This post is for all the people (especially my beautiful women) who, despite knowing their true worth and value, sometimes feel worthless or less than human. I will start by sharing a personal recount.
Over the past few weeks, I have been battling a serious case of low self-esteem, feelings of intense jealousy, a sense of unworthiness and body image issues. I think the massive influx of stimuli coming from social media and my awakened knowledge of the beauty industry have mashed together to shatter my previously ignorant world as I embarked on my new lifestyle as a hijabi.
I started dating a high-fashion photographer, and while I know I’m not all that bad in the physical appearance department, I certainly am not the best. And I thought I have accepted that fact, until I was exposed to the world of… perfection. Women with flawless skin, glorious hair, idealised bodies and captivating faces. This was where I started to wrongly tag my worth and value on others’ (i.e. his) opinions of me. I felt very ugly whenever he gushes about his models and shows me photos of his works, featuring scantily clad female celebrities. I felt undesired when his captions read “Stunning/gorgeous/captivating <insert name>…” and all I ever received during our courtships were “You look nice.” I will not deny that I cried myself to sleep, looking at those photos, and wondered whether I have become even less desirable and beautiful after embracing the hijabi lifestyle (God forgive me for my evil thoughts and weaknesses!), or whether I will be stunning/gorgeous/captivating in his eyes, too, someday.
I had to learn lessons during this rough period, some harsh, others painful, but all essential. I know there are also others out there dealing with issues similar to, if not worse than, mine. The following are the things I try to tell myself whenever I’m having one of those days, but giving advice to yourself is much tougher than comforting, consoling or counselling someone else. So, I’m going to imagine that someone out there reading this right now could do with whatever little I could give.
- Emote, because you are only human.
Everyone has a different way of approaching issues, but before we let logic step in to assess the situation and rectify the problem, organically, we always begin with feeling. And I always advocate emoting. Whatever you feel at a given time is a natural, involuntary reaction to the stimulus around you that is affecting you, no matter how great or small the impact. Some feelings are less positive than others, but never let anyone tell you that you can’t or mustn’t feel what you felt. If you feel upset, angry, disappointed, hurt, angry, happy, jubilant, bored… nothing, then so be it. Nobody has the right to say, “You can’t be jealous about that.” Why? Who died and made them king? By whose standards is it okay or not to feel the way you did? Have we not learnt anything from Inside Out?
Every emotion that exists in us, no matter how basic or complex, counts. Among the marks of being a human, besides erring (thanks, Alexander Pope!), is to feel. Negating or not acknowledging it only causes more conflict and confusion in yourself. What you are feeling is legitimate, and nobody should make you feel otherwise. This is not to be confused with ‘you shouldn’t have to feel what you felt’. This is where having a support system and steady assurance will help you get out of your funk. I’ll address this point later.
Nevertheless, at this point, I also want to remind you to not let your emotions control you. While it is okay to acknowledge your emotional response and allow yourself the time to feel whatever it is you’re feeling, don’t let it fester, especially if they are negative emotions, such as anger. Again, how I effectively ensure this from happening will be discussed later.
- All that glitters is not gold.
It is ironic that I once had an OKCupid account, and in one of the subsections of my profile, I wrote about how people should not be deceived by what they see, because my photos have been carefully chosen, profile worded and online personality audited to show only the desirable and likable parts of me.
I have had people (including the photographer) constantly remind me that whatever I think I see on Facebook or Instagram are just portrayals of the lives of these otherwise equally imperfect people, who also have their downs, who have inner demons and insecurities and shortcomings. I’m not saying that what you see posted on social media isn’t real, because some of them are, but most of them aren’t reality, and as hard as it is a bitter pill to swallow for some, it will not be reality for us. I have friends who are Instagram-famous – fashion bloggers, TV personalities and models. And I have seen first-hand how, despite being sick, they still have to work to have materials worth posting, which they hope to garner as many Likes as possible. I have seen how they torture themselves by not being able to eat things that they enjoy, for fear of jeopardising their career by ruining their money-makers (their face, their voice, their body, etc).
So, if you ever felt like you’ve been dealt the bad hand, in whatever injustice or shortcoming you think you’re experiencing, God is fair and created us all with our own sets of strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your time is yet to come, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all. Maybe what you dreamt of would’ve been more detrimental than desirable, and you’re better off without it. You’ll never know what worse luck your ‘bad luck’ has saved you from. Have faith that everything happens in due course.
And always remember that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side. As for me, I will never be them, and they’ll never be me. And that’s okay, because what I am is enough, and people who appreciate me for me will find that that is true.
- You are not alone.
The worst part about being overwhelmed by emotions is thinking that you’re alone, having to trek through a jungle of emotions and sort through the clutter. That is just your mind playing tricks on you, on top of your heart already wreaking havoc. Once you have accepted that it is okay to feel, acknowledge the fact that it is okay to ask for help. You’ll be surprised to realise how many people in your lives have your back and are ready to catch you when you fall.
During those days when I found myself crying at work, feeling really ugly and unworthy, I turned to my colleagues (whom I can consider my bosom friends). And I am usually hesitant to talk about my feelings and where they stem from, because in the past I’ve been chided one too many times about feeling something (c.f. Point 1). But recently, I’ve discovered that the group of friends I’ve established as my support system not only have my back, they feel valued and appreciated that I counted on them to lift me up.
In my impulse, I decided to hire a photographer (not the guy I’m dating) for a personal photo shoot. In my mind, I was chagrined by my friends who thought this was a poor attempt at trying to regain my self-confidence, and rectify the issue of finding my worth and loving myself. However, when I broke the news to them, my friends were simply excited for me and supported me in whatever I decided to do. Because, nobody owes us our happiness, eh? And when they thanked me for letting them know and they can’t wait to see the end product, I started feeling like I could heal and the shoot is symbolic of my path back to being contented in my own skin.
Helplessness is not a pleasant feeling; people who love you and care about you would do anything to fix you, but they remain unable to do so until you let them in. And you’ll be amazed; friends and family are balm to the aching soul. Trust that those who stick by you despite your worst days are there to stay and heal your wounds and get you back on your feet, so allow them the chance, and allow yourself a chance to be okay again.
I don’t know how much of this post have made sense or helped in any way. This was written over a few days, with sporadic long breaks, and with that, fading in and out of the dark place in my current life. But a message to take away from all this is: you can be unhappy with everything that happens (or doesn’t happen), or everyone that comes into and leaves your life, but it is still your life. Nobody else is going to take ownership of it. And you’re given this one life, so might as well make the best of it. Signing off with one of my favourite quotes from a beloved film:
I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad.
There’s no one I’d rather be than me.