“Mirror, mirror, on the wall? Who’s the fairest of them all?”- a line that defined a generation of fairytales and many generations of women that came after. We all have read them, we all have watched them. We all have grown up with them. That’s what we all have been raised to be and I was no different.
My mother and father make quite a pair. My father, fair and curly hair, with his mustached 80’s hero vibe and my mother, a dusky beauty with sharp features, feminine figure and straight, black hair. They look beautiful in their own way and that’s the only thing that’s common between them and maybe that’s why it was important for them how I looked.
Since I was born, my looks have constantly been under the radar. I did inherit the sharp features of my mother, wavy hair of my father and a golden brown complexion from both. That would have sufficed for my parents and the society at large if I hadn’t been born with a defect in my eye, a rare congenital disease that would make my left eye look squinted and uneven as compared to my healthy right eye due to dis-formation of nerves. The squint was so bad that I would have to tilt my head slightly to the left to see what was right in front of me. And my parents tried everything for me to look “normal”. They took me to every big hospital in the country and would receive the same response that there was no cure and only a correctional surgery could camouflage my flaw and make me look more or less “Normal” but it could only be done after I came of age.
My defect was my normal but it wasn’t my parents’. They wanted me to fit in. And that’s when the regime started. Putting oil in my hair for 7 days straight to a number of organic masks on my face, my mother ensured to preserve what little beauty I had. If I played in the sun, she would call me back home immediately. Every morning began with a lecture on how I had to be better at school and beat the topper if I wanted to make something out of my life. Each night ended with remarks on how I looked and scoldings for tilting my head while trying to look ahead with her prodding my angles to see which one looked normal. I obeyed and did what I was told. I studied hard only to beat the toppers each time falling short of a few marks and was scolded and beaten up because of it. I tried to look a certain way so my eyes looked normal even if it hurt and made my eyes water so that my mother would be happy. I became more shy with each passing year. Sometimes, I would deliberately close my eyes in photographs not to ruin them for others and other times, my parents would have my passport sized photographs fixed digitally so the defect would disappear altogether.
Since my formative years, I have been fully aware that something was very wrong with me and believed it all to be my fault. Why was I so ugly and abnormal? I spent my days cursing myself, always wondering what I did to deserve this. The school didn’t help much either. I was bullied, made fun of all the time. That was my normal. I did make some good friends but constantly felt like I was not worth it. I would be concerned about what everyone thought of me and tried to make sense of how I should handle it all the time. Teachers did try to make me feel comfortable and boost my confidence by engaging me in different extracurricular activities. But school is mostly about the status quo and the kids can be vicious and it was clear they didn’t want me. And the college was no different. I found my confidence deteriorating each year, each month and I got sucked into depression further. I didn’t feel good enough and my self-esteem was all time low. I would be angry all the time at everyone, my parents, school, college and wondered what was the point of it all. That became my normal too.
At 22, when I had the corrective surgery for my eyes, suddenly everything changed. I looked quite normal, the defect was still there but now beautifully hidden. I suddenly got respect and love from everyone around me. They saw me now. They accepted me now. I was the same person but I was desirable now. This was supposed to be my new normal but I couldn’t adjust to the hypocrisy. I developed an eating disorder and seeped more into depression. I gained 30 kgs as a result of the body dysmorphia whose seeds had been planted right from my childhood. I have been fighting ever since to be better and healthy, away from what they think of me, to find my new normal and be accepting and proud of everything I am.
I am 27 now and the past still haunts. I still look in the mirror and my mind automatically says “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?” and I am reminded of all my flaws. I see my big pores, my double chin, stretch marks on my waist and my uneven eyes. But now I smile because they are the battle scars that I have begotten in the war against the world’s “normal”. And I replace “Who’s the fairest of them all? with “Who’s the strongest of them all?” and “Who’s the happiest of them all?” and my entire being responds with a unanimous ME! I think I’m in love with my new normal and at last at peace.