First of all, I have to give a shout-out to John Cole, proprietor of Balloon Juice, and his merry band of co-front pagers. They have been working diligently on amassing the Balloon Juice vernacular and putting them in one place, known as the Balloon Juice Lexicon (link for the letters a – h). The definitions are informative, snarky, thorough, and just plain fun–especially if you hang out at BJ. I am inordinately proud of the fact that my spur-of-the-moment definition of meme was included under the term Internet Meme: an idea that gets circulated, distorted, eaten, vomited back up again, reshaped, recirculated, re-distorted, eaten up again, and regurgitated yet again until eventually, it eats itself (cf commentor Asiangrrrl). Ooh, and they even gave me credit for it, kind of, as my username is asiangrrlMN, but I will answer to any variation of asiangrrl. Anyway, that was my crowning accomplishment for the week.
Now. On with the post.
I hate mirrors with a passion. I avoid them whenever possible. I have never liked the way I look, since I was a little girl and realized that the Mecca of flaxen locks and sky-blue eyes was beyond my reach. I was a fat kid with no sense of style. I permed my hair and wore the ugliest glasses ever. I wore pastels–which, believe you me, did nothing for my sallow complexion. I got teased on a daily basis for being fat, smart, Asian, and for having breasts earlier than the other girls. I had greasy hair and a greasy face. I had to have braces. I was a mess, and I didn’t have the first clue how to fix it.
TLC’s Unpretty. I couldn’t embed the original video, so here’s the link.
In college, I changed my image dramatically. I lost lots of weight, started wearing makeup, chopped my hair in a funky fashion, and dressed even funkier. I still avoided the mirror, though. Why? For one thing, I still thought I was grotesquely fat. That was the start of my eating disorder, and it has gripped me throughout my life. I weighed myself twice a day to make sure I didn’t slip up, and I castigated myself endlessly when I would give in and eat. And eat. And eat. Then, I would throw up. Actually, one of the few times I looked in the mirror was after purging so I could assess the damage.
After college, I gained weight again, and lost it again, and gained it again. I quit looking in the mirror for good. I can brush my hair, brush my teeth, wash my face, and do whatever morning rituals I need to do without once looking into the mirror. That’s partly because I don’t wear makeup any more. Oh, I can also braid my hair without looking in the mirror. French-braid, even. Before, when I looked in the mirror, it would be to tick off all the things I hated about my body and face.
For the most part, I still avoid the mirror because I don’t like the way my body looks right now. I am in a fat stage, and I can feel it weighting down my self-confidence. When I am forced to look into the mirror, I can note a few things I like–including my eyes, my mouth, my hair, my tats, and now, my new specs–but they are far outnumbered by the things I would change.
The funny thing is, that as I am in my sexual peak, I more sexual and more sensual than ever, but I don’t feel sexy. I know that sounds like semantics, but it’s not. It’s been a lifelong struggle that I feel sexier when I’m thinner, but more sexual when I’m heavier.
The good news is that I’m slowly becoming more accepting of my body as it is. I may not love it, and I may wish there were considerably less of it, but I no longer hate it or abuse it as I once did. In this matter, baby steps are what count.
Fun house mirrors are no fun, either–at least not for me. Since I rarely look in mirrors in the first place, looking into eleven billionty* of them at the same time as they distort what I look like is not a really good idea. However, they do provide an interesting metaphor for what it’s like to live with an eating disorder and/or body dysmorphia. An eating disorder distorts what you see in the mirror. No matter how thin I got in real life (and I got really thin), I still thought I was a walking tub of lard.
This segues neatly into the real topic at hand (and yes, it took me eight hundred words to get there–deal with it): the mirror that distorts how I look at my soul. Yes, it’s a fucking metaphor–deal with that, too.
For most of my life, I have carefully hidden who I really am–for various reasons. When I was a kid, it wasn’t safe to let the real Minna come out and play. There were so many strictures around who I should be, what I should say, and how I should behave, it was simply easier just to pretend. Pretend to be like everyone else. Pretend to be who everyone else wanted me to be. The irony was, of course, that no matter how hard I tried, there was no way to cram my squareness into that damned round hole. I had way too many things poking out of me that just didn’t fit in any preconceived notion of who I should be.
I got so good at it, that I completely disappeared for a while. The person I presented was nowhere near the real me. Wait a minute. That’s not exactly right. The general shape of me was there–feminist, queer, artistic, etc.–but the particulars were kept carefully tucked away. I was convinced that the real me was disgusting, deviant, unworthy, and most of all, unlovable. I was like the proverbial onion in that every time someone pulled back a layer, there was another one staring him/her in the face. An ex of mine said that when he first met me, he couldn’t read anything in my eyes because I kept them so guarded. I was on constant alert for the danger of someone breaching my security that I never rested.
This has been my way of life until now. I just assumed that my life was meaningless, and that assumption soon became law. I didn’t know why anyone would want to be friends with me unless they were just being really nice or because they felt sorry for me. There were a few exceptions to that rule, but I just dismissed them as outliers. If anyone were to know the true me, the real me, the ugly, messy, inside me, s/he would flee in horror. It didn’t help that in the past, I tended to pick partners who reinforced that particularly insidious belief. I didn’t just believe this of potential romantic partners–I believed it of potential friends, too. Ten years ago, I knew this wonderful woman who kept making overtures of friendship to me. I couldn’t fathom why someone as gorgeous (but straight. Kind of), intelligent, creative, brilliant, kind, and just all-around fabulous as she would want to be friends with me. Because I couldn’t fathom it, I never reciprocated her gestures of friendship. Sadly, I’ve done that more than once in my life.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year. That’s when I started to blog in earnest. I’d wanted to do it for many years, but I always pulled back at the last moment. What if my family read it and disowned me? What if I put all my shit out there and people hated me for it? I could have just written about politics (my main reason for starting a blog), but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted my blog to be a place where I could write about anything on my mind. I wanted to write about topics ranging from sex (first and foremost) to politics to pop culture and anything in between. I didn’t want to have to constantly censor myself, saying, “Oh no, I better not say that.”
In short, I wanted to blog so I could finally let the real Minna come out to play. See, over the past few years, she’s been really rebelling about being kept under wraps. She’s been saying, “Uh, Minna? All this doom and gloom is getting fucking old. It’s about time to have some fucking fun, damn it!” Yes, the inner Minna swears like the proverbial sailor. I call her my inner hedonist because she’s all about the sensual pleasures in life. The very ones that have me damned to hell. The very ones that make me immoral in the eyes of many–and for the longest time, in the eyes of…me. Good girls shouldn’t be so lusty, whether it was in bed or in the buffet line. Nice girls shouldn’t laugh too loudly or, god forbid, snort. They should definitely wear panties and bras at all times. No matter how much of a rebel I thought I actual was, I still had the rules drilled into my head.
That’s the reason it took me so long to start my blog. What would people think of me? That’s the thought that ran constantly through my brain as I slowly started blogging. At first, I didn’t let anyone know because I wanted to blog in secret for a bit. Then, I let a few friends know. Then, a few more. Oh, my brother knew from the start because he’s my tech support, but I knew he’d never read it, so I was safe on that front.
I started to get some positive feedback from friends. That encouraged me, so I posted my URL in my user name at the political blogs I frequent. I also added it to my profile on my Facebook page. To my amazement, people started reading my blog and commenting. This is a parallel situation that happens with my FB page. I don’t add people as friends, but I get requests from other people to be added. Many of them have been friends of friends who’ve liked what I’ve posted–and when I post links to my blog on my friends’ walls, their friends usually have complimentary things to say.
I have gotten a few trolls, sure, but surprisingly few. For the most part, I have gotten thoughtful, quirky, creative, intelligent, funny, witty people who are willing and able to engage in an erudite discussion on any topic ranging from sex (yes, always first with the sex) to politics to relationships and everything in between. People followed me from other blogs to my own blog.
Let me repeat that: People followed me from other blogs to my own blog. I am gobsmacked to write that. I am even more gobsmacked to know that there are people who read my blog every day (and sometimes get a wee bit testy if no new entry has surfaced in a couple days) and who are willing to go to the mat for me.
I have been excruciatingly honest on my blog. I have shown more of the inner me than I ever thought possible, warts and all. I have had the impulse to take down one post, and I actually took down another. For the most part, though, I have let my words speak for themselves. In the beginning, I did it with my heart in my mouth because I thought for sure I would be rejected. It is to my continual amazement that I have been supported and bolstered instead. Indeed, some would say I’ve been egged on (not that I need much prodding), and for that, I am thankful.
Now, I have to take the lesson I’ve learned from the positive response to the freak that I am on my blog and apply it to me in real life. In the past week, I’ve been told by three people what an amazing woman I am. Each time, my impulse is to deny, deflect, and divert. I don’t feel amazing. I see my flaws and the ways in which I am wasting my life, and I feel…so not amazing. I still feel awkward and fat and dull at times and a freak. This gets in the way because then I am gobsmacked when people want to get to know me. I still can’t see why, really, though I am better at it than before. I don’t hate myself. I can acknowledge that I am funny, intelligent, charming–a good dinner companion, as it were. I am literate, considerate, kind, and sensitive. I don’t think I’m beautiful, but I at least don’t think I’m ugly any more–nor do I think I’m irredeemable.
I am beginning to see that it’s possible for people to like me, and, yes, to even love me. I still don’t understand why, but I am at least beginning to accept it’s true. That’s a start.
*Eleven billionty means a whole bunch. I am uncertain as to who actually coined the term, but it’s used frequently over at Balloon Juice.