The Beautiful Dilemma

Looking at the mirror, I see myself with a sense of peace today. Devoid of any makeup or accessory, late at night, my reflection smiles back at me. Sometimes it is a smile of joy and victory, sometimes of heart-wrenching sadness. But these is always an odd sort of comfort, like the feeling of slipping into your favorite pair of worn out pajamas. Or the feeling of coming back home after a long, tiring day. This solace was earned, not gifted. I was born as a confident and happy child. Never really caring about my looks, I do not remember ever worrying about how people saw me. My teenage years were not so carefree, however. They were tainted by remarks about how my ugly self did not deserve any company, let alone sympathy. I looked at the mirror then too, but with feelings of contempt and despair. My confidence hit rock-bottom. I did things to myself I am not proud of. I have always had long hair, now I hid my face behind it. Walking through the school corridors, I hung my head low. I had few friends; people distanced themselves from me as if I carried an infectious disease. It can take years of contemplation to make a change happen, but in hindsight you can always find a turning point that acted as the catalyst. My turning point came in the form of a random woman in a random convenience store. She kept stealing glances at me, making me extremely conscious of my appearance. Just when I could no longer bear the scrutiny and was about to bolt, she walked over to me and said in broken English, “You're very pretty.” I stared at her, dumbfounded. What was this strange woman saying? My face was bare; my hair, which I consider my best physical feature, was tied in a bun. She looked over me once again, then said in a decisive tone, “Yes, very beautiful.” She waited a few seconds for me to make a reaction, during which I barely managed to gather my wits and mumbled a faint thank you. Then she left, leaving me extremely confused among aisles of snacks and scattered thoughts. I believe in miracles, I am forced to believe in them since that incident. Now whether the miracle came to me or I made it happen was another question. I have reasons to think that the whole thing was a figment of my imagination. My brain could have simply conjured this up to pull myself out of the pathetic state I was in. I do not remember a thing about the woman; her face, her clothes, her voice, nothing. Just the words. If you are thinking I suddenly discovered my hidden beauty, got a wardrobe upgrade and showed the world what a catch I was, then I apologize for being the cause of disappointment, but no such thing happened. I did not feel particularly beautiful after that encounter, but it did eventually bring clarity to my thoughts. For one, there was no great change in my appearance that could have suddenly sparked such hatred among my peers. Sure, my body was changing thanks to puberty, but my face was essentially the same as it was before I was bullied. Thinking hard, I traced back to the inception of my suffering: a certain comment from a mean classmate who was always jealous of me for some unfathomable reason. Historically speaking, being the subject of envy has never worked out in my favor. At that time, the consequences of a single snide remark were two whole years of self-hate and being treated like an outcast. It took me months to come to terms with the fact that the harassment had nothing to do with the way I looked. More than a year later, I finally learned to fight back and recovered my lost self-confidence. I did nothing to change my appearance. This experience has greatly shaped the way I feel about beauty as an adult. In my 22 years of existence I have been fortunate enough to live in three different countries and meet countless beautiful people, as well as a few ugly ones. Before you jump the gun, let me clarify that beauty, or the lack of it, does not simply refer to the so-called golden ratio or the symmetry of a person's face. At least not in my dictionary. To me, the most beautiful person in the world would be empathetic. Confident, yet not arrogant. Bold, yet not disrespectful. Physically, well, there is no single way to be beautiful. There is no denying the fact that the first thing you see in a person is his/her face. It is out there for the world to see, and it is convenient to judge thanks to the many beauty standards society has imposed upon us. The problem arises when we take the easy way and try to figure out a person's character based on his/her looks. Stop. Because this is where you should stop. Not only are you putting unfair expectations on that person, but you are also making a fool out of yourself. I now listen to the people worthy of my love and admiration to evaluate my beauty. Most importantly, I listen to myself. Do I think I am beautiful? Physically, I consider myself just normal, and I love it. But truly? I am on my way there, though I still have a long way to go.

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