Body and Data: "I am still learning"

This piece was originally published by APC Member, Body & Data.  It was written by Nuva Rai. 

One day during the COVID lockdown, I was bored so I took some selfies with instagram filters. Only while going through them in my gallery I realized that most of the filters that I put on to look/feel ‘beautiful’ had freckles in them. It kind of annoyed me? Angered me? Because throughout my life I’ve known people trying out various ways to remove their natural freckles to be considered ‘beautiful’.

But here we see companies like Snapchat and Instagram profiting off by making us feel ‘beautiful’ with the same freckles but with a bit more digital touch.

I don’t get it, how could we let these people/companies condition us into thinking that we need to remove our freckles to look beautiful but then at the same time use those freckles as a filter to make us feel beautiful? ‘Beautiful’ does not feel like a correct term, maybe ‘Presentable’? Yes, we use these freckle filled filter to look presentable for our online platform at the same time desperately trying to remove it from our real life to again, look presentable. It is such a sad paradox that we have been trapped into.

Growing up I had a clear skin which was a thing of envy among my peers who usually had breakouts. I was complimented often for having a clear and fair skin which made me ‘beautiful’. But since few years, I’ve started having awful breakouts. My face is always filled with more than a few pimples and scars. When I first got them, needless to say I was very upset. The fair and clear skin that made me ‘beautiful’ was now scarred and ugly. Everyone I met would comment on how ugly I look because of my pimples or that I’d look prettier without them and how I’m too careless with my face (Well they still do). I’d laugh and listen to their advice.

I’d laugh but those words would stay there to haunt me. I felt ugly, nothing I’d wear or put on my face made me feel beautiful. Everyone would suggest me one thing or other to put on my face, wanting to be ‘beautiful’ again made me blindly follow them and I ended up with even more pimples and scars. There was even a time I hated my face. I’d always put on a filter or use Snapchat when I’d click a photo of me. I’d edit my photos and add layers of filters before posting them. I was constantly worried about looking beautiful; not for me but for others.

The constant feeling of looking ugly has successfully invited many breakdowns which I believe has only been witnessed by my sister. Many do not know about how I struggle with it because I’m always going around which has often earned me the label of ‘narcissist’. But I don’t really blame others for it because there is no way anyone would magically know what I was going through and sometimes I did feel verryy pretty lol. Well, I still don’t feel comfortable talking about these insecurities because of the shame surrounding people having body image issues. I hid my insecurities in ‘Oh I look so pretty’. I repeated those words aloud for others and especially for me. In this era of self-love filled with body positivity influencers, wouldn’t it be better to be a narcissist than someone who is not confident about herself?

It’s not like I didn’t have a space to talk about my insecurities, I just didn’t feel like I deserved those spaces. Like everyone sometimes, I would send my photos to my friends before posting them and at times I would get comments like, “Try adding some filters.” or “It would look perfect if you’d edit it a bit.” Sometimes positive comments on social media also ended up affecting me negatively. The amount of likes and wonderful comments on my edited filter-filled photos would make me less confident in posting a photo of my natural bare face. I was scared of disappointing others. Sometimes I was just scared of judgment or sometime of those hollow sympathetic words followed by suggestions on how to get rid of my pimples or how to lose my weight and dark circles. But my biggest fear was that people would agree on how ugly I looked. And before you tell me I always look beautiful, I doubt that fitting into the society’s ideal beauty standard 24/7 is humanly possible. Maybe if I were a witch that’d be possible. Haha.

So bottom line I could never share these insecurities except with my little sister who is the safest place I know. I’ve lost count on how many breakdowns I’ve had in front of her because I felt extremely ugly. She has always calmed me out of those breakdowns; always assuring me that it is normal to feel insecure and that my feelings of ‘looking ugly’ is as valid as my feelings of ‘looking beautiful’.

My sister has taught me that beauty is not stagnant; it is an evolving idea and that too very subjective and sometimes situational. She has helped me understand that as wrong as it is for me to feel pressurized to look ‘beautiful’ all the time, it is equally important for my insecurities to be validated and addressed (by myself) in order for me to accept myself.

I am still struggling to not use filters when I take selfies; still struggling to not compare myself with others’ photos. Only if I could walk around wearing those filters but I can’t. So I am trying to accept myself. It is a long and very hard journey to accept the pimples and scars that half of my face is covered with. I still wish I didn’t have them but I don’t hate my face anymore. Not particularly in love with it but I’m still learning. I’m struggling with my self-image but I’m getting better. The progress is slow but I’m learning to love myself. The progress is not linear but it is continuous. I am learning and healing.

I am healing.

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