Mirror, Mirror on The WallPosted: December 31, 2014
There was a time when I wanted to be famous. I felt that if I could just see myself under bright lights, on the big screen, or the front page, I would finally feel like I mattered. In the last several years, I’ve stopped craving stardom. Maybe it’s in part because fame seems to be an easier feat to accomplish these days. Do or say something super provocative or heartwarming, post it online, watch it go viral, and—Voila! —for at least fifteen minutes everyone knows your name. But does fame even mean anything anymore now that it is so much more achievable? Then again, did it ever?
I’d like to think that the reason for the change in me goes deeper—that it is because I no longer need other people to look at me first before I am able to see myself or know that I have value. I’ve begun owning that I matter, cultivating this understanding from the inside out, rather than looking for that validation from the outside in.
For the longest time, none of this was the case at all. I let culture and the male gaze, especially, tell me who I was and how much I was worth. Often, that worthiness was tied to whether or not men found me desirable.
Every time I would look in the mirror, I would see what other people told me they saw. My perception of self—especially my female body—was always a secondhand experience, filtered first through the eyes of others.
In the U.S. during the early eighties, at age 13, I was ugly and too brown—at least, that’s what I overheard Will K. tell Misha R. in class one day when he thought I wasn’t listening. For a while after that, whenever I’d look in the mirror, ugly and too brown is what I saw, too.
Three years later, when my family moved to the Philippines, all of a sudden people were telling me that with my big eyes and sharp nose I was sooo pretty. My dark skin went from “the color of mud” to “this beautiful Moorish-looking complexion, like that of our nation’s Spanish ancestors.”
But—ugly or soooo pretty— was I ever really one or the other? I now understand that what these people saw when they looked at me was dependent upon who was doing the gazing and whatever cultural perception of beauty that they were seeing me through.
It wasn’t until I turned 40, when society’s negative ideas about female aging began to eat at me that I realized: I’d spent most of my life only seeing myself as whatever people were reflecting back to me, for how long was I going to let that go on? Not a second longer, I hoped. I decided to take back my body, my beauty, and my womanhood, to free myself from the measuring and judging that comes from anyone else’s gaze but my own.
What does living that way even look like? How does it feel? I am in the process of figuring all of this out in big and small ways. Gazing at my breasts, my face, my belly, and every other part of me without the filter of someone else’s perception is one example. So was learning to shed my shame around sexual pleasure. And then there have been those moments of re-connecting to my womb, owning my voice, claiming my desires, and coming to understand that just like the masculine, the feminine is sacred, too. And the discoveries continue…
This blog has been an important part of these explorations. It is a way to process and share what I’ve discovered. And what a joyful surprise it has been to find out that so many of you want what I want: to free ourselves from the different cultural and societal lenses that keep us smaller and more one-dimensional than who we really are.
To all of you that have shown up here at Stories from the Belly to read, share your own experiences, discuss (sometimes even disagree), express support, or make your presence known in other ways, thank you. I look forward to seeing you all in 2015.
Happy New Year!