“I was supposed to be a boy. When I turned out to be a girl, my father decided to call me by a boy’s name un l I was too much of a girl for him to get away with it. Not sure if that had anything to do with how I felt about my body over the years, but some may say that it certainly didn’t help.
Women are particularly excellent at hating things about their bodies and I was no exception.
I hated my thighs and I hated my vagina even more. I thought it was incredibly ugly. I was one of those women who had looked at it and, from that moment on, I wished I hadn’t. It made me sick. I pi ed anyone who had to go down there, reads one of my favourite passages from ‘The Vagina Monologues’. I completely mirrored that feeling. I was most unhappy with my most womanly possessions and that was hardly a surprise.
I never thought of myself as beautiful. I’ve constantly lived with the pressure that I ‘have to lose some weight’. I didn’t like my large breasts. My hips were not going anywhere. But most of all, I hated my round face. When I was little, people often noticed how much I looked like my father. For years, I only thought of myself as the feminine version of my dad. No, I was not a pre’y girl. I wasn’t even supposed to be a girl at all.
But one day I woke up with a horrible hangover after a disastrous date with a guy I met at a social event. I suspected he was high on drugs when he offered to buy me a lap dance in a gentlemen’s venue at 2am. The hangover that followed this date was a reminder that I had a terrible habit of wasting my me with deranged men and drinking too much alcohol in the process for no benefit whatsoever. I decided that day that it was me I was looking for love and started to feel be’er about myself.
The first thing I did was to take up exercising and running regularly. Two years ago, I completed my first half-marathon. My body retained its shape, but it became stronger and firmer. Maybe because it has proven such a reliable friend during physical challenges, I started treating it better and eventually I learnt to love it. Large breasts, big hips, vagina and all.
I also designed an exercise to start loving my face. Every me I saw my face in a mirror, be in on a bus or in the elevator at work, I forced myself to say: ‘Iulia, you are beautiful!’ even though I didn’t really believe it at first. But one day, the miracle happened: I saw my own reflection in a shop window and thought ‘I am beautiful!’
An experiment conducted by Dove (the women’s beauty company) employed a forensics portrait maker to draw portraits of various people, without facing them, based on their own description of themselves and also of somebody they’ve just met. The results showed a completely different person each me: the portraits described by a different person were a lot more luminous and ‘beautiful’ than the self-portraits, proving that the physical reality of one’s face is irrelevant, what matters is the emotional investment we give it. It also shows that we are unjustifiably harsh on judging our own appearance.
Just like Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit drawing, in which you can see both a duck and a rabbit, depending on how you look at it, you can choose to see yourself either beautiful or ugly. Self-love and self-hatred are what lighten or darken our physical presence in the world and turns us into the ‘duck’ or the ‘rabbit’.