Letter From The Editor: How to deal with your shame about the way you look like

Once upon a time, as a stupid and impressionable young girl, I almost poured boiling hot oil on my head.

It was no accident. When my mother was out of the house, I heated some cooking oil in a pan to pour over my head. You see I’ve been watching these commercials about shampoo with a “hot oil” effect, promising to straighten out curly hair to produce this ultra smooth, ultra straight hair. I wanted to be the beautiful model with the swishy mane that’s so straight a comb just glides down from it! It’s so different from my own voluminous head of wavy, almost curly hair. That was the year I started to intensely hate my hair and the rest of what I looked like. I wanted to change it, so I was going to try this “hot oil” and it was going to look amazing.

Lucky for me, I poured the oil into a plastic container instead of glass or metal. The oil immediately melted the plastic as soon as it hit the surface. I was stupid, but not stupid enough to want to kill or at the least maim myself for beauty!

In my teens I finally convinced my mother to let me have my hair chemically straightened. “Rebonding”, it was called. I did it for two years before I quit. I had chemical burns on my scalp for two years and my hair started to fall off, so I had to quit. In that time though I finally experienced being complimented by my classmates, getting noticed by boys, and being acknowledged more for my achievements at school. Well, perhaps that was all in my head. It felt great, nevertheless, and I mourned for the straight hair which used to be mine.

As a woman, all my life I’ve been bombarded by unrealistic images of how I should look like - reed thin, fair, straight hair, small face, straight nose, big eyes, big lips. You know exactly what I mean, right? I wasted two decades of my life feeling ashamed that I don’t look like that. I had unfashionably dark skin, wavy hair that has a life of its own, terribly crooked teeth (they had to remove FIVE of my teeth and I had braces for seven years!), and a flat AF nose, among other flaws. I also started to gain more and more weight as I got older. I believed I was not beautiful and that I would never be.

I was smart though. I knew I had plenty things on the table so I explored a lot of other interests like music, art, literature, and writing. I got good. This gave me a lot of peace, to know with absolute certainty that I was worth more than my face and my body.

But there has always been the girl who wanted to pour hot oil on her head. There has always been my shame about the way I look like. This is one of the reasons that used to power this blog in its first few years since I founded it in 2008 at 20 years old.

I turned 31 yesterday. Over time I’ve learned to accept and even adore my physical features. I love my wavy hair now, and I would even call my nose charming. I also love my medium warm skin color (same color as my mother’s) and my teeth is a masterful showcase of the orthodontic wonders of the 21st century! Educating myself on the politics of beauty, learning about other women’s experiences, women fighting for their right to be equal to men, and even brands allowing for more representation in their advertising helped me be okay with myself. Try it, these things will help too!

There’s still one last thing I’m struggling with in terms of physical appearance: my weight. I would sometimes see myself in the mirror and just loathe how much weight I’ve put on. I play tennis twice a week and I row on water once a week, so physical activity is not the issue. I stress eat and sugar is a bitter enemy. I know what I should do, but I don’t do it. I also know that I’m healthy and that it’s also okay to be fat. I’m not less of a person because I’m fat. But I am still ashamed of it.

I had a breakthrough last year though. An article by Heather Havrilesky called ‘I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life’ made me confront my shame about how fat I’ve become:

“But your concept of yourself makes no sense. You got it from a rom-com. Age 35 is not an expiration date on your beauty or your worth. It doesn’t matter if every single human alive believes this. It’s your job to cast this notion out forever. I’m 48 years old and I’m determined not to tell a story about myself that started in some beauty-product boardroom, among unimaginative corporate marketing professionals. I fail at this quest often, but I’m still determined. I’m going to choose to embrace narratives that make me feel more alive and able to contribute whatever twisted crafts I can to this world, while I can.”

Reading this felt like a weight came off my shoulders. Heather talks about how we shouldn’t hide our shame - we should be curious about it, examine it, confront it, and maybe even create something out of it. She also drives home the point that we don’t have to subscribe to narratives that other people thrust upon us. To me, this means that it doesn’t matter if every single person in the world thinks that I’m fat and ugly; I don’t have to choose to believe it. I can subscribe to other narratives that I know to be true, and that is the fact that I’m a successful young woman who has a track record of solving problems that she cares about. Perhaps I don’t really care about my weight that much, after all. Perhaps I just really want to banish the final vestiges of the ghost of the girl who wanted to pour hot oil on her head.

I am eating pistachio sans rival cake with my coffee as I write this. I’d be fatter, but I’ve just delivered a part of me out in the world, and maybe my heart on my sleeve will give more strength to yours.