Note: This piece of prose is partly inspired by my own feelings about my body image, partly fictionalised and extended upon. If you are feeling these things, please read some of the inspirational body image articles on Imogimoon to help you come to terms with your self worth and beauty.
When I was 15, my bedroom mirror was used to confirm everything I already hated about my appearance. It highlighted everything I tried so desperately to forget, keeping my eyes firmly focused on my feet whenever I passed a shop window in the street. The mirror mocked the jiggling loose flesh on my thighs, the grossly rounded chin that swelled when I spoke, the overbite of my crooked teeth, the red rashes scrawled over every inch of my skin. The longer I looked, the more I hated myself. But it was so hard to look away. It was as if the mirror, that unassuming but powerful sheet of reflection, was drawing me back again and again. Just one little look, don’t worry. If you don’t like what you see, you can turn away and forget about it. Maybe that’s how it was for the pretty girls. The ones that could look in a mirror and not feel repulsed at the sight of their own quivering limbs and disproportionate features. I hated myself.
When I stood in front of the mirror, critically inspecting every fault and mistake, I wondered what it would be like to feel good about myself. But it was hard to imagine that distant dream when faced with the repulsive reality that was my body. It had become a sick game, almost; each night I would lock the door and stand naked in front of the mirror and just count everything wrong with me. I didn’t find it hard to find a hundred faults. And that was on a good day.
Ragged fingernails pulled at the soft rolls of fat that made up my stomach, angrily pushing and trying to mould it into something more appealing. If I could only get it arranged just right, it would disappear. The light hit the strange, slightly shiny jagged lines of stretch marks that arced their way around my hips, climbing up my sides relentlessly. I felt bile rise up in my throat just looking at them, proof of the strain of squeezing into jeans just so I could fit in with everyone else. But I would never fit in. The other girls didn’t have the weak thighs that spread out like pudding whenever I sat down, didn’t have the shaking weight of myself to carry on their too big, cumbersome feet. The other girls didn’t cringe whenever they raised their arms and saw the skin shaking, didn’t spend hours fruitlessly styling their hair for it all to fall apart just when I thought I’d got it right. The other girls didn’t experience the sinking feeling in my gut when I stepped on the scales and saw they confirmed what I already knew. Fat. Disgusting. I hated catching a glimpse of myself and feeling horrified for everyone that had to see me like that all the time. I hated the way my face contorted when I cried. I hated the fat tears that flowed from my eyes on a daily basis. I hated myself.
When I was 16, my bedroom mirror was used as an encouragement to get my body to where I wanted it to be. I covered the surface with brightly coloured squares of paper, leaving only slits of reflection between the paper. You’re beautiful. You look great. Don’t worry about checking your hair. Everyone wants you. Looking good. The quotes were printed in block capitals, fierce colours and underlined to prove the point. I stared at the patchwork of colours and words, trying to get them to align in my mind and make sense. Sometimes it worked, and I could look at myself and only see a few faults straight away. Most often it didn’t work so well. They were all hollow words that I had picked out from magazines or online. Nobody had actually said any of those things to me; what was the point in believing in something nobody else did? It was hard to live by mantras you’d only heard uttered by glamourous, luxury living celebrities, reassuring everyone that “it gets better” and “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” If that was true, why didn’t I feel better yet? For all my drilling the inspirational phrases gorgeousbeautifulsopretty into my head, it didn’t work. What use were words when I still wanted to rip my hair out when it didn’t lie right? What use were words when I sank to my knees, vision fogging over with the numbers of my weight ringing in my head? What use were words when I was more often disgusted than delighted with myself? They had to work at some point. Surely they had to work. The block capitals haunted my nightmares, the fierce colours imprinted themselves on the back of my eyelids, and the scrawled underlines chased me around mockingly. I ripped the papers off the mirror, noticing the vicious shaking of my forearms as I threw them down. I noticed the way my face screwed up and open wide as I screamed, the remains of all my inspirational searching laying in tatters on the floor. I had given up already. I hated myself.
When I was 17, my bedroom mirror was used as a witness to the changes that were finally happening. Every night I opened up a new make-up tutorial or fitness video or diet tip page, and learnt. Instead of crying about how my eyes were a weird in-between colour of blue and green that I couldn’t name, I worked out a way to use them to my advantage. I lined the black tip against my eyelashes, following a smooth map outwards and upwards. I blended light powder into my skin, amazed as the redness I had been plagued by faded into obscurity. Make-up became an escape, a way to turn my face into something I could stand to look at. The angles of my face changed as I contoured my cheeks; gone were the chubby cheeks and rounded chin, in favour of dramatic cheekbones and an angular chin. And yet, it still couldn’t be enough to live up to the models and movie stars, with their perfect bodies and perfect faces. I bought new workout clothes, blushing red to the core when I handed over the money. I could feel the cashiers confusion – why is this fat girl buying gym outfits? They scorned me, tightly smiling with their have a nice day oozing falsely from their mouths. It became my fodder, my goal to give them something to really smile at. The mirror showed me sweating from five sit ups, gasping from eight press ups, collapsing from two hours straight working out. Sweating, gasping, collapsing. I just might make something of myself.
When I was 18, my bedroom mirror was used as a reflection of who he wanted me to be. He didn’t like brunettes, so I dyed my hair blonde. The bleach burned my scalp while he burned my soul with further self doubt. I’d thought now I was thinner everything would fall into place. I had the body, the boyfriend, the gaping hole where my heart used to be. He wanted curves, so I bought extreme cleavage bras and panted into a thousand squats. My eyes were perfectly lined, eyelashes curled, the art of make-up fully learned; yet I couldn’t quite meet their gaze. The mirror became my paparazzi as I paraded in underwear he had picked out, tight dresses he loved to tear off, watching as I became his everything. I was everything he wanted, everything I had once craved. Red lipstick was whoreish, smokey eye was asking for it, don’t wear too much, do you want everyone to think you’re a slut? I didn’t get dressed without his approval. I didn’t recognise myself.
When I was 19, my bedroom mirror was used to get me back on track. He was gone, caught in bed with his next unsuspecting victim. I threw out everything paid for by his slimy hand, saved to splurge on the clothes I secretly adored. The body I looked at was how I wanted it to be, no shameful thoughts of self-disgust. He had no say as I washed the dye out, new red hair in. New hair, new me, the fiery hair showed the fiery soul I wanted to be. My thighs still spread when I sat, arms still shook when I danced, the double chin would never fully go away. Before I would cry and wonder if I would ever look like the celebrities, but now I’d learned even the celebrities didn’t look like the celebrities. Food didn’t fill me with dread or greed, exercise was fun, and at the end of the day I looked at my reflection with a smile on my face. I could finally accept myself.