It has been so long since I returned to the keyboard for writing a blogpost that it almost seems like a new place altogether. What does not feel new place however, is the urge that pushes me to write. So, without much ado, here we go.
Recently, I did one of those AMA (Ask Me Anything) stories on Instagram. One of the questions was “What motivates you to click a selfie every morning?“. I answered “I could say it was my good looks, but it is actually the determination to not have a negative body image.“. At the time, I thought it was a pretty smart answer. When I look back at it now, I realise how unthinkable this answer would have been just a decade or so ago, and how much it means to be able to say that with complete honesty. It has been a long journey on the sands of time, and it has not always been an easy one.
When I was born, I was a premature baby who popped out to say “Hello world!” in the 7th month itself. I think that was the beginning of my habit of reaching everywhere before time. Of course, this meant that both mother nature and my mother had a lot of work on their hands. While my mother did her best and was instrumental in helping me survive (I was severely underweight and had a low chance of survival), mother nature did not seem to bother much and shipped me out on an as-is basis. I was born with unilateral grade 3 microtia (an underdeveloped right ear), weak vision in the right eye, and according to some people, an under-developed brain as well. With so many “right” parts having issues, it has been no surprise that I have ended up being left-leaning in my way of thinking and opinions.
Growing up with 1.5 ears and 2 eyes, out of which only one ear and one eye worked well wasn’t easy. I don’t mean this in the sense of physical health. Apart from the scare at birth, I have enjoyed pretty good health all my life. If you have been mocked for any real or perceived physical imperfection by anyone, you will know what I am talking about. Hearing nicknames like “one with the crooked/broken ear” or “half-hearer” is never easy on the heart, especially when you are a child. Having to hear the sniggers around makes you suspicious of anything that (non)strangers say around you, especially when you are not able to very clearly hear what they are saying. It can lead to some paranoia as well. That was pretty much what I went through almost till the 10th standard. Thankfully, and I mean this with the most gratitude I can, my teachers were particular about not allowing other kids to tease me, at least in the class. Outside class, I had a small set of friends who looked out for me. Most importantly (and I am not boasting here), being in the top 2-3 scorers in class helped shield me from some of the vicious bullying I have ever seen. Whoever said kids cannot be evil/vile was not from my school for sure.
While I got through school (and later, college) relatively unscathed, it did leave a deep impact on my psyche. I mastered the “art” of withdrawing into myself while being a part of a crowd. I could sit in a group of friends, laugh along and yet not remember a word of what they were saying afterward, because I was never really “present there”. Introversion was not even second nature to me, it became my default personality. Till this date, I do not know how I went through those years, and I do not remember much about those days. Even today, I sometimes hesitate to approach strangers in new places because the person that I left behind years ago makes his presence felt occasionally. The mirror was never my friend, used only to check if my hair was not too dishevelled and the camera was something I faced only to get pictures clicked for sticking onto application forms. I did not hate my body, I just did not like the way I looked. I felt incomplete, like a “defective piece” as one of the nicknames in school went. I didn’t look for ways to improve physically, because I didn’t feel I could.
Thankfully, though I always felt that I could not get better in terms of looks, it was never to the extent of feeling that I should not or that I did not deserve to. I have to thank the ever-present store of optimism that I have been blessed with and which I can dip into for a refill whenever needed. What I really needed was a healthy dose of “I have had enough, now I want to create a better version of myself”. This happened in 2005-06 when I left my first job and enrolled for a post-grad diploma. Being the second oldest student and being nudged ahead everywhere by my fellow classmates put me in situations where I had to interact with the professors, convince them of ideas for projects, and occasionally even convince my groupmates about the ideas the professors put forth. Though this was unknown territory for me, I decided to use necessity as a launchpad for self-betterment. It meant a lot of pain in the initial days. Anyone who has been an introvert will know of the pain involved in getting out of the shell. I had my initial fiascos and setbacks, but it was more than worth it. I am still not perfect, but I am so much better than what I was back then. From being the guy who spoke less than 500 words a day, I can yap non-stop if given a chance and an audience. I can also arrange for my own topics to talk about if you don’t have any in mind. 😛
In all this journey, my most important achievement was facing myself in the mirror and not turning away. Contrary to what one might think, there was no overnight change or a sudden epiphany that made this happen. This was made possible by years of effort, caring by loved ones, and even indifference by those around who showed me that how I looked did not matter in how they dealt with me. In a paradoxical way. their “not looking” at me helped me “look better at myself”. What also helped was the availability of smartphones around the time this was happening. I honestly don’t know how I could have managed this if it meant clicking pictures with film cameras and the process that followed it. A monthly trip to the photo studio would have been in order then, I suppose. 😀
Though I grew increasingly comfortable with the camera in the past decade, “one selfie every day” is something that has been happening regularly over the past 6-7 years. I click dozens of selfies every day, delete all but a couple, and send it to a few close friends who I trust to be uncomplaining guinea pics (that isn’t a typo, it is just my punny side). These are the people from whom I willingly accept both bouquets and brickbats, suggestions for new angles, lighting conditions etc. Most importantly, these are the ones with whom I can be vulnerable. That is one side of me which I have nurtured to what it is, almost like a parent would nurture a sick baby to health. That side is only for those whom I really trust to understand me.
So, am I completely comfortable with myself today? With the way I look? Of course not, but I no longer flinch at what I see in the mirror or in the picture. Most of the time, I like what I see. On some days, I absolutely love what I see. That, in a nutshell, is what the selfie-clicking is all about. Learning to love myself and accept myself with all things good and otherwise, a tiny bit more with every passing day. That selfie is my agreement of self-love that I renew every day, without worrying if someone else wants to be a signatory or not.
Thank you for sharing this with the world. I am glad that one selfie everyday has helped you the way it has and it makes me even happier (and proud) that you shared this story…it is not an easy thing to do. I am not a fan of “you’re strong” phrase but you know that you are and if you ever need another set of eyeballs to check the lighting, you know where to find one.
Kudos Sam for the way you turned out and for this wonderfully written piece. Lots of love n hugs. Rosh