After some nagging from a couple of friends who have followed the trend of becoming some founders of some sorts (kidding! They actually started a new blog), I eventually gave in and wrote an article for them. On the eve of my birthday, they published my writing. According to their blog stat, my article attracts quite a bit of attention. Not only quite a number of people of reading it, many people are commenting, saying they can relate to the article that I wrote. It was quite a splash of blush on my cheeks. Due to all these flattering comments, I decided to write an English version of the article. Here it goes.
“Pull your shirts down a bit, cover your bum.”
This sentence is the most frequent criticism that my mother voice. This criticism is articulated because (according to Indonesians’ point of view) I’m a big girl with big bottom and I am required to cover my behind with my shirts even though it is perfectly covered with loose (according to my standard) trousers- I wasn’t wearing leggings.
They said (even though the “they” is unclear), there are two types of criticism: 1) positive criticism voiced with love and affection and is intended to help you grow; and 2) negative criticism that is intended to crush you to the ground. With all my heart, I certainly believe that my mother’s criticism was/is full of love and unaccountable affections. However, criticism is still criticism and I could not help but felt a little hurt.
Since I was a little girl, my parents have an obsession in nurturing me to become a beautiful woman; beautiful in the most obsolete definition. The obsolete definition of beautiful in Indonesia’s social scene is as follows: a woman has to have slim to skinny body with skin colour that falls between very light yellow to extremely light brown and topped with long black straight hair. This obsession of my parents seemed to grow on me that when asked what I wanted to be in the future, I answered with “Puteri Indonesia” (literally translated to “Miss Indonesia”, the pageantry that show case perfectly sculptured women in one-piece swimsuit -because bikinis are banned in my country. Duh!- who seem to really love saying ‘world peace’. However, putting “Miss Indonesia” directly in this English version of the post is problematic because there is a new pageantry that is looking for a “Miss Indonesia”, that did not exist when I was young. I am not sure why this trivial fact is interesting or why I include it in this writing, but there you have it).
I never remembered this declaration of wanting to be a “Puteri Indonesia”, which indicates that I must have been 3 or 4 year-old. My parents and relatives continually insist, to this day, that this declaration did happen and they did entertain the idea for one tiny second.
When I was in grade 3 or 4, my mother gave me a bottle of whitening lotion without any warning. The bottle said that it could turn skin to beautiful yellow colour. According to mother, my skin had gotten too dark because I kept playing outside, under the sun, in the middle of the day, when the sun was scorching. So, it was time for me to apply some whitening lotion. I confusedly received the lotion and put it in my room. My memory tells me that I only applied the lotion once and immediately abandoned the bottle after that. The reason I quit using the lotion was because I thought the act of applying lotion thoroughly consumed too much time. I thought the extra 5 minutes I spent to rub my whole body with lotion was such a waste of time.
A month after mother handed me that bottle of lotion, she asked whether I had used it up. If I had, she was going to buy me another bottle. Unable to hide it, mother found the bottle of lotion and it was hardly used. She went berserk. One of the most memorable lines of anger to me was, “don’t you want a nice white skin? Beautiful skin?” I could only put my head down, unable to answer. Deep down in my heart, I answered, “not really. Having beautiful skin isn’t that important.” After that incident, before another month passed, I emptied the bottle of lotion, not by applying the lotion to my skin, but by pouring the whole bottle and pretending that my room’s floor was an ice skating rink- I sure had fun pretend-skating at home.
I found out that it was not only my parents who were scared of their daughters having dark skin due to playing outside under the scorching sun. Turned out, every parent in my neighbourhood felt the same way. I remember I was playing outside a friend’s home one day when her dad came home and saw us. He called out, “kids, remember what I told you about the sun? It can darken your skin. Do you want dark skin? Dark skin isn’t beautiful! Do you not want to be beautiful?”
I remember that I was shocked when I heard him.
It is very interesting to me that as time passes and humankind become more civilised and civilisation become more modern, our definition of beauty is still obsolete. Due to this definition, I have suffered various mean criticism- or criticism type 2, as mentioned above. Here are some of the highlights.
“The pores in your face are huge- they make your skin looks like orange peel!” (1998-1999)
“The fattest one is Alien!” (2000-2001)
“Alien has the biggest buttocks!” (2003)
“You have tiny breasts, compare to your fat body.” (All my life)
“Short hair doesn’t suit fat people!” (All my life)
“Oh my God! Why are you this dark? Your skin is so dull! How come?” (Everytime I come back from a holiday.)
“I don’t think there’s a girl who is bigger than you!” (2014)
Those negative criticism should have brought me down, but thanks to my parents who – even though demand me (still to this day) to become a beautiful woman in the most obsolete kind of way – raised me to become a strong woman with high self-esteem. They constantly teach me to use my brain and think logically in daily basis to avoid being overly sensitive and easily hurt.
These values that my parents teach me are the weapons I have been using to counteract all negative criticism. However, no matter how hard I have been ignoring all those negative criticism, some words still found their way to hurt my feelings. My wounds were hidden so deeply inside my heart that I was unaware of its existence until someone truly appreciate my appearance.
One day, without prior request, I received compliments regarding my body and my physical appearance. The compliments came from a man during our first meeting. He said that I looked very beautiful, my body was sexy and he wanted to be my boyfriend immediately. On that first date, I laughed all the compliments off. He was a good flirt, that was all I thought about. However, the compliments did not stop after our first date. He seemed to be really in awe of my look.
Throughout the shower of compliments, I felt completely normal. They were nice to hear, sure, but I was not overly exhilarated, like I was thrown in heaven, or something. I did not think that those flirtatious but complimentary comments could have made a huge impact on my heart and my feelings.
I could only feel the huge impact when I told the stories about this man and his comments to a dear friend. I told her everything and like any other ‘girl talk’, I felt a rush of emotion. Repeating the praises I received turned out to be quite an emotional experience. Without even realising it, my eyes were watery and I shed a tear or two. I cried tears of joy because at that moment, I realised that I was touched by the flattery. His admiration of my look and appearance touched the bottom of my heart. The man showed that he did not just accept all of me, including the flaws of my physical appearance, but he appreciated me and he admired me. His action warmed my heart and healed my wounds.
(Unfortunately, due to one or more unresolved issue(s), we could not be together. It was/is unfortunate, but if it’s not meant to be, what can I say?)
After meeting that guy, I turned to pay more attention and appreciate all compliments meant for my physical appearance. It is not a lot- or maybe because I am not used to hearing them, they just slip through my ears?
Slowly but surely, I silently document every praise I received. This turns out to be quite handy. Whenever I feel down, I go back to these little mental notes of endorsement. Some of them are as follows.
“Why do you need to wear tights? Your skin is already perfect!” (2012)
“Do you know what attracts me to you? Your ass! So sexy!” (2015)
“You’re so beautiful!” (2015)
“Your face… it’s just… pretty! Cute! I love it!” (2015/2016)
“Your body is perfect!” (2015)
“Why do you want to loose weight? You’re so sexy in this thick body!” (2016)
“You look really good in this photo.” (2017)
“How come you never upload a selfie to social media? You know that you’re pretty, right? Don’t ever think that you’re not!” (2017)
One of the most powerful compliments came from my mother. One day mother came to my room without any knock and I was in front of my full-body length mirror, stark naked. Mother said,
“You have quite a sexy body, almost like a Spanish guitar.”
I was speechless when I heard that. Even though my mother continued on her comments by saying, “you should go on a diet, flatten your stomach a bit. That way you get the whole Spanish guitar look in you.” I don’t care that my mother had continued her compliment with a (probably) positive and constructive criticism. I feel like this is a break through. My mother, who still believes in obsolete beauty, just gave me a compliment about my body. This made me fly to heaven and wish to never come back.
This is my everyday struggle to face public criticism in regards to obsolete beauty. Everytime I receive negative criticism, I go through the list of compliments given to me, which I keep safely in my heart. I find that to be the easiest and most effortless way to manage all negative criticism. I truly believe that every negative criticism can be countered with a positive and appreciative one.
I am pretty sure other women have gone through similar or the same struggle of breaking through the obsolete image of beauty. This unfortunate struggle sometimes lasts for days, or even for years, or all through a woman’s life. To these women, I offer them the above simple strategy. It may seem simplistic, but it has helped me get through life and I am currently standing very far away from endorsing the obsolete definition of beauty.
I would be thrilled to know if my simple strategy works for other women, but I believe that every struggle is a personal journey- every woman has to find her own way to redefine the meaning of beauty so it does not become obsolete. I wish every woman in the world can be more confident and work hard together to revise the definition of beauty- that every woman can truly believe we are beautiful, no matter what.