This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Every generation grows up with a new set of generational issues. My great-great-grandmother used to tightly wrap my great-grandmother’s feet with cloth bandages to stunt the growth of her daughter’s feet. Apparently, large feet for young girls during the time of my great-grandmother’s youth were not a huge selling point for male suitors. My great-grandmother was the living definition of a matriarch. Since the eighties, she lived mostly alone (by choice), in an apartment in San Francisco until she passed at 103 years old. My great-grandmother’s son (my paternal grandfather), escaped on a boat from China to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war. My grandfather was the oldest of three siblings. On a day to day basis during the war, he struggled to find food and clean water for his younger siblings. My grandfather became a diplomat. Because of my grandfather’s job, my dad grew up in Spain, Bolivia, and Columbia. His first language was Spanish. In case you don’t believe me, my little sister’s name is Marisol.
I grew up the eldest of four sisters. I was born and raised in Silicon Valley where kids speak in Java, college drop-outs are inventing flying cars in their moms’ garages, and CEOs are getting sued on a daily basis. My mom graduated Berkeley Econ, and my dad graduated Berkeley Computer Science (shocker, I couldn’t believe it either).
My dad and I were never very close. One of my three younger sisters, Natalie, was born with Asperger’s Syndrome. Understandably, Natalie’s needs were more dire than mine. She had weekly occupational therapy, behavioral therapy… you get the gist. But as Natalie’s only older sister, I carried the grunt weight of Natalie’s responsibilities. When caretakers and therapists took breaks during the week, I spent my weekends caring for her. My parents, who were still learning how to parent during this time, were often upset at me when I couldn’t manage Natalie’s needs. I was diagnosed with panic disorder at 17 years old. In hindsight, the panic attacks started around 4th grade. I came out as part B of the LGBTQ+ community in the seventh grade to my dearest middle school friend (PS, if you’re reading this, I haven’t talked to you in years, but I miss you!). My first love, a girlfriend from early high school, revolutionized my second coming out after I started attending a private Christian high school.
I didn’t tell my parents until the last couple of years. I resented my parents for most of high school. We had a tumultuous relationship. They’re trying to make amends now, especially my dad, who I love dearly. I came home drunk from a frat party and admitted to him on the phone that I once hotboxed his Tesla. He didn’t mind too much I don’t think. He sent me this the other day.
I’ll share some things in the hopes that it’s useful to you. None of these stories are likely to be what you are experiencing, but hopefully they help.
My college friend Oliver told me once that a boy in his high school asked Oliver to go out on a date. It was never clear to me whether Oliver was gay or bisexual. It was also unclear why he told me that story, but he never brought it up again. You met Oliver once. Oliver is blonde with blue eyes, athletic, tall, a good student and generally considered good looking during our generation. He dated a number of girls that were very good looking. But he ended up marrying a girl that is less conventionally attractive in terms of looks but is super nice, fun and very competent. I’ve never spoken to him about this, but I think if you’d ask him, he would feel that he’s had a very good life and made good choices. He’s the one that was on the Berkeley tennis team and used to do crazy things. He doesn’t do anything crazy anymore. If he was bisexual or gay, he definitely ended up taking the “safe” path when it comes to what society was willing to accept but he also didn’t take the path that was “expected” of him.
I don’t have anything similar in experience to you.
When we were about to leave Taiwan, I was 15 finishing my first semester in high school. I was doing well in school. I attended an allboys school (with Uncle Connor) and we would arrange hangouts with other girls’ schools. I started dating a girl a few months before leaving Taiwan. It was weird as I meant to date her friend but I can’t really remember what happened. At the time I fell deeply in love, but afterward, I realized I barely knew her and that I really liked her friend better. When I was leaving, I fought with my dad because I wanted to stay in Taiwan. I asked around about what it would take to get an apartment for myself and all. Not for the girlfriend, but because I felt I liked Taiwan and was doing well. My dad forced me to leave with him. In hindsight, opportunities in the US were vastly superior to those in Taiwan and that was a good decision. Leaving was the “safer path.”
Once in Spain, I had very good grades and was very good at soccer. I attended an American school and the kids were generally nice. I never dated anyone in Spain, as I wanted to be loyal to my girlfriend in Taiwan. That was generally stupid as I barely knew her, and later we stopped writing letters to each other. I stopped thinking that I had a girlfriend after a few months, but I never dated in Spain. Then my dad got a stroke and spent every dollar he had on medical care so I had to leave, as the school in Spain was very expensive. Same tuition as Berkeley.
In sharing all this, I think what I’m hoping to do here is that you go and discover yourself and find your own path. We all have what we think are things we must do when we are young. Figuring out which of those feelings we must act on is a difficult thing to do. I think as humans, we are wired to want to feel that we have conviction for everything. But the choices lead us to very different paths and outcomes. Regrets about one’s choices are the hardest on us later on in life. So I would advise you to be flexible when you can be and pick the battles very carefully one way or another. And be flexible with the people around you that may not share your convictions. It’s hard for everyone, especially when we are young. Every path seems like we should die for it. Every relationship feels like one we will stay in for the rest of our lives. Be patient and honest in figuring that out.
Now, I must admit this is an excerpt of a very long essay that he drafted for me one day. It took 19 years for my dad to open up to me, and when he did, I did too. I’m not sure why. I still need to ask my therapist about that, but this is my theory: there are secrets hidden between every generation. Secrets that are devastating to tell, secrets that are just for a mother and son to know… But for my dad, I think he felt it was time for him to tell me his secrets as I left for college. And perhaps that is exactly the point of secrets—to be revealed when they need to be. And maybe the timing of my dad’s revelation was what mattered most.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Social media has always been a place for people to share memories, post memes or interact with friends and family. You can have heartfelt captions to remember a found moment or silly inside jokes or puns that your group chat helped you come up with. In general, social media has been a space for creators—famous or not—to let us into their personal lives. Over the years social media has gone through phases with new platforms falling and rising, like Vine, Musically, Snapchat, and TikTok. We’ve seen posts go from just sharing vacation photos or graduation pictures, to posing for pictures with our food, random days we feel good and inspiration quotes. The most recent trend across all social media platforms is to be more intimate with the people who see your content—using your accounts as a virtual diary. The most fascinating, to me, are trends within the different platforms to create secret accounts or private stories. I wanted to find out more about how female-identifying people used these secret accounts and what it meant for them. Rather than passively observing the content, I set out to interview people who were active participants in this culture of finstas.
Katherine: Why did you make your private account to begin with?
Molly: The first private account I made was with 4 of my friends where we collectively posted dumps from our lives. We made it as a fun way to show the more casual pictures we take to a smaller group of people. A place where we didn’t have family members or near strangers viewing our posts.
Katherine: How long have you had your secret account or private story? Has the content you share changed over time?
Molly: I think I have had my private account for about a year. I’m not sure if the content has changed much. Maybe it has just gotten a little less cringe over time. In my opinion at least, others might not think so…
Katherine: What kind of content do you post and how does it differ from your main account/story content?
Molly: I never really post on my main page, I felt like I never had anything to post, just occasional vacation photos. I guess I could post my private account content on my main page but I just find it more fun to post on my ‘finsta’ with different captions. It’s normally just pictures of me.
Katherine: How differently do you interact with people on your private account than on your main?
Molly: As far as interacting I think I communicate similarly in comment sections as far as what I say. I think I just comment more frequently on the private account because it’s stuff that pertains to me and my friends and things that I find funny. On Instagram I don’t really interact with people aside from sending posts or liking.
Katherine: Since having a secret account or private Snapchat story how do you feel your self-expression has changed? Are you more open? Reserved?
Molly: My expression on social media is probably more open but that’s just because I post more—not that much more but more—than I did before. I think I still like to portray myself a certain way even on secret accounts as far as being intentionally cringe, unfunny or crusty.
As Molly describes, the use of these secret accounts and stories is a way to freely express how you experience the world, by posting the half-drunk coffee you had this morning or giving length captions that better resemble a chaotic journal entry. Some things that may seem a little odd if you decided to share on your more public accounts.
We’ve seen social media go through so many different versions, evolving as the definition of the “IT Girl” changed. Young girls look to these IT Girls for how they should live their lives, trying to emulate Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid or Emma Chamberlain from their fashion, to their diet and even their mannerisms. The IT Girls have varied from the extremely posed, well dressed and full face of makeup “Baddies”—to the most prominent IT Girl surfacing the internet at the moment—the clean girl or That Girl. This type of girl on social media exudes “model off duty” and is always “fresh-faced.” They tend to share random moments from their lives in visually perfect posts.
In this next portion of our interview, I wanted to ask Molly how she felt about these different trends and see how they might affect the private account experience. How do these notions of the most desirable girl change how we use social media? How much of this seeps into our real lives?
Katherine: How do you feel about “casual Instagram,” a trend that seeks to make posting on your personal account more casual, as though your secret account merges with your personal account? Does it take away from your secret account or private story?
Molly: I actually listened to Emma Chamberlain’s podcast, and I agreed with most of what she said. Casual Instagram often does even more harm than regular Instagram. I think this is because when people are viewing high glamor shots, they know that they’re false and therefore don’t compare themselves. I think casual Instagram is a fallacy, that the pictures people post casually are just as calculated as the rest of the pictures they post. People want to make it look like their day-to-day life is aesthetic and goofy but they’re still only showing the highlights. And that’s when people compare themselves because they’re like “damn my days don’t look like this.” I think the posts on people’s secret accounts are much different than “casual” posts on their main accounts. It’s in that comparison that you can see how staged “casual” Instagram is.
Molly mentioned Emma Chamberlain, society’s quintessential IT Girl who brought back flare yoga pants, UGGs and so much more. On her podcast “Anything Goes” she talks about casual Instagram and how much our social media presence is a part of our identity. She goes on to say that “Instagram is an extension of [people’s] personality” and that you can easily curate your Instagram any way that you want people to perceive you. Instagram has become some sort of a creative outlet, says Chamberlain, where we can share our favorite books, favorite meals. She goes on to explain that casual posting is less about posing and planning and more about raw moments and that this way of posting takes the pressure off. However, Emma says that there is also a fake casual Instagram, where it’s not just random photos you took in the moment, but it took you 10 minutes to take the best photo.
Katherine: I’m sure you’ve noticed the different trends of the “most desirable girl” on social media. Currently we are living in the age of “That Girls” and the clean girl aesthetic. Do you think this newly popular aesthetic is a result of this more calculated “casual Instagram”?
Molly: I would agree that casual instagram is calculated, making it appear as though people’s lives are fun and quirky and flawless. Casual Instagram posts often show more of a person’s personality, or maybe just the personality they want to be perceived as. Even casual Instagrams where people intend to look funny/ goofy or artfully aesthetic are still the very highlights of a person’s humor or artsiness. The new version of an IT Girl doesn’t just consist of her appearance but also her ability to appear humble and funny.
Katherine: Do you see yourself adapting this set of trendy behaviors and actions seen by the it girls of the time? Do you feel any pressure to do so?
Molly: I think on my private accounts I still do try to be as funny or pretty as possible because those are traits I hold to be important. I personally am not interested in makeup, fashion, or Pinterest vibe aesthetic so I don’t adapt to those behaviors. I’m more concerned with appearing funny and attractive which is one element of this new age IT Girl. I don’t necessarily feel pressure to act a certain way, but sometimes I aspire to post similar to some of my friends whose accounts I find appealing.
Katherine: How would you describe your own relationship with social media? How about for women in general?
Molly: For me, I low-key don’t care about social media as far as comparison. Like I know that my feed is filled with attractive people and that’s why they’re famous so I know not to compare myself. The reason I might not post is probably more concerned with what my aunts, uncles, or cousins would think and not my other followers. I think that women in general post far more than men on social media, at least non-famous ones. I think that’s because of the stylistic aspects of social media. Girls get more creative with their posts.
Katherine: Do you think that social media platforms could be changed or created in some way to exemplify the best parts of finsta or casual Instagram?
Molly: To be honest I think that human nature will always take hold when it comes to portraying ourselves to others. We will always want to be perceived in an idealized way and taking away likes or comments isn’t necessarily gonna fix that. Because even if a comment section is disabled, people are still going to screenshot and share posts and discuss amongst their friends. By putting yourself on the internet you are volunteering to be judged and perceived and I don’t think there’s any way that the app itself could change that. It would have to be a cultural change toward acceptance. I think an interesting app would be one where you can’t upload anything from your camera roll.You have to post live and real! Also things like followers, likes, and comments would not be publicly displayed/not be a thing.
While this is only one person’s experience it’s clear there is growing conversation about this topic with new terms being coined all the time! News channels have picked up the well-known “finsta” stories and even the senate, where they begged the question… “Will you commit to ending finsta?” – Senator Richard Blumenthal. But what do I think? Regardless of how some may feel about the phenomena, these secret Instagram accounts and stories have given people a space to think and post freely. No one would stop you in class to ask “why don’t I follow your finsta?” the same way they would be offended if you hadn’t added them to your main accounts.You can write a 200 word caption and no one would bat an eye, or post photos of you having a mental breakdown without someone thinking you are insane.
I have always used my social media accounts as a way to express myself freely and felt that multiple accounts would become a hassle at some point to separate my life. I try to be the most authentic I can be on my accounts and keeping my following small allows me to do that. Of course it’s always a more polished version of myself but I guess I prefer sharing my highlight reels to the world instead. There is a shared knowledge that these secret accounts and stories are meant to something more—secret, personal and completely unhinged.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Another swipe of mascara and her lashes look voluminous and flirty. Another flick of black eyeliner and her eyes look bigger and more striking. Another line of light gloss and her lips look full and alluring. She’s beautiful to look at but as she tilts her head, a flash of contemplation and dissatisfaction crossing her face. Does she look good enough? Pretty enough? Should she add more eyeliner to make her eyes look bigger; wear a red lip to look sexier? What will people think of her—what will the guys think of her?
Wait – back up. Who is she? And who is describing her? Well, that girl is me. I am the one imaging myself this way, viewing myself from another perspective, and having an inner debate about the “looked-at-ness” factor—does she look good enough to be looked at? Admired? To be found attractive? It is a misogynistic, objectifying, male perspective, and to be honest, this feels like a dirty confession. I mean, I consider myself an unapologetic, passionate, capable feminist. How can these thoughts be mine? How can I think like this?
For a long time, I felt embarrassed, disgusted, and alone. It was just me and this unwanted male voice inside my head. And then, I stumbled across Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” an essay that first introduced the world to the concept of the male gaze in cinema. According to Mulvey, in terms of traditional narrative film, we identify the active protagonist (male actors) and desire the passive objects (female actors). Consequently, this puts viewers “in the position of men looking at women, identifying as male and desiring the female.” Unfortunately, this holds true for perspectives outside of film as well. The reality is that many girls are subconsciously performing for an audience that does not exist.
Self-Commodification and Social Media Under the Patriarchy
According to Mulvey, the male gaze enables the commodification of womens’ bodies. Our external and internal value weighs in the amount of our “looked-at-ness,” and we view each part of our body through a value system assembled by men. Another similar concept is “thingification,” which is the making of ourselves into “things”: commodities for others’ consumption. In a famous quote by Margaret Atwood, she explains how we not only are subject to the male gaze around us, but also an internalized form of the male gaze. In other words, we unconsciously objectify ourselves based on a male’s perspective.
Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur. (Margaret Atwood)
Social media is a prime example of self-commodification. For example, when we post selfies or pictures of ourselves, we desire all the likes we can get, because we associate the amount of likes with our desirability. Here, there is a transaction between women and the price they are willing to pay for attention. When we are wired from a young age to engage in social media and this type of toxic transaction, we find it hard not to find validity from others. The constant societal conditioning of looking pleasing to others, and being likable and desirable, largely induces these attitudes. When we grow up with the harsh influence of social media and society, it is nearly impossible to escape self-commodification and objectification of our bodies. According to objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) many users choose to construct their online personas through photo selection of their profiles. These photos are not chosen at random; female users “wish to present themselves as ‘affiliate and attractive’ and have been shown to regard presenting aesthetically pleasing photographs as more important than male users.” As a result of these predominantly image-based apps, “our society has been given a new arena in which appearance evaluation, appearance comparison, and sexual objectification have the potential to occur,” thus endorsing the idea that one’s value is placed in their outward appearance.
The Male Gaze in Cinema
White men have created the majority of films we have ever seen in American mainstream cinema, which means that they have made all the decisions related to the shots, framing, lighting, sound design, the intended audience—all of it—including the way characters are written and perceived. This means that we consume, learn, and form the perspectives of white men, practically eliminating the facets of gender, race, economic, social, cultural and political rights of all people and the agency of people of color in the film industry. Ultimately, this means that we have all been conditioned to adopt the male gaze because that is the way we were raised by traditional cinema.
Considering that almost all films are written and directed by white men, there are countless examples of the male gaze in films. Let’s look at Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). It follows the life of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he secures a high-powered job on Wall Street and transforms into a sex, drug-fueled, and money obsessed stockbroker. From the beginning, we can see the objectification of women and the misogyny that carries out throughout the rest of the movie: Belfort passionately says, “Money doesn’t just buy you a better life, better food, better car, better pussy, it also makes you a better person.” Besides the derogatory commentary, the cinematography of this film reinforces the normalization of demeaning women; the camera angles capture women in a way that is pleasurable to the viewers. The exact scene introduces us to Naomi by showing us the back of her head as she performs oral sex on her husband, followed by a montage of her in lingerie, posing on the bed as Belfort brags about her. While the montage shows her face, she looks seductively at the camera while Belfort says, “she was the one with my cock in her mouth in the Ferrari so put your dick back in your pants.” This is the gaze.
What to Do When Feminism Fails Us?
So, how do we cope with our deep-set hypocritical desires? Is it possible to stop commodifying ourselves and live through our own eyes and not a man’s? I am not going to lie, sometimes I still have thoughts like “do I look pretty enough today?” or “Should I wear something more feminine, something that looks better?” and I struggle with feelings of guilt and shame because of it. However, as Atwood made clear—we are all victims.
Women grow up and are conditioned to view themselves as a man might. Women grow up and are taught to be looked at and exist as if we are always on display. Thus, it does not make sense to blame young girls and women for being absorbed into this sexualized economy. It is not abnormal to want attention or to be desired. And yet when it comes to the commodification of girls’ bodies in particular, we find that there is a restrictive framework surrounding the idea of “my body, my choice.” From an outside perspective, it can be argued that women want to be a part of this transaction, that it is empowering to post a selfie where you feel confident. This framework, centered around the language of “choice,” holds that young women “can and should be able to project themselves across a variety of social media platforms in whatever way they please—their body, their selfie.” However, as Nancy Jo Sales describes in “American Girls,” our agency is “circumscribed by a patriarchal power structure that equates women’s value with sex appeal.”
Perhaps empowerment has been overused and turned into an empty phrase—one that does not give power to women, but distracts from the real lack of power held by women and girls around the world. In this sense, empowerment is “apparently not about the equitable allocation of resources, or influence in politics or policy, or really power at all. It is shorthand for ‘I wanted to do this and it made me feel good.’”
Subversion and Understanding Power Dynamics
If movies, tv shows, and media in general teach us to live through the male gaze, then this is the type of industry we should challenge. In Duke Mwedzi’s piece The Critical Assessment of the Male Gaze in Contemporary Film and Video Games, he argues for subversion as a creative technique. Subversion is “a method of creating culture that critiques dominant norms and promotes radical ideas.” If we take this idea into the world of cinema, it means that first, filmmakers can choose not to use the male gaze and second, we should critique the male gaze at the cultural level. According to Mwedzi, by creating a film that resists the male gaze, they can also resist the dominant ideals that are reinforced by it, such as male activity and female passivity.
Interpreting the male gaze from a cultural perspective requires an understanding of power dynamics between men and women. The male gaze portrays women as objects of vision. Put in other words, men act and women appear. For women, there is a constant struggle in forming our own identities. A woman’s self can be described as “split into two” because she must “consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.” Recognizing this conflicting binary as the heart of the internalized male gaze can help us better navigate relationships with ourselves in order to restructure our consciousness to stop surveying our own femininity and to stop turning ourselves into objects of vision.
While I have come a long way, I am still working on blinding my internalized male gaze. Sometimes I still catch myself objectifying my own body. The reality is that we live in a fucked up society that is sill largely dominated by the principles of the patriarchy. However, we are slowly but surely unlearning these principles and re-learning our value, finding our voice, and advocating for intersectional equality. As we continue to learn and internalize feminism, I believe it is possible to find ourselves in a state of awareness and empowerment. Understanding that our insecurities regarding the way we view ourselves is significantly influenced by the patriarchy is the first step in learning how to reject the internalized male gaze. Once we can see how pervasive the gaze is and notice when we engage in it, we will be able to see how the male gaze exists everywhere outside of us. Sharing our experiences can be helpful in knowing that you are not alone in your insecurities. While it may take some time, subverting the internalized male gaze is possible. We do not exist for men’s pleasure, and we are not objects to be viewed like we are on display.
Austin , Andrew. “Understanding the Male Gaze and Hegemonic Masculinity in the Wolf of Wall Street.” RTF Gender and Media Culture, 2 July 2020.
Feltman, Chandra. “Instagram Use and Self-Objectification: The Roles of Internalization, Comparison, Appearance Commentary, and Feminism.” Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange, 2018.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
Where do secrets and pain intersect? For me, my pain became my secrets: not only did I internalize my pain, keeping it a secret from the world, but I tried to deny my pain in the hopes that I wouldn’t feel it anymore. Maybe I was trying to keep it a secret to myself.
The best kept secrets might be the ones you never tell, but they also become the most painful. I can’t share my pain the same way I could share a more mundane secret, but I can try to share the way that it felt, the way that it still feels, and maybe that would be enough.
Even now, I write vaguely, I ask rhetorical questions to an unknown reader because if I were to give answers the secrets I have guarded for so long would no longer be mine. Because when I made the mistake of letting my secrets slip, what I got for my troubles was worse than the years of pain I had experienced before. I learned the hard way that the only thing more painful than keeping your pain a secret was taking the risk to share it and not being believed.
“Maybe I handled my secrets so well that my struggles and pain weren’t even believable,” says the nicer part of me. But the hidden anger that I harbor knows better, and it rages on because all I can hear are the same people who contributed to my pain telling me that I don’t deserve to claim it. But if my pain was always a secret then of course, how could anyone understand what it felt like if I never showed it? Or was it that I always showed it but they didn’t want to see it so it stayed a secret by force and not my choice?
These words are dedicated to the secret pain that has persisted through so many stages of my life. This is an ode to silent tears behind closed doors, to learning how to swipe my fingers quickly under my eyes so nobody could tell I was crying in public. This is a love letter to the girl who weakly insisted that her puffy eyes were from allergies in the dead of winter, who learned early that the only way to guarantee that you weren’t hurt is if there was nobody around to hurt you. This is for the fake smiles and caked on makeup, for the sickly sweet “I’m great” in response to a casual “how are you?” Because my pain has always been a secret, because the alternative would be to appear weak or crazy, and when people get the chance to label you as one of those, it leads to a whole new type of pain that becomes harder to keep secret.
It’s a tale as old as time. As women, we internalize our pain because the second that even a bit of negative emotion peaks through, it becomes weaponized against us. If she’s crying, it means that she’s too sensitive, that she’s not strong enough to overcome her challenges or that she can’t be trusted with serious responsibility. If she’s angry, or even the tiniest bit frustrated, then obviously she’s a raging bitch who makes it difficult for anyone to deal with her.
But the timing starts earlier, starting from the compliment, “she’s such a quiet child,” or “she’s so mature” for the kid who doesn’t talk to anyone. We praise silence, we praise secrets, and we praise keeping any sort of pain internalized, because we learn how showing pain is punished with more pain, so we try to reduce the pain, but it reverberates inside of us and amplifies. What do you do when you want to scream your secrets instead of whispering them but you can’t? And why can’t you?
Maybe you can’t because you understand the consequences of letting your negative emotions show. You’ve learned from the time you were young, either directly or by watching others, that there are consequences for letting your pain show. Even though women generally tend to express their emotions more, negative emotions tend to be internalized among women, including young girls. A large part of this is how women are treated when they show emotions like anger or sadness, being told that they’re “too-sensitive,” which leads to less emotional expression and fuels this vicious cycle of repressed feelings and hurt.
Essentially, we’re fueling a culture in which women learn from a young age that only positive emotions are acceptable to show on the outside; still, joy isn’t the only emotion in existence. It’s impossible for us as humans not to feel hurt, sad, angry, or a plethora of emotions all together. So why do we place so much emphasis on never feeling pain, as if it were some kind of future rather than an unachievable goal?
Besides the overwhelming frustration of having your pain and accompanying negative emotions belittled or brushed off, keeping in negative emotions causes a multitude of mental and physical health issues. Accumulating emotional stress can lead to mental illnesses–like depression and anxiety—as well as heart disease, intestinal problems, and more. Keeping all this pain to ourselves without letting it out lets it fester inside of us, turning into something more sinister with the capacity to cause longterm damage to our bodies and minds. So yes, letting out your pain might seem daunting, and you might be intimidated by the thought of the repercussions. But with the expense of your own wellbeing, the alternative is no better, and you owe it to yourself to accept your pain and all the emotions that accompany it for nobody’s sake but your own.
Secrets hurt us, not just the ones we keep about others but the ones we keep to ourselves. If we pretend that our pain isn’t there, if we try to hide it away in the back of our mind and mask it with fake smiles and honeyed words, we end up hurting ourselves. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to hide their pain for others’ benefit, because it’s unfair to force ourselves to take on the resultant threats to our health.
Let me tell you one last secret. There’s something I’ve always wanted to hear about my pain, something that nobody has ever told me, and right now, I want to make sure I tell it to you. If you are holding onto any secret pain, I want you to know that I believe you. I believe that you’ve struggled, that you’ve been hurt by those things you seemingly brushed off, and that you’ve so desperately wanted to release the ugly flood of emotions that you have held back for so long. I’ve divulged the truth behind my pain to you, anonymous reader, and only ask that in return, you allow yourself to accept your own truth and stop keeping secrets from yourself.
This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.
A few weeks ago, news broke out about a sexual harassment scandal occurring at Harvard University. John Comaroff, a professor of African and African American Studies and Anthropology at Harvard University has been accused of the sexual harassment of three women: Margaret G. Czerwienski, Lilia M. Kilburn, and Amulya Mandava. These women had been graduate advisees of his and had been subject to his harassment for years prior, even reporting his actions multiple times, yet Harvard had done nothing in response to them.
The harassment from Comaroff toward Kilburn, Mandava, and Czerwienski has been going on since 2017; however, there was a “decade of sexual harassment” and professional misconduct allegations against Comaroff” before then. After the lawsuit was filed, Comaroff was placed on unpaid leave from the school, a consequence that is objectively not harsh enough and does not truly express how atrocious an act he committed and has been committing for years now. As a man at a top tier institution, Comaroff was able to get away with countless offenses with no such kind of backlash. This move to file the lawsuit came five years after these three women had started reporting harassment by him, so, in every sense of the manner, it was their last ditch effort to receive some sort of justice.
One aspect of this story that is quite disheartening is how Comaroff’s peers and other professionals from Harvard reacted to his punishment and to the news that he is a sexual predator and has violated handfuls of women. Many of the other faculty and staff members at Harvard University did not simply stay silent on the matter. However, they actually openly supported Comaroff despite his alleged actions. The day after Comaroff was placed on unpaid leave, a riot ensued among many faculty members at Harvard going against the school, saying that he did not deserve the punishments that he was receiving and these allegations against him were false. This is just one other example of how, often, in cases such as these, if the perpetrator is a well-known and respected man, he has no problem gaining supporters in defense of him.
A letter was written in support of him and his character in which thirty eight other faculty members signed. The letter displayed him as an upstanding member of the community and called him an “excellent colleague.” It was stated in the letter that these faculty members were “dismayed by Harvard’s sanctions against him and concerned about its effects on our ability to advise our own.” This outspokenness came from a place of ignorance and naivety, as was shown that, after more specific details came out in the report against Comaroff, thirty-five of the thirty-eight original signatories removed their signatures. They were quick to blindly defend their colleague before knowing or having all of the information presented, which proves how, in privileged institutions like Harvard, those who have built a name for themselves tend to evade any malice placed against them, no matter the background of the situation or what they may have done. Although the faculty members at Harvard did not prove to show any support to these three women, the students at Harvard had a different response.
After the lawsuit was filed where all of Comaroff’s disgusting actions came to light and after Harvard had shown their response to the situation, the students at Harvard University took part in one of the biggest demonstrations on the school’s campus in years. Hundreds of students banded together and walked out of classes in order to protest Harvard’s role in the entire situation. A student who was a part of the protest proclaimed that “this case is about Harvard’s failure to provide the prompt and equitable process for dealing with claims of harassment and discrimination that’s required by law.” As I mentioned earlier, this was not Comaroffs first, second, or even third time being reported for sexual misconduct, however it was the first time that any type of action was taken against him, and that was only because an official lawsuit was filed.
Harvard knew that Comaroff had a history of sexual harassment and failed to take action. They did not do anything within the university to combat any of these allegations, which places the victims of his assault in a terrible situation where they feel that their own institution does not support or care about their wellbeing. By refusing to condemn Comaroff, Harvard positions itself as perpetuating the violence of victim blaming. Further, after the lawsuit was filed, they even continued to deny claims about the specific actions that took place. For example, he was not found guilty of unwanted sexual contact, even though, in the lawsuit, the women specifically stated that he “kissed and groped students without their consent, made unwelcome sexual advances, and threatened to sabotage students’ careers if they complained.” These are clear examples of sexual abuse, however, Comaroff was only found guilty on the claim of verbal harassment.
What is Harvard going to do about it? Are they going to change their policies? Are they going to be more receptive to sexual harassment suits? Sexual assault is an ongoing issue in our society; it occurs all to time with rarely any consequences taking place. Women who are subject of sexual harassment are reluctant to come forward and report their assaults in fear of the backlash they may receive. Too many times the blame of harassment is placed on the victim with them being told that they shouldn’t have worn this, shouldn’t have said that, shouldn’t have drank as much, and countless other excuses as to why the perpetrator didn’t really do anything wrong. Because of this, women rarely feel satisfied and never truly recover from their traumatic experiences. They never receive the justice they deserve, as the law does not support them in any way. We have to change the feeling around sexual assault in a way that supports victims and makes them feel heard. From the Harvard example, we see the prevalence of this and the dire need to change the way society thinks about sexual harassment and the seriousness of it. Although the issue took much longer to be unearthed and discussed, the way that most of Harvard’s students reacted to the problem shows that change will come if we keep coming together and pushing back.
You were the worst decision I ever made. I ignored every red flag as soon as you mentioned childhood trauma. I told you that I had a habit of being a people fixer and letting people walk all over me. You took advantage of that. You knew exactly what to say and how to manipulate me. You said just enough vulnerable things to make me think that you were just a broken person trying to heal and become a better person. But you are the worst kind of person.
You took everything you experienced and channeled it into damaging others. You bragged about how you broke people and counted off the girls you’ve ‘broken’ on your fingers. You smiled when you recounted the worst stories. One girl became so ill because of you that she was admitted into the hospital. Another went through horrible depression. I should’ve run then. I did think about it as every alarm went off inside my head, but then you started crying about how horrible things were for you growing up. I was hooked.
You took advantage of my kindness. I did everything for you because you manipulated me into thinking that you needed me. After everything, you were still so horrible to me. I told you when I was at my limit, but you took that as your sign to push until I cracked. You yelled and terrorized me until I had panic attacks, and you loved to keep yelling while I shook in front of you. There was no soul to be found in your eyes. Night after night, it was the same thing. It was one horrible fight after another. I told you I was breaking and begged you to stop trying to hurt me. I told you that I didn’t know who I was anymore because I started to believe all of the horrible things you said about me. I told you that I was scared of you and that you made me want to die. I was high-functioning until I met you, but you dragged me into the depths of despair with you. You wanted to make me as miserable as you made yourself.
Things progressed so slowly at first. I didn’t notice what you were trying to do. Then, my depression peaked and you rejoiced. You chipped away at every bit of my spirit until there was nothing left. You made pointed comments about my body over and over again until my eating disorder hit me like a tidal wave. You wouldn’t let me eat without you. I couldn’t sleep when I needed to sleep. I cried and begged you to let me go to sleep but you just laughed at me. You told me I was selfish for going to class and doing homework. You started fights when I was trying to study for prelims or turn in assignments so that my grades suffered too. I couldn’t tell anyone what was really happening, though. I felt bad enough asking for a single extension so I just missed everything. You deprived me of basic needs, which I later found out is a torture technique used by militaries. You made it all seem like my fault, like I didn’t deserve to sleep.
You told me that what happened to me was my fault. If I was drunk and something happened, it’d be my fault. You screamed at me and called me a “pompous, cheating b*tch” when something did happen. You berated me and demanded to see my face because you wanted to see the pain you were inflicting. You are sadistic. You told me that I was lucky that you loved me and that no one would ever love me again, but you were the lucky one. You didn’t deserve me. You didn’t deserve my love. You said that I would never have a family because you knew that was the one thing I wanted more than anything. You said that my dad was going to think it was my fault, too, and that he would never forgive me. You threatened to post everything and contact everyone I knew with your version of the story. You demanded that I go through every detail of the assault with you and convinced me that it was my fault. You put me in the hospital after you made me suicidal and left me all alone. You lied to my dad and said that you would take me to the hospital right away when I was in the middle of a breakdown, then told me that this wasn’t fair to you because you were sleeping. You woke up multiple times and yelled at me when I said I needed help until I started crying and left the room. You watched YouTube as I sat on the bed waiting for you to drive me.
I should’ve let my parents call the cops. The hospital staff even told my parents that it seemed like something was wrong. You told me I was being selfish for trying to call you when I had access to the public phone and that it didn’t work with your schedule. You said it would just be a ‘surprise’ if you showed up to visiting hours after you said that you would come. You told my dad that you would be there for me, but you lied. You promised that you would pick me up from the hospital on time then showed up two hours late. Then you yelled at me as soon as we got back to your apartment and said that you hope I enjoyed my ‘little vacation’. Then you got drunk and threatened to drink yourself to death when I said I just needed to sleep because I was exhausted. I had to hide every bottle of alcohol and pill bottle in the house because you threatened to hurt yourself like it was a game. You threw a fit and laid on top of me while I was having a panic attack, then complained about me not being able to stay awake the entire night. You almost put me back in the hospital because I couldn’t handle everything. You knew what you were doing to me and you loved it.
You are the worst person I have ever met in my entire life. You don’t have any integrity or sense of morality. You are merely a cold and heartless tormentor. I believe that everyone is capable of changing but you don’t want to change. You act like someone is forcing you to behave this way when it’s all you. You know how you’ve impacted people but you don’t care to change so you will probably always be this way.
I let you convince me to stay every time I tried to leave. It got so bad that my friend offered to let me stay in their dorm room and buy me a toothbrush, shampoo, and everything, just to get me out of there. I should’ve accepted their help but I underestimated how strong a trauma bond could be and how good at manipulating me you were.
But it didn’t take much more time for me to grow to hate and loathe you. I tried to slowly put space in between us so I could get away but you were incapable of respecting any of my boundaries. I asked for a break and you wouldn’t leave me alone. Then when I got angry enough to forgo my slow and steady plan for space and explicitly broke up with you, you replied, “We can talk about it on Thursday”, like it never happened. I could never escape you. I blocked you on every platform you harassed me on just for you to find another avenue. You told me that I couldn’t block you on everything because I needed to get my stuff back. I held my breath the entire summer waiting for the moment that I could get my stuff from your apartment and finally be free of you.
I never want to see you again. I never want to speak to you again. But I can’t seem to escape you. You enrolled in the class that you knew I was taking, even though you told me that you’d already taken it. Have you been watching me this entire time? I shouldn’t have to leave class in tears because you traumatized me and then show up everywhere I am. If anyone should leave, it’s you.
Every sign was there that you were a narcissist, but I didn’t know what to look for. I don’t think anything good came out of my time with you. I learned what to look out for to identify dangerous people, but I don’t know if that is necessarily a good thing. You knew the weight of the trauma I already carried and decided to double it. If you genuinely cared about me at any point, then the least you can do is pay me back for the NYC trip that I paid for and the extra years of therapy I need because of the hell you put me through.
I have wanted to confront you about everything you did to me, but I know that it wouldn’t be safe to do that. I will not be gaslighted anymore. I will not be manipulated into thinking I am crazy and that I’m making things up in my head. I know what you did to me, and so do you. I hope that what you did to me haunts you for the rest of your life. If I have to be burdened with it, then so do you. You can’t plead ignorance this time.
This is my version of closure. You refused to let me speak or be heard, but I will not be silenced now. I am done with you forever. I do not deserve to be alone. I did not deserve anything that has happened to me. I do deserve love and happiness, and I have found it. I will have my family, and I will be successful. You took me down to the lowest point in my life but I refused to let you win. You made me an empty shell of a person that no one in my life recognized, but I am not that person anymore. I was never weak. I have always been stronger than you, which is probably why you tried to tear me down so desperately. You made the mistake of confusing cruelty for strength and power. Everything you did and everything you are only shows how pathetic and weak you really are. Your despicable actions were never a reflection of me; they were a reflection of the ugly, dead heart that lies within you. I will live the life I have always desired and deserved. You cannot take credit for the person that I have become either.
I am the one who picked myself up and tried, again and again, every day until it wasn’t as painful anymore. I did the work to start healing. I continued fighting when everything in me wanted to give up. I found my voice and finally decided to use it.
After transitioning to a virtual format due to the pandemic, comic conventions are finally returning to their former glory. October 7-10 of this year, droves of fans eagerly attended New York Comic-Con. Sadly, along with the return of Comic-Con comes another pre-pandemic occurrence: the criticism women face for cosplaying at conventions. Women who cosplay often face harassment if their outfits are deemed “too sexy” or are criticized for supposedly pretending to have interests in comics for attention.
Cosplaying Is A Commitment
Women who cosplay spend a lot of time, money, and effort on their cosplays. The motivation for cosplay stems from passion, not a desire for attention. If they’re proud of their art and eager to wear and showcase their hard work, they should be respected.
Why Should Women “Prove” Their Interests Are Real?
The belief that women’s interest in comics and other “nerdy” media is disingenuous isn’t a novel form of sexism.
For example, in 2012, YouTube user albinwonderland posted a video titled “Fake Geek Girls.” This post was a response to a Facebook post by a male comic book artist who was berating women who cosplay for “faking” their interest in comic books and “seeking male attention.”
Though this video was posted nearly a decade ago, albinwonderland does an incredible job of illustrating how women feel uncomfortable in nerd spaces due to the hostile, elitist communities that men create within them.
The fact that women in comic or geek spaces face this treatment can be partly attributed to how the creators themselves tend to be overwhelmingly male. According to The Beat, in the last six months of 2018, 83.7% of Marvel’s credited comic creators were men (with 16.3% representing women and non-binary creators) and 82.8% of DC’s credited creators were men (with 17.2% representing women and non-binary creators). Given these statistics, it’s unsurprising that most of the content produced in this community is tailored towards an audience of men, which only fuels the cycle of men feeling that women aren’t allowed to occupy the same space they do within the comics community.
Not Everything is for Male Attention
In general, many are quick to label women and girls’ interests as means of seeking male attention: women who wear makeup are supposedly aiming to be more attractive to men, women who like sports are just trying to impress men, and so on. This false logic fosters the belief that unwanted attention from men is the woman’s fault. Just as a woman who is wearing makeup or a miniskirt does not want to be harassed as she walks down the street, women who cosplay do not want to be harassed based on the style of their costume.
Bottom Line: Respect Your Fellow Fans
Women who cosplay do so out of a passion for comics and geeky media, pouring time and effort into creating and perfecting their cosplay. Women’s interests in such media, regardless of how much they engage with interest-based communities, are valid, and it is no one’s place to tell a woman that her interest in something is fake. There is little more to say besides a final reminder: respect your fellow fans.
Warning: This article contains talk of scales, weight loss, and dieting and may be triggering for those currently struggling with body dysmorphia and other related body image disorders.
Make a Wish
Throughout the majority of my twenty-one years, I’ve had a constant wish in the back of my head:
I want a flat stomach.
I’ve always been on the smaller side, and I’ve never been overweight. Yet to me, there has always been room to lose. Putting it plainly, I have incessantly wanted to drop weight, to shed those couple of extra pounds. Why? That’s a good question. If you asked me a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a good answer with good reasons. I just knew I long dreamed of having a toned core and an overall lean body. But I’ve since realized that there is more to my explanation.
Diversity? Didn’t Know Her
I grew up in the South, in a predominantly white community, and I’m a woman of color, so I looked different than most of the people in my community. While I didn’t realize it at the time, this had a big impact on me. I grew up in a place where the standard of beauty didn’t include the physical features that made up my face. My flat nose, round face, and smaller eyes were traits that set me apart.
Suffice to say, my hometown lacked diversity. This, combined with my limited exposure to Asian American representation in the entertainment industry, largely led to a lack of confidence.
For me, it was difficult to love how I looked when I was surrounded by people whose physical traits looked nothing like mine. Suffice to say, my hometown lacked diversity. This, combined with my limited exposure to Asian American representation in the entertainment industry, largely led to a lack of confidence. So, I latched onto a physical aspect that I could control: my weight.
Taking Control… Or Trying To
Throughout high school, I was quite unsuccessful. I played on my high school’s varsity tennis team, and I was in good shape. But abs don’t allow for frequent stress eating or an unclean diet, and Chick-fil-A was my best friend. My weight stayed pretty constant and didn’t fluctuate much, but in the back of my head, I was never satisfied. I would pinch my midsection, stare in the mirror, and think if only I could weigh a little bit less.
At the beginning of college, those nagging thoughts still persisted, popping up every once in a while to remind me that I wasn’t thin enough. But they couldn’t stop me from eating ice cream at the dining halls or indulging in comfort food, and all of the walking from class to class and uphill both ways made my weight stay about the same.
When the pandemic started, my relationship with food started to take a further turn for the worse. I didn’t contract a severe eating disorder, but for a short period of time, my calorie intake dropped well below the recommended amount for my demographic. I would weigh myself every day and get a rush of excitement when I saw the numbers drop. However, I quickly realized that my restrictive diet was unsustainable, so I tried to find a balance. Once I allowed myself to eat more calories, the number on the scale started to rise, and this made me unreasonably upset. I took a break from weighing myself, and I tried to focus on my health, rather than reaching a certain weight.
Flash forward a couple of months, and I was again wrapped in the mindset that prioritized numbers over health. This time, I had calorie counting, or CICO (calories in, calories out). Now, I don’t think that calorie counting is a bad thing. If it is used with moderation and balance for improving overall health, I think it’s great. And using CICO was the first time I actually started approaching my weight goals while consuming an acceptable amount of calories that followed health guidelines. The problem, however, was constant thinking about losing weight.
When I woke up, I would think about my weight. I’d take a look in the mirror and see if I saw any difference from the day before. If I was hungry, I usually made myself wait until the next meal, and I would savor every bite of food since I knew I would restrain from eating until the next meal. If I ended up binging, I felt guilty beyond measure.
Finding a Descriptive Phrase
At this point, I was confused. I knew I didn’t have an eating disorder, but something about my mindset didn’t feel right. I took online quizzes to see how prone I was to developing an eating disorder, not out of sheer curiosity, but because I was genuinely scared of the direction my relationship with food was going. I was grateful to be aware of my unhealthy obsession with wanting to lose weight, but I was also at a loss for what to do about it and perplexed about what to label my not normal (but not as medically dangerous as an eating disorder) condition.
It was after research that I realized that, while I didn’t have an eating disorder, I did have disordered eating. According to Cleveland Clinic, “disordered eating covers a broad range of conditions, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. But there’s a much larger percentage of people (5 to 20%) who struggle with symptoms that do not meet the full criteria of a problematic eating pattern.” One of the emotional signs of disordered eating is “being preoccupied with body image, body size/shape, a specific part of the body and/or the number on the scale.” That sounded very familiar to me.
So… What About Now?
Unfortunately, this article does not have the magic answer of how I removed this toxic mindset from my life. Because the truth is, I know I’m still trying to manage it.
Unfortunately, this article does not have the magic answer of how I removed this toxic mindset from my life. Because the truth is, I know I’m still trying to manage it. I’ve definitely improved with being nicer to myself (talking to yourself like you’re talking to a friend works wonders), but I’m a work in progress. Like most other areas of my life, my mindset about weight is something I’m constantly wanting to balance out. I’m fortunate that my problems with body dysmorphia are not nearly as severe as they could be. But it’s sad that, at one point, I let the number on the scale dictate my mood and be the main thought throughout the rest of my day.
While my focus on my weight stems from wanting something I can control—something I can get concrete results from by self-discipline—it ultimately distracts me from things I actually want to focus on. If you’re reading this and can relate, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. This is a problem that’s much more common than I thought, and much less talked about than is needed. So, let’s start the conversation.
For urgent services, you may reach the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255, the 24/7 National Crisis Text Line by texting “HELLO” to 741741, or the 24/7 National Lifeline Crisis Chat service here.
For support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one, you may contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline. You may call (800)931-2237, text (800)931-2237 from the hours of 3-6pm Monday through Thursday, or you can access the chat features here. For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line. If you are a member of Cornell University, Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is available to all students at Cornell University. If you feel you are in need of psychological services, you may call to set up an appointment with CAPS at (607)255-5155 or visit their website here. For urgent services, you may reach the Cornell Health 24/7 phone consultation line at (607)255-5155 and press 2.
Look around your room. How many mirrors do you see?
Now, if you did not include your phone, laptop, or other technology with screens, adjust your answer.
Did your number change?
Mine certainly did. Personally, I have five mirrors in my bedroom alone. That fact shocks me. After all, like many 18 year-olds in this day and age, I have a love-hate relationship with mirrors. As a child, my mirror fascinated me. I spent quite a bit of time in front of it, making faces and laughing as the person in front of me smiled and giggled with me. But as I grew older, those faces froze in the reflection. I stopped making them, but my appearance still seemed off. I didn’t like it anymore, but I couldn’t step away.
Mirror Mirror on the wall,
Tell me what are all my flaws.
I recall reading fairy tales as a child. I read them at home, and we talked about them in school too. Everyone remembers the magical mirror that the evil queen had and how it told her that Snow White was prettier than her. In elementary school, we were taught that each fairy tale comes with a lesson. The lesson in Snow White was that beauty is not what you look like, but who you are inside. But that’s not all that I took away. The portrayal of the evil queen suggested that caring about your appearance was abnormal, a bad thing.
We all have that magic-looking glass. That’s what mirrors are. And while it may not be speaking to us aloud, that inner voice critiquing ourselves when we look at the mirror is the same thing.
So what happens when there’s a voice inside you telling you that you are not enough? We begin to see ourselves as the evil queen, someone obsessed with our appearance. As we get older, our relationship with mirrors becomes more complicated—especially as a girl. And yet, the more insecure we get, the more mirrors pop up in our life. The bathroom mirror that I used to quickly check my appearance was transformed into a full-length mirror that rejected every clothing choice I showed in front of it. That mirror then transformed into my phone, a portable device that allowed me to not only critique myself but have my image shared and critiqued by other people. Technology had become a mirror itself, and though I resented it, I still couldn’t step away. I couldn’t step away, and I didn’t know why. I was becoming the evil queen from Snow White.
But why is that a bad thing?
The stepmother needed to hear exactly what she wanted and from the source that she wanted. After being told that she was the most beautiful person, “[the queen] was contented, for she knew that the looking-glass spoke the truth.” How is that so different from the way we use social media? Like the evil queen, we seek approval from others to be content with ourselves. And when we hear critiques, we try to change something to get a different outcome. Filters and photoshop transform our reality to mold into the approved societal standard. But that rarely takes the voice away.
Some of my friends have taken breaks from social media, deleting apps from their phones to get away from the toxic environment. They tell me how refreshing it is. But I could never do that. And neither could the evil queen. She wanted to be the most beautiful person in the world, but all she heard from her mirror was that she was not enough. So she tried to change that result the only way she could think of–by getting rid of Snow White. The huntsman. The lace. The comb. The apple. The queen was obsessed with becoming beautiful, and every failed attempt to kill Snow White brought more anger and disappointment upon herself. I have felt that anger and disappointment countless times when I look in the mirror.
She had an addiction—one that many of us can relate to. In addition to having insecurities about our image, we have to deal with the rest of society telling us that we shouldn’t have them. But those insecurities grow inside us like the “envy and pride like ill weeds” that made its home in the queen’s heart. Weeds grow uncontrollably, and you may think that you have gotten rid of all of them, but all it takes is one single sprout to have a full infestation.
I’m not trying to tell you how to deal with your insecurities. I’m not trying to say that the queen was right in attempting to kill Snow White. She had an obsession; one that consumed her. But what we all need to know is that it is okay to care about your appearance. Unlike the evil queen’s portrayal in Snow White, it is not villainous to want to be beautiful. It is what humanized her. There isn’t an easy solution to dealing with insecurities, and appearance is one of the most common ones out there.
But we all have a little evil queen inside of us, and that’s okay.
When I was in middle school, I thought that I was ugly. Not an uncommon experience for young girls to have (which is an issue in its own right) but one that defined how I felt about myself as I grew up. There definitely wasn’t one cause for it, but rather a blend of experiences I had gone through: wearing glasses from a young age (when are we going to get rid of that movie trope where the woman instantly becomes “attractive” when she takes her glasses off?), body insecurity, and most of all, the sheer amount of snide comments people would make about my (very thick) hair.
I write this because it is a precursor to this story that can’t be ignored. Before I got into makeup, I was insecure. I would be lying if I told you that that had nothing to do with my initial interest in makeup, but I hope you don’t discount the rest of my story because of it.
One summer, out of boredom, I wound up on the beauty guru side of YouTube. As soon as I watched a few videos, I was hooked. It was fascinating to watch these YouTubers create such a vast variety of makeup looks, utilizing their different colors, brushes, and products. I didn’t even own any makeup myself, but I yearned to try what I learned on myself.
When I did finally get my own makeup at the end of the summer, my excitement lay in figuring out my own different makeup looks to try. I hadn’t completely forgotten my insecurity, but it did take a backseat to the prospect of experimenting that I was anticipating.
Rather than becoming a means for me to change my appearance, makeup became something I could learn and work on. And working on my craft made me care less about what I looked like, because all I did care about was that I had finally figured out a new blending technique or made an unlikely color combination of eyeshadows work.
Since I went to a uniform school at the time, wearing makeup didn’t become a daily habit for me. Instead, it helped makeup fit into my life as a way to express myself in ways that I didn’t get to regularly.
I write this because I know how divisive the conversation about makeup can be at times. And I understand that teaching young people that they need makeup to look beautiful is harmful. But I wanted to share a story about how makeup did truly become a form of self-expression for me when my self-esteem was low. Makeup culture won’t change overnight, but I hope that more new makeup users can grow up loving makeup for its ability to be a creative outlet rather than an extension of insecurity.