Today I take a complement into the shower (not for that reason– take off your 50 Shades of Grey goggles please…)
You see, shower conversations and I have been friends for a consistent 12 years.
Able to indulge in deep breaths of oxygen; I love how the steam prompts your pores to purr and blossom. A bit like yoga for the skin. Seduction in the form of relaxation.
Better yet, the lack of dressing on your face and body leaves you with only your mind to talk to.
And by your mind, I mean your ‘inside self’. The you that sticks around when the lights go out for bed. The person who you try to take to work/uni but sometimes forget to speak up for. The version of yourself that only comes out on the second date or laughs uncontrollably when someone says a remark far too honest for a extended-family meal.
This is the version of me I take on walks with my dog, dressed in over-sized clothing from year 10.
I shower everyday, at the beginning and end. A bit like a religion, I unravel slowly. In the quiet when no one’s watching.
Here, time spreads itself over seconds, minutes as ideas slowly pour out in an orderly fashion. One I can pull apart and reconstruct in my own way. The falling water straining the stress from my thoughts.
Here, I can close my eyes to the world and just be me, in my own pink, marshmallow skin.
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I’ve come to notice that when something is bothering me, it usually follows me into the shower.
And of late, this has been happening more often.
The complement popped out of someone’s mouth in the first week of January.
I remember thanking her, as I tried to swallow it in the correct way.
Since joining Instagram I quickly realised how ‘pretty’ was used as the main currency of approval and a measuring glass of value. It’s kind of sad to think that most of us (myself included) have felt disappointed when we don’t find as many adoring comments under photos of ourselves.
Instagram sure is brilliant in creating a format that encourages active participation, in letting other people determine your value. People we usually don’t even know. You could say we are almost begging for it.
So of course, it’s understandable that people apply such thinking offline. Technology is almost too good in helping us want to edit out our humanity, our flaws. Our words and our bodies.
Perhaps, compliments hit a confused cord within those of us who are unaccustomed to such praise. I certainly was.
My mother had instilled in my brother and I that your inside-self was by far the most beautiful thing you could perfect.
However, with a shot of puberty comes more insecurity than reason. And like many girls during high school, I remember thinking my hair was my only attractive quality. My most definable feature in a crowd. Until one day, I cut it all off.
I wanted to see who I could be without it.
That day, I remember seeing something I really admired, staring back at me. It was change.
Change was exciting as being ‘pretty’ wasn’t such a consideration. It was about shocking yourself. It felt like the external filtered on through to my insides, filling me with this idea that I could be anything I wanted to be. Even someone I couldn’t see just yet. I could be more than just that ‘blonde girl’.
After a few years of back and forth in short multi-coloured hair combos, I finally arrived back to where I started. Long and blonde but now, with a tan and white-tipped nails (a slight variation).
And that’s when the compliments began popping up, almost like in response. They came from strangers and those I knew; two different guns. With every compliment I began to notice just how different I appeared. Soon I wondered if it was the change or Instagram feeding me ideas.
In the shower, I began thinking about how being ‘pretty’ is like an artificial sweetener. A distraction from the holistic view of ourselves. I wondered if family portraits were actually paintings of what made up people’s insides, instead of staged smiles and keeping up appearances.
Would you hang a portrait for all to see knowing it was more honest than you were?
Could you look at the ‘ugliest’ sides of yourself day in and day out and not feel slightly ashamed?
Rei Kawakubo, one of my favourite avant-garde designers once said that for something to be beautiful, it doesn’t have to be pretty.
I think she’s definitely right.
I leave the shower warm and fuzzy.