Retelling Stories About Thy Self Retelling Stories About Thy Self
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“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 mirror that was as tall as my torso, and I stared at my brown eyes without blinking. Unfortunately, I came to the realization that I lacked the fiery gaze possessed by the hot-bodied Hispanic actresses that I admired in my favorite soap operas. I was disappointed that I didn't possess their waist-length hair or brisk, sexy walk like my favorite Hollywood actresses.

Feeling plain, unimpressive, and ugly, I yearned for a day when I could stand tall with poise and elegance like the women in movies. I longed to be desired and have heads turn in my direction, whispers to be made as I passed by, and for the most beautiful boy in the room to look at me like I was the only girl in the world.

Since I didn't think I could feel any of that looking the way I did, I turned to fiction to learn about love and beauty. I delved into the world of books, with Mills & Boon tucked under my arm, and desired to be like the characters I adored. I wanted to possess their quick wit, sass, and intriguing intellectual zest.

My self-image was influenced by the books I read, the movies I watched, and my experiences. I thought that I had to be a certain way for people to like and accept me. The story I created in my mind was so captivating that no amount of reality could change it. I was an oddball to my Tanzanian mother, always seeming to be stuck in my own 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 hair 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 was so consumed by my own struggle to fit in that I was oblivious to the challenges faced by those around me. It never occurred to me that men were taught to suppress their emotions and feel inadequate if they failed to conform to society's notion of masculinity. I was unaware that even the "pretty girls" were plagued with crippling insecurities about their looks, or that the beauty standards imposed upon us were unattainable and could not bring true happiness. My entire life, I was conditioned to believe that my worth was tied to my weight. I never realized that one could exude confidence while still battling extreme anxiety. Nor did I know that some of the happiest people I knew were hiding a dark, painful reality from the world. 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 truly believe that when we are honest with ourselves and create new, more authentic stories about our lives, we become better at sharing these stories from the heart.

My longing for inner peace and self-love led me to explore the dark and unknown corners of my being. I had to face the bitter truth of who I truly am, not who I wanted people to believe I am. Through this process, I began to redefine myself and tell a new story about who I truly am. 

Then, as if by a miracle, year after year, I looked in the mirror and my once appalling acne became charming. Although I still slouch my shoulders today, it no longer bothers me. I have no desire to be a femme fatale because I have come to accept who I truly am.

The girl staring back at me in the mirror finally learned a valuable lesson - to smile back with kindness, compassion, and understanding. In this miraculous transformation, I had finally created an image worth capturing and remembering.

Instead of seeking approval from others, I began to see myself through a lens of self-love. I saw a woman who was hurt, scarred, curious, and lost, but I was determined to find my way back to her.

And I still am.

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Mariam Simbeye
Written by

Mariam Simbeye

I am a podcaster and a raging Taylor Swift fan. I talk a lot about mental health and I am not scared to say I'm scared.

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