Friday, January 8, 2010

Looking in the Mirror

I've never been happy with my looks. Throughout most of my life, whenever I looked in the mirror, I scrutinized the person in the mirror with the critical eyes of a disapproving mother-in-law. And through those set of eyes, I saw a flat face, drooping cheeks, froggy eyes, and clumsy lips -- features unbecoming to any potential suitor. As for my body, it was never good enough. Except for one brief stretch in my early teens when I grew faster vertically than horizontally, I always seemed to be 10 pounds overweight. And too big-boned.

Despite my efforts over the years, I never quite managed to live up to my image of myself. You know, that person I thought I could be if only I could lose all the weight I wanted, if I could discipline myself to work out regularly with weights, if I remembered to cleanse and lather my face with face cream every night, if only I learned how to apply make-up properly for once, and if I only worked my jaw muscles regularly enough to develop cheek bones. It wasn't that I needed to be glamorous or sexy or stunning. I just wanted to be a better version of myself.

I've wondered where this comes from, this poor self-image. I can blame the media and the elongated models who flaunt their emaciated frames. But if I took the time to psychoanalyze myself on this topic, I'm sure there were enough incidents in my life to germinate this attitude.

For example, as a child, I grew very quickly. Faster than most other kids. When we lived in Korea, I was always the tallest kid in my class -- where teachers lined us up by height before pairing us off for school trips. My mom remembers me running home in tears, crying that I was again left without a partner. Fast forward to 6th grade. A picture of me, with thick glasses and a pony-tail, slow dancing with a boy who came up to my chest. His arms taut across to my waist, my arms draped over his skinny shoulders, and my back hunched in an effort to make myself shorter. Even to this day, I shrink when I see that photo.

As we were growing up, looks were never emphasized in my family. Perhaps for that reason, we were given bowl hair cuts, so typical of the 70s and so downright unattractive. For a long time, I worried that I looked like a boy and was often mistaken for one. One time, when I was about 6 or so, I remember going to the public bath with my mother (as we did in Korea), and an elderly lady criticized my mother for not sending me to the men's section as I was clearly old enough to bathe on my own.

As I grew older, I couldn't believe that anyone would be attracted to me. When boys flirted with me, I dismissed them. I assumed they weren't really flirting -- perhaps only practicing for the real flirting they would be doing with the pretty girl. Or maybe something was wrong with them for pursuing me -- perhaps they couldn't get anyone else or had poor self-esteem themselves.

Such thoughts used to preoccupy me in my late teens and 20s. And then I entered my 30s, and I slowly shed my self-absorption over my looks. I remember reaching a point where I thought, well, there are plenty of uglier people in the world and they don't seem to let their looks get in the way of their happiness. I still don't dawdle in front of the mirror, but nowadays, I care a little less. Perhaps because I'm happily married and besides, who has the time to worry about looks anyway.

So imagine my surprise that I should be so enamored of my features on my little guy. Every time I look at him, I think, how did a little guy of ours turn out to be so handsome! Of course, Jeff is strikingly handsome, and the little guy looks a lot like Jeff (or at least as Jeff did as a baby). But the funny thing is that he has my eyes and nose, and I find them to be the most adorable little eyes and nose.

These days, I sometimes stand in front of the mirror and look at myself a little differently. I twist my lips, raise my brows, open my mouth, and move my jaws just as I saw my little guy do. And when I look carefully, I see myself and the little guy smiling back at me.

Loving the little guy helps me love myself a little more.


  1. You're perfectly lovely looking, and so is your boy!

    It's cute that you thought you could do jaw exercises to create differently-shaped cheek bones.

  2. I had the exact same experience. I was often self-deprecating, sometimes even self-loathing, but when I became a mother, and I fell head-over-heels in love with my child, I was forced to love myself a great deal more, because how could I love her SO MUCH, she who was of me, looked like me, is so reflective of me, and at the same time reject myself? No longer possible. I have to love myself, because I am in HER, and I love her, I adore her, I am devoted to her, and parts of me are what make her...if I love her, I am loving myself, like it or not.