For those who read yesterday’s breakfast-related post, I ate muesli, just in case you were wondering. Now, onto today’s post!
For one of this study period’s assessments, I have to write a personal essay. In this case, it needs to be 1200 words (+/- 10%) that interweave a personal story or series of anecdotes with a current ‘zeitgeist issue’. I don’t know about you but, for me, the first bit is relatively easy, it’s the ‘zeitgeist issue’ that’s the tricky part. After some thought, I decided to write about how the media, both today and when I was growing up as well as the overexposure we see with social media, has affected my confidence and self esteem.
To give you some context, I’m half Australian, half Puerto Rican. Living mostly in Queensland, Australia until I was ten, I think I was considered more black, than white. I definitely thought of myself as half-caste. I know that phrase is a big no-no now but that’s what you called it back then. Or maybe it was wrong even then, I don’t know. Either way, I knew I was different from everyone else.
And then we moved to Jamaica. Being brown skinned, you could be forgiven for thinking I might have finally found my place to fit in. But no, here I was white, a foreigner, which came with its own set of stereotypes, such as rich. We weren’t rich. Maybe we were better off than most at the beginning of our time there but, by the end, we were quite poor.
As I progressed through my teenage years, I realised that my brown skin was considered attractive by most people. Songs would come out glorifying light brown skin and people would protest and get up in arms but there was a very real and unpleasant undercurrent of feeling towards people that were considered ‘too black’. Many times I heard people arguing at school and someone’s dark skin tone would be used against them as an insult.
I may have ‘won’ on the skin colour front but, sadly, I was very skinny. The ideal female Jamaican form is curvy with a big bumper (ass) and breasts. In the western world, this Jamaican woman would be considered fat but, in Jamaica, it was perfection. It was an impossible dream for me and, when I was teased (which was not that much, to be honest), it was usually about my weight (or lack thereof).
Fast forward to my eighteenth year and I’ve been shipped back to Sydney, Australia. Imagine my shock when I’m told that skinny is in. “You’re so skinny!” is not an insult but the greatest of compliments. You travel halfway around the world and things can be very different, it would seem.
Growing up and as an adult, I rarely saw anyone that looked like myself in ads or on TV. In the types of places you look to for what’s beautiful, people like me rarely featured. Maybe more so in Jamaica than anywhere else, but still, I always felt different. Exotic is perhaps a better word for it. Over time, I came to appreciate my ‘exoticness’, my differences. I started to like what made me me.
To add a complicating factor, as a young adult, I worked for many years in an industry that focused on looks. Every day that I was told how pretty I was, I started to believe it more and more. When I left that industry, all of a sudden I didn’t have anyone to tell me how beautiful I was. I had to tell myself. Imagine! For so long after this, my confidence floundered. Even now, sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and wonder what anyone sees.
I’m such a strange jumble of parts. A bit from this race, a bit from that but the sum of my parts makes me unique. As it does everyone, you don’t have to be racially exotic to be unique, to be beautiful. Obviously. But for me, after so many years of being different, this is what gives me my confidence. The very things I once hated about myself are now the things I love most. It was a long road but finally I’m at a place where I can like what I see in the mirror. Most of the time.