One night, a friend interrupted me when he noticed me checking myself out in a nearby mirror. It is a known fact among my friends and family that all reflective surfaces become a de facto mirror in which I can admire myself. I frequently visit my own Facebook and Instagram to go through the various pictures of me. My phone is full of selfies that I tend to peruse at my leisure. What can I say? I love me and I love the way I look. And honestly, I’m pretty tired of apologizing for that.
This is only a very recent development – one that I am immensely grateful for. For years I faked self-esteem and confidence, relied on the admiration of others to feel good about me and the way I looked. I still scorn many of my old photos, cringe at the visible discomfort – the apprehensive smile, the careful pose, and the feigned casualness. They are harsh reminders that I was ugly once; seemingly cursed to a life of no breasts, acne and its accompanying scars all over my face and back, bushy eyebrows and unfashionably thick, long, frizzy, curls. And yet, I was the only one who saw it, who thought it, and who said it over and over: Ugly.
Loving the person I am took time, hard work and patience. Loving what I looked like was harder still. I frequently thought of myself as smart, funny, and engaging, but always wished my outside would match my inside. I changed my clothes, I cut my hair, I learnt how to apply makeup to cover my acne scars, my breasts grew two sizes, my skin eventually cleared up. And somehow it still wasn’t enough for me. My nose was still enormous, I was still too skinny, my breasts were now too big. Self-acceptance was almost impossible so I drowned myself in casual encounters, hoping that someone else worshipping my body would be enough – but one night, a couple hours, is never enough.
I found a boy who loved me and my body and once I let him go, it still was not enough. I found a friend who accepted and listened to me and my insecurities and told me every day that I was beautiful. And that was not enough either. I had to get there on my own. One day, I just didn’t need either one of them to look in the mirror and see how beautiful I’ve always been. I knew it. And I saw it.
Now here I am, scrolling through my selfie collection as I write this and making no apologies for my new-found vanity – it was hard fought and hard won. Recently though, I have had the opportunity to observe the negative reactions people have to this kind of self-love and self-worship. Vanity as a word has never had the best connotation and is usually thrown around when we talk about women with high self-esteem. Narcissism has also been a word that’s thrown around recently (and inaccurately) in reference to the glut of selfies, and Instagram posts many of us have nowadays. Arrogant. Attention seeking. Lack of self-esteem (what a contradiction!). It’s all been said. I would like to counter all of those with one word: revolutionary.
There is an image of a woman who doesn’t know she is beautiful that some men like to hold on to (see: One Direction). It makes women more attractive to a certain set of men – not knowing their physical worth and appeal to them. In reality it makes them more vulnerable, more easily manipulated and that’s where the true appeal lies. There exists whole industries that profit on the insecurities of women, that market towards us; that feed on our low self-esteem and body issues. Turn on the TV and you are inundated with acne creams, makeup, diet pills, plastic surgery, workout videos – all telling you the same thing: that you can look better and somehow it will make you feel better and be better.
We are taught from a young age that we can only feel good about ourselves through the approval of the men around us. In a world that pummels us with these messages every day, loving yourself is fucking radical. It is a statement that you don’t need to rely on anyone for validation and acceptance. It is the acknowledgment of your autonomy in a society that would take it away. Your vanity, your self-confidence in fact, makes you powerful. When confidence comes from within, when you can look in the mirror and be truly happy by what you see there, then no other opinion ever matters.
That night, my friend asked me, “Are you done yet?” I made a decision in that moment: I am done apologising for noticing myself, for loving myself, for celebrating me. It’s important to love yourself and feel proud of yourself – and it’s perfectly okay. No one should call you vain to bring you down. You control your self-worth and it makes you confident. Remember that. And if someone catches you taking a selfie, admiring your reflection in your spoon and asks you if you’re done, here’s how I responded: “Nope! I look fucking amazing!”