Retelling Stories About Thy Self Retelling Stories About Thy Self
share 2

“A stable sense of self-worth stems from putting identity above image; worrying less about what others think of us than what we think of ourselves.” – Alan Grant

When I was 12 years old I stood in front of a torso-length mirror and I watched my unblinking brown eyes staring back at me blankly. I realized, to my dismay, that unlike the hot-bodied Hispanic actresses I so liked to watch in my favorite soap operas, I lacked a certain fire in my eyes that deprived me of all that was beautiful and attractive. I did not have the waist-length hair to shrug off or a brisk, sexy walk like my favorite Hollywood actresses.

I felt plain, that I was unimpressive and ugly. No one taught me to believe differently. So I longed for the day I could stand tall with my neck high in that poised elegance that women in movies had. I longed to be desired and to walk into a room and watch as heads turned in my direction, for whispers to be made as I passed by, and for the most beautiful, dimpled smile boy in the room to look at me like I was the only girl in the world.

Since I did not think I could feel any of that looking the way I did, everything that I knew to be beautiful and loving was derived from fiction which meant I delved very heartily into the world of fiction the way that teenage loner girls do; with Mills & Boon tucked under their arm and a passionate desire to be the characters in the books.

In my pubescent mind, this self-image had been influenced by the books I read, the movies I watched, and my experiences. I longed to possess the quick wit, sass, and intriguing intellectual zest as much as the characters I adored. That was who I thought I had to be for people to like and accept me.

The story I starred in my mind was the most riveting tale that no amount of healthy dose of reality could change. This also meant that I was as odd as they come for my poor Tanzanian Mother – always seemingly stuck in my bubble.

She did not know that what might have appeared as a bubble was the rubble of severe body image issues and insecurities and an unhealthy aversion to reality. This complete displacement from reality left me stuck and terrified of living the life I had. I felt isolated and different from all the other girls. These feelings of isolation eventually led to a life of depression with bouts of anxiety.

It occurs to me now that part of the reason why I was so adamant to exist in this alternate reality that I built for myself was that I was taught to believe that femininity looked a certain kind of way and so I tried to emulate what felt entirely unnatural for me because I was never taught to believe differently.

For instance, I had a relaxer in my hair before I was 11 years old because I was told that long, silky easy-to-style hair looked better than my naturally fuzzy, afro hair which meant I wasn’t feeling pretty about myself unless I had a relaxer in my hair so it was silky soft like the women I adored from movies and books.

I have since had to learn that as you think, so you shall be. In other words what we think of ourselves ultimately affects the self-images we generate in our minds of who we are. Because I compared myself to fictional characters, and I could not live up to the beauty standards I was raised to believe in, I thought myself to be ugly unless I was putting up an act and performing.

I felt so alone in my struggle to fit in that I failed to see what my peers and everyone else around me were struggling with.  I did not know that men were conditioned to feel less than if they showed emotions or feelings. I did not know that ‘’pretty girls’’ felt morbidly insecure about their looks. I did not know that beauty standard are damn near impossible to live up to and be happy. I was conditioned to believe that beauty is measured by how much I weighed. I didn’t know that you could be confident and still have extreme anxiety. I also didn’t know that some of the happiest people I knew were living a pained, tragic life that no one knew about.

These are some of the real struggles that so many young and older people are dealing with whilst navigating through life pretending to be okay. Meanwhile, we are expected to know what we are doing by 18, to be married by 25, to have kids by 30, and to have a wonderful life fulfilling job and, a sexually satisfied spouse. I request the longest eye roll.

No one tells us we are not alone in our struggles so we can feel completely detached. We convince ourselves that we are alone and we should bare the cross of our demons for the rest of our lives that way. We struggle with our thoughts and think no one can understand so we don't get any help until it’s too late.

“If you would protect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind. Thoughts of malice, envy, disappointment, despondency, rob the body of its health and grace.”- James Allen

I genuinely believe that when we can own up to our truth and when we can sit down and craft different narratives, truer narratives about ourselves then we will get better at retelling these stories of our hearts.

It is in this yearning and questioning of where I needed to feel peace, where my heart needed to feel love for the woman I was becoming that drove me through the scary shadowed corners within myself to try and peel off from my nose, my eye pits, the sour truth of exactly who I really am and not who I so desperately wanted people to believe I am. I started redefining myself and telling different stories about who I am.

Then as a sort of miracle, year after year, when I stared in a mirror my acne looked less appalling and more charming. I slouch my shoulders even today but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I don’t care to be a femme fatale because I know that is not who I am.

So then the girl staring in a mirror finally learned a valuable lesson; she learned to smile back at me and somehow in the miracle of that transformation, I had formed at last an image worth capturing and remembering.

I was starting to see myself not with the eyes that sought approval from others but with kindness and compassion and understanding. I finally saw the woman staring back. She was hurt, scarred, curious, and lost. But I was adamant to find my way back to her.

I still am.

share 2

Mariam Simbeye
Written by

Mariam Simbeye

I am a podcaster and mental health advocate. As an integral part of our being, mental health encapsulates all that we are. If we are to succeed, then our mental health has to be our main priority. So I try to normalize discussions regarding mental health to destigmatize the notions about it.

Join #TheMovement Now

Empower helps millions of job seekers and employers find the right fit every day. Start hiring now on Africa’s #1 job site.*

Become a Mover

What People Say About Us