“I am not my face”

“You waste the good genes I gave you,” my mother says to me. “Look,” she commands as she turns my head to look into the mirror. “There, and there, and there. What are we going to do with these pores, those dots? You never had them before. I know a place in China that can fix this. Let’s go there. It won’t even hurt.” Her nails scrape lightly against these imperfections. She traces them better than the shape of my face.

Scattered throughout the house are blown up images of my younger, prettier self; they hang on the walls as constant reminders of the wasted promise of my body. These days, it is the pores and the strawberry nose. We’ve already exhausted the dry texture, dull sheen of my hair. The darkening tint of my skin. The pounds I picked up in college. “You don’t look as beautiful,” she tells me each time. “Can’t you see it?”

I can. As my gaze skitters past the ruined face and the flat chest that never filled out because the weight went elsewhere, I think: if people could only see my legs–the sole target of so many compliments from family, friends, and strangers alike–wouldn’t I be better for it?

I concentrate my worth into those much-coveted legs. On my low days, I stare into my mirror, grab fistfuls of flesh from my thighs, and wonder if they have not lost their charm, fattened past the point of pretty.

An optimist would say: At least you have your legs. Some people don’t have anything about their bodies to love and cling to for comfort. And I think, I’m shit for complaining. I am a privileged, entitled, neurotic beauty brat. Body image problems from me? What a joke.

But I have problems. When the guy I liked wondered aloud while delirious if I would be pear-shaped with more weight gain, I panicked. I stopped eating regularly and lied about the reasons why–I just wasn’t hungry, I don’t eat much normally. No one questioned it. When I recovered, I felt stupid for having done all of that over one careless sentence. I thought I was pathetic.

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this. The thought of undressing myself in front of someone else is still paralyzing. Here, you can look at the legs, but the rest isn’t worth your time. People often mistake this for asexuality and I don’t correct them. Better to have them think that I don’t have any desires than to confess that I just don’t know how to handle anything more than maybe blindfolding my partner and spreading my legs. If beauty is constructed out of your packaging–your eyeliner and lipgloss and blush, your lotions and cleansing routines, your “slimming” clothes and swanky styles, what happens when you remove that? What happens when the push-up bra comes off?

(Sheer flatness)

and fear and self-loathing and shame and she gave me the good genes and i threw them away.

We gloss over body image issues often. We think if it doesn’t lead to anorexia or bulimia, then it’s not that serious. It’s so common that we learn to live with it, a constant judgmental, toxic voice in the back of our heads. Some of us might think “pretty” girls or guys are immune to it or “have it good”.

I guess what I’m trying to confess here is that no one has it good. And if everyone thinks you have it good, you feel even worse for not thinking like them. Self-loathing is an easy cycle to get caught in, but damn hard to get out of.

I am not my wasted genes. I am not my “perfect” legs. I am not simply a body to be taken apart and critiqued. But believing this on my own is not enough to undo what has been done–it feels too much like self-deception when no one else around you acts like they believe it, too.