There are plenty of parts of my body that attract negative self-talk on a regular basis (usually thanks to hormones). There is, however, one specific part of my self-image I’ve struggled with above all others －and it doesn’t involve an inch of cellulite.
Windows to the soul
My eyes have been the catalyst for many a traumatic moment for me, which have massively impacted my self-image.
Off the top of my head:
- I was asked － by a stranger wanting directions － if I had been in an accident, while he gestured at my eye
- In school, classmates would stretch the corners of their eyes with their fingers when I walked past
- A young friend asked if I had hit my face badly
See, while my left eye is pretty normal-looking and consistent, the eyelid over my right eye seems to change what it wants to do on a daily basis. I haven’t got a clue why. No-one else in my family seems to be affected.
Of course, it probably doesn’t sound like a big deal compared to a lot of other people’s body image issues. It doesn’t affect my vision, which is good, but there’s certainly nothing I can do to change its appearance.
They’re in the middle of my face. They’re the ‘windows to the soul’, supposedly. When I was younger, this led me to the following: if one of my eyes is ugly, or uneven, or ‘wrong’, what does that say about my soul?
But everyone’s eyes are different?
“Why get upset about a slightly droopy eye?” you might ask. “No eyes are symmetrical”.
Yeah, I get that. But there’s being imperceptibly asymmetrical and then obviously different.
Our eyes are incredibly expressive. They crease when we smile, widen when we’re surprised, fill with tears when we’re sad. This is generally all pretty involuntary.
This eye of mine means that in spite of having years of work done on my teeth, I still don’t like the way I look when I smile. One eye becomes a completely different shape to the other.
This eye makes itself even more obvious after I’ve cried. Puffy eyes and a touch of redness are normal of course, but this gets taken to a whole other level when for some reason my right eye swells up a lot. So if crying wasn’t bad enough on its own, I now perceive myself to look something like Sloth from The Goonies and need to engage in a 20-minute ritual involving a bunch of cooling and soothing products to reduce the effects somewhat.
It goes beyond self-esteem
When people are unhappy with their body image, they tend to try and find ways to hide the things they dislike. It’s a little bit tricky doing that when it’s in the middle of your face but these are just some of the behaviours I’ve developed over the years:
- Checking the ‘state’ of my eye each morning － is it a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ eye day?
- Choosing glasses with heavier frames on the top to disguise the eye lid
- Standing on a particular side in photos
- Pulling a silly face in photos because I’d rather know I look stupid instead of try to look nice
- Having a side swept fringe which can cover the top of my eye, or the whole eye
- Sleeping on my left side, or my back, even when my right is more comfortable
(I have a theory that certain pillows ‘agitate’ the eyelid and make it worse if I lean on that side)
- Not wanting to wear contact lenses, because then it’d be difficult on ‘bad eye days’
- Covering my face when I laugh
No, body image doesn’t just affect your self-esteem. It affects how you behave. How much sleep you get. How much you laugh. Whether you want to keep memories via photographs, or would rather not remember the way you looked that day.
It’s noting that the photos you like of yourself are only ever taken from a specific angle, with makeup working as hard as it’s possible to work to disguise the shape.
It’s looking at other people and wishing you had their beautifully shaped eyes.
It’s thinking your boyfriend of four years is lying when he says your eyes are beautiful, and maybe even his favourite part of you, because other men have only ever found them ‘…Interesting, for sure’.
It’s researching cosmetic surgery at 13 years old because the bullying is so painful.
It’s realising that ‘perfection’ and ‘beautiful’ don’t mean the same thing.
It’s taking decades to realise that this is what makes my face uniquely mine.
Be kind to yourself
I have found as I’ve gotten a bit older that nearly everyone has a physical feature they find hard to love about themselves. Whether it’s their shape, their height, their hair, their skin tone, their freckles, the size of their feet, a birthmark, or their eyes.
And they are on the same journey. Trying to stop wishing it were different and moving towards accepting the body they have. Not everyone can win the genetic lottery － and it would be beyond boring if we all did.
It’s difficult to wrap up this post without leaning on clichés about body image, so I’ll just say this: you don’t have to love that thing about yourself, but try not to let it get you down. You are worth far more than your appearance alone.
Love and positive vibes to all of you x
It’s Mental Health Awareness week, with a focus on body image. For resources on getting help with your mental health, visit the Mental Health Foundation.