This post is inspired by an article by Buzzfeed about the Canadian mother who refused to buy into anti-aging shaming tactics, and Inquirer Preen’s writeup on China’s “leftover women.”
As a note, Leftover Women in China are the same as those called Christmas Cakes in Japan. The derogatory note follows that once a woman is past 25 years old (thus Christmas Day, December 25, when there is no longer the need for Christmas Cake), she is no longer considered desirable and that no man would want to marry her ever. You can imagine the insecurity this causes, and the drive to do anything to reverse the effects of time — such as spending a fortune on anti-aging products, painful procedures, and make-up just to cover those crows’ feet and wrinkles.
You can also imagine how that affects me — a single, never married, 32-going-on-33 woman. I am thankful that my parents never pressured me to get married or even get a boyfriend, and instead inculcated me in having a successful career and giving the best of me every day.
These write-ups made me realize that each time I look into the mirror, I have been conditioned by consumer products and advertising that I should hate myself for how genetics, time, and the effects of the environment has affected my body. I have been conditioned that if I am not looking like an airbrushed model, or like the rich celebrities who can afford go under the knife to achieve “perfection” as defined by a male-dominated entertainment industry, or I do not look like eternally 16, I am ugly.
I am called a “leftover” — like food that is no good to be consumed and should be left to anyone who would deign to take me under his wing, and that I should consider it a kindness because he would spare me the terrible fate of being single.
I am called a “Christmas cake” — fit to be sold at a compromise, or else be tossed away like garbage.
But I am not ugly, not a leftover, not a Christmas cake.
Drop dead gorgeous
I am a human being — created by The Creator of the universe, and redeemed by Jesus Christ’s royal blood. I am worth more than my own weight in gold.
I have mulled over those two articles, and about a week ago, after a long day at work — with my makeup melting in the tropical summer, and with fatigue etched in my eyes, I looked at myself in the mirror. The light was unflattering and so was the angle. But I looked at my reflection straight in the eyes, smiled my brightest smile, and said:
Of course, the tricyle driver couldn’t hear me over the noise of the motorbike’s engine — thank goodness!
“I love what I see. What I see is a drop dead gorgeous woman, and she is worth the world,” and as if my reflection were talking to me, I continued. “I love you. You love this,” I stressed, pointing to my greasy face. “This is what people see on a daily basis, and they freakinng love you. So love yourself, smile at yourself, because you are freaking beautiful.”
I just carried on looking at myself and smiling at myself, and realized that I never really liked looking at myself unless I painstakingly arrange lights and angles and makeup. I also realized that I hated looking at myself in pictures, save for select ones, because I thought I looked ugly and fat. I would gratuitously remove tags from friends’ pictures of me, because I felt that beside them — who look perfect and gorgeous from every angle — I was inadequate and deserved to be hidden from the camera.
Years of trauma, over a bag of chips
It probably did not help that I my childhood was all about being pageant- and stage-ready. While they had their benefits in teaching me how to walk and conduct myself properly, and how to have a good posture at an early age, a lot of my insecurities in my teenage years and early adult life stemmed from that.
This is the first I ever tell this to anybody (in real life or online): I had developed bulimia in high school. The trigger was when I finished a small bag of chips by myself in the middle of a “diet” imposed by my grandmother and enforced by my father when I was 15. My brother told on me, and that pissed my father off some. I was pretending to sleep that time already. While I could not remember his entire tirade, I could not forget what I had managed to hear from my angry dad: “… lamon nang lamon… ang sagwa sagwa ng itsura!” (“… eating like a pig… she looks so disgusting!”) I just hid under my blankets and did my best to silence my crying.
Years of trauma, over a bag of chips. I didn’t say anything about it in the morning, and neither did my father and my brother. I had immediately gone to take a shower so that my eyes could de-puff. I was not going to give them the satisfaction of knowing that what they did and said hurt me. I just added to the thick walls already surrounding my heart then, because if my own father could not even tell me that I was beautiful, or call me “disgusting” just because I ate some food, then who else would find me beautiful — and love me?
Soon enough, I did not like how prom dresses I wanted, or even how my high school uniform fit me. I did not like my arms. I dressed like a boy in baggy clothes so I won’t have to endure looking at myself in fitting “girly” clothes that pinched my chub in the slightest. Even if my tita and my cousin told me I looked cute and that the dresses looked good on me (note: not the other way ’round), what I saw in the mirror was someone too ugly to go to prom. I purposely did not bring lunch to school and spent my pocket money on stationery instead so that I could lie about spending my money on food. I developed an unapologetic personality so that I’d trick myself in believing that people would hate me for that, and not because my face isn’t magazine-ready.
At each family gathering, after bingeing on food, I would sneak to the bathroom to purge. For those who remember me at a time where I was “thin”, that was me slowly killing myself just so I would hear the words I so coveted during that time: “You’ve lost weight!”
I battled bulimia for years. I’d approximate it between 1999 to as recently as 2014. I would go through periodic binge-purge cycles, rewarding myself with food, then punishing myself afterwards. Music was my saving grace, as I knew that I was destroying my vocal chords with the forced vomiting. Not to mention, all the stomach acids I was forcing up my body has given me laryngitis, and I developed acid reflux. God’s gift of singing helped me stop that, and got me started on healing and loving my body.
To love and to forgiveThe love of God is healing me, and is allowing me now to truly, and genuinely love myself. He showed me that the smiling girl in the pictures is glowing, happy, and beautiful — and that He is very pleased with her. He highlighted the fact that people — my friends, my nephew, for instance — genuinely like me and love me regardless of how I saw myself, regardless of whether I have my brows on fleek or if my eyeliner’s smudging…
And those words that hurt me for more than a decade? Jesus has taken them for me as He was battered and broken on Calvary, so as He can give me love and forgiveness, so as I can love and forgive in turn.
By the grace of God, I am now to look at my face and my body without cringing, without secretly wishing that I had less lines on my face or fantasizing how my parts would look like without all the fat and stretch marks:
- My thick frame allows me to be my own amplifier — more surface for sound to reverberate through, as does a cello or a double-bass.
- My flabby arms and tubby torso allow me to give Baymax-level hugs. My fats (which I affectionately call, “my natural insulation”) allow me to keep warm and share warmth with others.
- My round face amplify my smile — my eyes “disappear” when I do, too, so I like to pretend I do that Japanese anime ^_^-type smile.
- My gums show a lot when I smile, but that only means that all the more my smile is genuine, and not made-for-pageants.
- I have Buddha-like ears, I can enjoy wearing dangly fabulous earrings!
- My belly tells me that I have the privilege of enjoying good and rich food — specially those prepared and offered by my loved ones.
- My thick legs allow me to run, cycle, strut my stuff like I own the streets, and have kids (and smaller people in general) sit comfortably on my lap.
- My short stubby fingers never stopped me from playing the piano, enjoying video games, writing, drawing, cooking…
- The crows feet around my eyes and the lines around my mouth tell me how much I have reason to smile.
- The dark circles and creases under my eyes remind me that I work hard and play hard.
- My forehead and brow lines tell me that I do a lot of thinking, that I put my brain to use.
- And my stretch marks tell me of the journey my body has gone through — how much stress I have put it through and I am still here.
I can go on from there.No one has the right to call me ugly, or to label me a “leftover” or a “Christmas cake”. No one has the right to make you feel bad about how you look, and belittle your journey and how far you have come. My body has learned, my heart and spirit have grown stronger, and no less than the Lord of the Universe has redeemed me and says He loves me.
I am beautiful, I am loved, and I am a conqueror.
If you are suffering from anxieties and disorders, or if you know someone else who does, please seek help. If you are suffering from emotional and physical abuse such as bullying, or you know someone else who does, please seek help. You are not alone, and you do not have to go through your suffering alone. Your situation is not permanent, and your journey is unique — there is time, there is healing, and I am living proof of that.
It may be hard to open up and admit you need help, but please go talk to someone you trust — call a helpline, a trusted friend, or set an appointment with a counselor or a therapist now. I have kept my troubles to myself for so long, that I can only wish I had opened up sooner. Bulimia is a serious health and mental issue, and anxiety is not a friend of your heart, soul, and body. I am only thankful that I am alive and well to be able to write about this.
Look at yourself in the mirror, smile at yourself — the smile that you have when you see super cute kittens, rainbows, or something you so want to eat — and say (expletives optional): “I am absolutely beautiful. I am loved, and I am a conqueror. No one can mess with this boss.” Then speak love to each of your “flaws” and think of the story behind them, and what the body parts attached to those “flaws” have allowed you to do.
I wish you the best.