We’re told that if you look and act a certain way, the world and everything in it can be yours. So we toil toward perfection, changing ourselves based on the opinion of others—and that’s the trap. As Kurush, a mid-twentysomething from Queens, so eloquently points out, the question we should ask isn’t, “What do THEY think of you?” but “What do YOU think of yourself?”
I grew up with my mother, granny, and sister in Queens. I have Haitian roots, and my dad is from Iran. As a result of not having a male influence in such a male-dominated culture, there was a certain element that I didn’t quite fit in with. I didn’t have many older male influences, mainly people of the same age.
Growing up, I was quiet and a bit nerdy. I went to a Catholic school. I got picked on when I was in middle school and a lot of the kids thought I was a bit effeminate, so they would call me gay. They would tease me with the normal kind of stuff or the usual bullying, but it was more mental and power-driven than physically abusive.
I felt like I was ostracized. I often stared in the mirror, even though I enjoyed my look, and I would say, “I hope I’m just the ugly duckling who grows into the swan.” It wasn’t until high school that I started to grow into my looks.
I remember this moment where I was sitting in the gym and the other boys were playing basketball. I was with this girl and she was ranking the guys based on attraction level. By that point, I’d grown to understand that I wasn’t the most beautiful person in the room. But she said I was, which was so surprising to me. I didn’t believe it. It was the first time the idea of my own beauty wasn’t considered a negative thing. That was one of the first instances where I felt that change in me and how I viewed myself.
I often stared in the mirror, even though I enjoyed my look, and I would say, “I hope I’m just the ugly duckling who grows to be the swan.” And I eventually started to grow into my looks.
When I attended public high school, this idea of beauty continued to change: girls had crushes on me, I had a couple of girlfriends, and I started getting into fashion. As a freshman, I was still shy and a bit nerdy. I was trying to dress nice but wasn’t quite used to dressing for myself, since I had been wearing uniforms in Catholic School. So I was coming into my own.
I had a girlfriend who asked me why I slouched. Previously, I never had someone tell me to stand up straight. So when she told me that I started to stand up straight. That act alone built up confidence in me somehow. It made people look at me differently. And so I realized my own insecurities about me and my self-image could be developed, and that I could grow through them. I could come out happier on the other side, or at least in a better place.
The first girl I lost my virginity to used to say, “I’m supposed to be the pretty one.” I didn’t like that—it used to bug me out. I was trying to get over the fact that people thought I was beautiful after people literally stayed away from me in middle school. I also had a past girlfriend who was very much aware of her own beauty, more so than I was. And it made me feel like she was cocky, even when she wasn’t.
When I look into my eyes now, I still see a beautiful person. I like what I see. I see the pain that I have gone through, the scars on my body that have been left behind. It’s strange. I see all of those things, in an instant. Word. I feel me. (laughs)
And then I asked myself why I felt that way, and if it had anything to do with how I saw myself. She helped me realize it is okay to embrace my own beauty. People will always find other people beautiful, but I learned firsthand that no one telling you you’re beautiful is ever going to be as powerful as you telling yourself.
When I look into my eyes now, I see a person struggling to find a form in such a formless blob of society where everyone is trying to find some stability, and no general ideas are agreed upon.
Everyone is weary. I see that in myself, but I still see a beautiful person. I like what I see. I see the pain that I have gone through, the scars on my body that have been left behind. It’s strange. I see all of those things, in an instant. Word. I feel me. (laughs)
People will always find other people beautiful, but I learned firsthand that no one telling you you’re beautiful is ever going to be as powerful as you telling yourself.
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