; it might have been someone listing all the girls that they thought were pretty and saying everyone in the room but me. “No one will ever go out with you,” I was calmly counselled by my peers. It was, I am sure, the sort of non-physical bullying that lots of people experience at this age, but perhaps I was worse at taking it than others. I followed people who were more dominant than I was because I did not think I could ever be liked or taken seriously on my own.
Anyhow, unsurprisingly I soon believed in my own ugliness. I believed it so much that I could do nothing but scream at night when people could not see me. ‘Will it be forever?’ I asked my mum. ‘Will I always be this ugly? Is it because I am not white? Is it because I have curly hair? Is it because I need braces?‘
Such was my insecurity that I thought friends were embarrassed to be around someone as ugly as me. I silently loathed them all for their primary school romances and their confidence. I imagined being able to peel away my face to reveal something pale and pleasant. I felt that I knew that it would be this way forever. I was hysterical.
The hysteria lapsed slowly into numb acceptance. At the primary school leaver’s disco, the boys were told to pick a girl with whom to dance. ‘I will be the girl that no one picks,’ I told myself. Shockingly, I was the girl that no one picked. I had spent hours planning my outfit and hair. This would be the day it changed, I had vowed.
I got picked up at the end and sat in the back of the car without saying anything. ‘How was it?’ asked my mum, secretly just as eager as I was for me to have undergone a miraculous confidence transformation.
‘No one wanted to dance with me,’ I said. Neither of us said anything because we could not argue with something that was just the truth.
It probably will not surprise you to hear that things did change. As I grew older, I started to notice that the meanest boys became the most affectionate when they were drunk. I noticed in myself that spite was what led me to be nasty to other girls, and suddenly realised that perhaps the female fury that I had experienced was not simply driven by their disgust at my face. I realised that if I disagreed with the values of others, I was not obliged to follow them into a realm of being that made me dislike myself. I was, for the first time, happy to be my own leader.
I do not think that people can be simply ugly. I am a human girl. Most of us have eyes, a nose and a mouth. But I do not like the phrase ‘you are your worse critic’; perhaps so, but our inner voice simply imitates how we feel the world perceives us. People are intrinsically responsive to their environment, which in evolutionary terms is useful. Thus, I feel it to be unjust that people are shamed for having low self-esteem when that is the feeling that this strange world has bestowed upon them. One of the only certainties that we (especially as children) can adhere to is that of knowing our worth, and whilst we are still learning, we get what we are given.
I have written about this for two reasons; the first is essentially to have said it, so I can get over it. Although it was years ago, I am still grazed with residual insecurity. Despite being very self-assured in many ways, when it comes to boys I can be strangely defensive and scared. To them, it probably seems like coldness, or simply a lack of interest in them. But of course, they are not to know that I am quite simply terrified of having those infantile comments validated in the present day.
This leads on to my second reason – layers. Although there are people to like and dislike, humans are not as simple as our categorisation of them. They are layered. Every action is the result of something, and this reason may not be immediately obvious. I think that the best we can do is to be patient with them, and with ourselves. Allow yourself to feel sad sometimes. Accept that horrible things happen. Identify calmly how they make you feel, and how they may be affecting your actions. Notice it; pretending that there is no problem simply feeds it.
In a sense, this can work in our favour. Someone seeming like they dislike you becomes something else entirely. We are all fighting our own battles, some more traumatic than others. It means that people are worth the investment of our time and interest.
Perhaps we can use our common humanity to remember something important; little words can stick like glue to our guise of daily living. Like scar tissue, they can make our layers less permeable, making genuineness increasingly difficult to attain. Likewise, plucking up the audacity to say something kind and unusual can be life changing. It is liberating both for you, and for the lucky soul on the receiving end. It is, after all, a fool who plays it cool by making this world a little colder (shoutout The Beatles). When we dissolve layers, we dissolve the deceit and grief that bred them in the first place.
I am sorry to the primary school girl in the mirror who I used to tell everyday was unlovable, and I am sorry to those that she may inadvertently have hurt because she was sad. Thankfully, she came to realise that she was, after all, just a human girl with eyes, a nose and a mouth.