My Asian Culture Convinces Me I’m Ugly. Now I Know They’re Wrong.

Puberty hit me hard. My face metamorphosed from a round and chubby “cute” into a rough square. My grandmother looked at me pitifully. She did everything to stop the growth of my treacherous jawline. She blamed it on my resemblance to my uncle. It looked too manly.

The only sport I was allowed to play was swimming, which my mom forced me to stop when my skin turned a few tones darker after a summer at the pool. I got a detention paper once in middle school for playing soccers with the boys in the schoolyard. It wasn’t the most athletic upbringing, but I would consider myself fairly active. Yet, my family has called me fat for as long as I could remember.

I detested my photo on the national identification card. I looked terrible. My hair was dirty. My eyes were tiny. I didn’t even have bangs so it made my forehead look like a paddy field. My nose was flat. My mouth was big. I had a double chin. And the worst of all, my skin was dark. Every time somebody saw that ID, they would laugh at it. I’d formed a habit of covering that picture any time it was called upon.

In middle school, I had a crush on a boy. Every day, for six months, he came to school telling me how ugly I was. When I got to high school, a boy used to flirt with me through texts. He said he chose me because I was not pretty, and he knew he wasn’t, too. Another boy I fell in love with denied my love letter. He later chose a pretty girl; nothing else but pretty. When I got out of high school, I once asked a guy out. He was intimidated by me.

The only time a man ever touched me romantically was also the time he attempted to rape me.

By the time I was eighteen, I became addicted to makeup. I could never leave the house without using something to mask my face.

Then one day, I left the country.

It felt like the entire world was attracted to me. The moment someone sat down and talked to me, they made it obvious that they did not want to stop. Three days out of the country, a boy told me he loved me; another became furious when I didn’t choose him; one asked to kiss me after ten minutes of our conversation.

But erasing the depth of eighteen years of bashful degradation doesn’t only take a day or two. Much as I learned that I was ugly, I now had to learn that I was beautiful.

Not pretty, but beautiful.

Generalisation is bad. Generalisation is the basis of racism. Generalisation is weak and backward.

But I hate the Asian culture.

Saying that it is hatred is easier than saying that I am hurt, physically and mentally, deeply, profoundly. Saying that it is hatred justifies my entire childhood living in shame and judgment. Saying that it is hatred covers the sadness that I will never be able to love someone who speaks the same language I grew up with.

Saying that it is hatred gives me the motivation to live for myself and to never look back. When I cowardly hate, I am also distancing myself, from my own roots, my own people. But they are so toxic. Is it wrong to know better?

I gave up makeup because I knew there is a great person who loves me without it. He loves my intelligence, my words and the shattered world I carry in my heart. He loves my face as much as he treasures my body. He holds me every time I cry. He says sorry. We hold hands. He tells me I’m beautiful every day.

So isn’t that better?

Because of him, I stopped hating myself. His love redeemed me from excruciation and showed me I deserved love, not only for my appearance but for everything I am.

Last year, I came back and took a short-term job in Vietnam. The company required makeup. I picked up the brow pencil and tried drawing on my face again, but I could feel how my mind desired more and more. A pair of eyebrows needed sharper eyeliners. Perfect eye makeup needed the perfect foundation with perfect concealer. At that moment, I realised how deep a well I was about to fall in again. The truth is very simple. Once you allow yourself to think that there is something less, that thought will only grow. It will never be enough. So I stopped. Eighteen years were more than enough. I’m done with this bullshit.

Now, if I look into the mirror, I see a beautiful young woman. The people around me will not cease to announce that as well, as long as I remain in a part of the world far away from where I was born. I feel comfortable taking any photo, being in any screenshot.

But if I want to live for myself, I have to face the fact that I can never come home.

A few months ago, I showed my roommate the national identification photo that I had always detested. I still felt that I had looked quite ugly at that time. My roommate glanced at it and raised her eyebrow, wondering why I’d shown it to her: “Miley, you look exactly the same. If you said the photo was taken yesterday, I would believe it.”

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