on image, expression, gender identity, and what society has got to do with them

There were days – more often than not – that I’d look in the mirror, and not like what I saw reflected on the smooth surface. Yes, that was my face. But there was… something missing? Something didn’t feel right. It was jarring.
Then there were days I’d look in the mirror, and say Oh yeah, that’s me all right and feel totally comfortable.

For the longest time, I thought Scenario 1 was the result of the pressure from the media and other people’s comments on how ‘a girl’ is ‘supposed to’ look. I wasn’t “girly” enough, so that’s why I thought I was lacking something. My response was to say fuck ’em and try not to bow to the pressure. I’d remain the way I am, no make-up and minimal hair fuss; I’d remain natural. I thought I was saying NO to the stereotyping of gender, that I wasn’t adhering to the society’s opinion of how I am supposed to look – ‘like a girl’. But by maintaining those ideas in my head (girl=make-up & frilly, soft-lined clothes), wasn’t I exactly doing that? I was affirming the society’s standard, even by refusing to bow to it.

What I never thought of doing was this: I’d look into the mirror, and not like what I saw reflected on its smooth surface. Yes, that was my face. But there was something missing – something didn’t feel right. So I’d take whatever tools I have available – clothes, hairbands, contact lenses, make-up, shoes – to add  to and substract from my natural body until I could express what I felt like that day. Until I could look in the mirror and say Yes, that’s who I am today. Until I could tell myself how feminine or masculine I feel today.
One day I’ll wear skinny jeans, a white, frilly blouse, my hairs in a ponytail, glasses and red lip gloss from NARS. The next one I’ll cut my hair really short, wear shirt with tie, black slacks and loafers. I’ll add foundation and maybe light eye-make-up. Or I will go out in baggy sweatshirts and trousers.

These different images I create every day – are they even real? Am I just applying a mask after another to confuse everyone, including me? Or are they maybe even more real than my naked face?

I used to think – I can choose only one – girl or boy; if I want to be feminine, I have to be feminine every day until I switch to the masculine side – then I have to be masculine every day until I switch back, but these periods should be of substantial duration, like, I can’t switch back and forth every frickin’ day; I can’t buy a tie for myself; I’m a girl I’m a girl I’m a girl I’magirli’magirlimagirl; I wish I was a boy; I don’t hate my body, I love my female body, but why do I have to LOOK so female?; Why do I always look like an awkward boy?; I have super short hair, so I can’t wear skirts; Damn it, I want to wear a tie.
All these thoughts were driving me crazy.
Today I say: Do whatever you want so you can express the YOU every day; if it means you have to create a different look every day, or even twice a day, so be it. It’s YOU. No one can tell YOU what to do, how to look, how to behave, what to think.

I had this epiphany yesterday when my sister said how people are so driven to look pretty, they never look beautiful. I asked her to elaborate, and what looking beautiful has to do with make-ups.
She said, and I paraphrase: “Well, a person is beautiful when their – essence – shines through. Their personality – you can see it in their eyes, it just radiates. It’s very striking. But so many people just look at the models in magazines or celebrities in TV and think ‘oh, they look sooo pretty, so I will copy their exact make-up and apply it on myself, so I’ll look just like them’. What they don’t get is that what looks good on those models doesn’t necessarily look good on them. They are just following the “trend”. Like, smokey eyes are super in in Korea right now, so I see friends making smokey eyes even though they have such beautiful eyes that should not be smudged by smokey eyeshadow! Make-ups are just tools to express yourself – but you have to really know your face to do that. First you have to experiment, though, until you get to know your face.”

I hate it when people tell me “Oh, that’s so not you!”. This does not apply only to how I look, but what I say and how I behave. Like, who are they to tell me how I have to be? How dare they tell me that they know me better than I myself? I let myself retreat from myself due to this sort of comments. I let my self-confidence that I had built up crumble because I wanted to blend in, unnoticeable and off the hook. If they had done that because they hate me and want me to feel bad, maybe I’d have stood up to my ideas of myself. But very often, these people were the ones who loved me, or at least wanted the best for me. They didn’t mean to cripple my self-esteem. They just were careless, like all of us can be careless. They just wanted their opinions to overpower mine.
I had to find myself. So I retreated from the society. Not literally, like Thoreau. But I avoided human company and when I couldn’t, I forced myself to be indifferent so that nothing they said could touch me. I wanted to create myself before I let others in. But I could feel myself become really indifferent to the point of inconsiderate. That’s not who I wanted to be.
So right now I am learning to be empathetic and considerate but still to be able to say no firmly when others try to shove their ideas of ‘what I should be’ at me.

In short, I am trying to be authentic, inside and out. It’s a long process, but one that I can and want to control.


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