“The voice of our original self is often muffled, overwhelmed, even strangled, by the voices of other people’s expectations.” ~ Julia Cameron
We come into this world as raw clay, stripped of inhibitions, purpose, and limitations; society shapes us into perfect vessels and gives us a purpose, form and voice.
In some cases though, the molding process can take away our authenticity and birthright of freedom. Taught to always strive to be better, more productive, and a closer fit for social standards in all aspects of life, we can easily lose touch with our own true nature. Only by awakening and return to the genuine self we can be seen, heard and recognized for who we really are, as we are, free of internalized benchmarks and fears of failure.
When I was little, Barbie was my favorite toy. She was bang-on flawless—beautiful, cool, smart, with a perfect home, husband, and sister. Barbie was everything I’d been taught a real lady should be: pretty, strong, always smiling and loved by all. Just like many little girls out there, I wanted to be exactly that lady when I grow up: a young woman who’d have it all and be appreciated for just being her perfect self. I craved love, praise, and acceptance, and I was eager to do all it takes to win them. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a human Barbie, right?
‘’Fitter, happier, more productive’’ ~ Radiohead
Attempting to live up to the ideal of perfection, I quickly fell prey to the demon of never being good enough. At the age of 20, I’d already been dieting for over a decade. I was on Paleo before it was popular; I tried Atkins for a few months; intermittent fasting, low-carb, low-fat, HCG, the Zone diet—you name it, I’d tried it all. Back then, I wasn’t aware that calorie counting, obsession with weight loss and self-induced vomiting were but a symptom of a deeper problem that had nothing to do with my body.
Anxiety is like moss: it grows on you; it doesn’t just pop up like mushrooms after rain. At one point, I was borderline anorexic verging on bulimic, and my body was still not as slim as I thought it should be. I was always one pound away from the mark, and it constantly seemed that one tiny part of the perfection puzzle was missing. I didn’t know what it was, though, and I didn’t know whom to ask.
Nobody could tell that something wrong lurked underneath my unfailing smile though. My life must’ve looked bang-on fairy-tale to outsiders, and yet I wasn’t satisfied, because I was rejecting my authentic self. You can’t blame people for not noticing: we all hide our demons from curious eyes for fear of judgment or rejection. But that’s not the worst part: sometimes, we hide our demons from our own sight as well, because the look in their eyes is dreadful enough to kill.
At 21, I switched to the Celiac disease diet, because I read somewhere online that gluten makes you look fat. I even made myself believe I had Celiac disease—that a condition was the reason why I still didn’t have the body I wanted. Back then, I could easily relate to almost any disease out there. In retrospect, I have to admit that most of my health issues at that point were psychosomatic. I wasn’t happy. The body was just one segment of my life I’d been trying to fix in order to become something I wasn’t—a beautiful doll, a lifeless thing.
‘’Rage, rage against the dying of the light’’ ~ Dylan Thomas
It took me a full year to decide that the Celiac disease diet wasn’t working and move on to veganism. It wasn’t easy, but it brought me dozens of tiny epiphanies I’m eternally grateful for. As my energy field cleared, so did my mind.
One day, standing in front of the mirror, I realized what I’d been missing all the while. I missed my genuine self, that girl who wasn’t Barbie and didn’t mind it. I’d been missing that little girl who could eat tons of ice cream and not worry about weight; the girl who felt at home in her body and loved life. That hit home, hard, and it opened my eyes to the shocking truth: trying to live up to an impossible ideal, I’d gotten lost somewhere along the way.
I’d given up the right to be who I am, to live my life on my terms, to make decisions as I felt right. I’d lost my authentic self, and my right to be who I really am, as I am: imperfect but alive inside. Just like the doll, I had a glazed smile; just like her, I had no voice of my own save for the whisperings of the inner judge, jury, and executioner.
On the other side of the mirror, a little girl stood looking back at me, holding a toy, a mere piece of plastic, trying not to burst into sobs.
The realization hurt more than all the years I spent punishing myself by starving and stressing over a few pounds of weight put on through binges. That day, right there in front of the mirror, I let go. It came out as a heavy sigh, the last breath of a dying beast, as I reached out to the little girl in the mirror. I surprised myself. Words came out, of their own accord—my own words. They slipped across my lips, one by one, and traveled across the air towards the girl looking back at me.
“I love you. Forgive me for not seeing you for so long.”
Since that day, I started returning to myself. I’m still walking the path of self-acceptance, but I think I’ve come a long way by now, and I feel happier than I ever had before. Right now, I have a bedtime routine: I stand in front of the mirror, I imagine the little Chloe standing on the other side, and I talk to her, telling her just how much I love her and how beautiful, smart, and strong she is.
I often take little Chloe out for vegan ice cream; sometimes we go to the cinema to watch a movie together. Some days, we check in at the playground to have fun on the slides, swings, and seesaws. On the weekends, we love to visit the zoo or the nearby amusement park. We get on well now, little Chloe and me. Ever since she put away her doll and took my hand, my life has become a good place to be, and a brighter one too.
‘’Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go.’’ ~ Black Swan
Learning to love yourself is a journey, a path sprinkled with thorns and slivers of broken glass. It takes awareness, courage —more courage than I ever thought I could muster—and it also takes time.
Life truly is an adventure, and every day is a gift wrapped in shiny paper once you get in touch with your true nature. My message to all the would-be Barbies out there is simple: don’t let social criteria ru(i)n your life. Follow your path, and listen to your own voice or else you’ll constantly be running the gauntlet that was never yours in the first place.
To be free and to live—really, fully live—you need to face the fear of failure, the fear of judgment and the fear of loss of control, and shake hands with them. The road to this type of freedom may not be covered in roses, but it’s more than worth the walk, for the sake of your own happiness and for the sake of the journey itself.
Start walking; the best is yet to come.
Author: Chloe Taylor
Image: elephant archives & kate hiscock/Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren