Hideous or Beautiful

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I stare at my naked body. My eyes are dull and my lips dry. I have often wondered — Why do I have such a hideous-looking body?

  • Small and insignificant eyes
  • Crooked nose
  • Thin lips
  • Three extra layers of fat covering my whole body

Hideous.

I was in middle school when someone used that word to describe me. I was frozen there standing in front of the whole class. The snickering around me was amplified in my ears. Among all the hurtful words they spoke, ‘hideous’’ echoed the loudest in that room. I still can’t forget that moment of extreme shame. My cheeks get crimson red at the thought of it even today.

So far, I have preferred to remain invisible and avoid all sorts of attention because, a) I don’t think I deserve any attention and, b) whatever attention I get is mostly tainted with hurtful comments/looks.

I am 28 and I have worn make-up only twice in my life. I don’t think it helps one bit in improving the way I look and draws attention towards me that I do not like. My wardrobe makes me look like I have walked out of a black and white TV. But, it helps me blend in the background easily. My unruly and uncooperative mess of hair doesn’t know how to behave. So, I usually put it into a tight bun. So, you can see, I had a full-proof plan of remaining under the radar. But what happened last night took me by surprise.

I work at a marketing agency for the last 3 years. I create content for their marketing campaigns, which, to my surprise, I quite enjoy. It has been a perfect way for me to express my thoughts while remaining in the shadows of my mentor, Aayesha. Aayesha is God-sent for me. I have never had anyone quite like her in my life. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed being with anyone as much as I do with her. It is hard to point out what it is about her that I admire the most. She is amazing in marketing, I have learned it all from her. She sees people for who they are. I haven’t seen many who could do that. She energizes the room the minute she enters it. She gets along with everyone, literally everyone!

When I walked into Aayesha’s office last evening, she was looking at me with mischievous eyes. I couldn’t have guessed what she was about to say.

“I love what you have done with this campaign, Shreya. You were very thorough with this one. You have covered all grounds. I can’t think of anything that I can add to it.” said Aayesha. Her eyes looked as if they were holding something exciting. And of course, appreciation from Aayesha lit up my face. But I wasn’t prepared for what was coming next.

“It is so good, I think you should lead this campaign. You have proved that you are ready.” she continued. “The next action for you is to prepare for the meeting next week and present this work to the client. Of course, I will help you prepare and be present in the room in case you need any help. But I am certain that you won’t.”

It felt like an eternity before I could process what she was saying. All that while, I just stood there staring at her. She waited in anticipation. I mustered the courage to speak, but the only word I managed to say was “what!”

“You should present this work to the client next week,” Aayesha repeated patiently. “This campaign is your hard work. It wouldn’t be fair for anyone else to present it. Looking at the quality of this proposal I see no reason why you can’t do this.”

The silence that followed again was long and torturing. How could she expect me to stand in front of everyone and present my work? Did she not know me! Had she not noticed that I never volunteer to facilitate any team meetings? I prefer to eat lunch alone at my desk and I rarely attend team parties.

“As much as I enjoyed preparing this proposal, I am not keen on presenting this work to a bunch of people. Besides this is a critical project for our agency. I don’t think this should be the first project that I lead.” I mustered the courage to give a proper reply this time. And I thought it was a pretty good reply. If I had a regular mentor, they would have been satisfied with my response and agreed to give me the next less critical one to lead. But Aayesha wasn’t any regular mentor, was she?

It was her turn to be silent this time. She sat back in her chair and looked at me intently. At that moment, it felt like she did see through me and caught my lie. My face burnt under her gaze confirming my worst fears. This was my body’s way of telling me, “You don’t deserve anyone’s attention. Not even that of the most considerate person in your life.”

“What is it, Shreya? You can be honest with me,” Aayesha finally spoke. Her eyes showed concern for me. Having worked with Aayesha for the past 3 years, I knew I could trust her with anything. But could I trust myself…

“I am comfortable working in the background. But I cannot handle the center stage,” I said with hesitation.

“Any why is that?” asked Ayesha. She just doesn’t give up, does she?

I tried to fight back tears welling up in my eyes.

“Because I am hideous.” I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard those words come out of my mouth. It had been such a long time since I consciously thought about those words, but it seems that they were always dangling over my head as a reminder of who I really was.

I saw Aayesha’s expressions change from disbelief to anger to calmness.

“I now understand what the problem is,” said Aayesha. “You have been listening to what others say way more than you listen to yourself and your body. Since you believe what others say more than anything, let me tell you what I see:

  • A compassionate face with observant eyes
  • A mouth that rarely smiles but when it does, it has the potential to light up the whole room
  • A brain that knows no boundaries when it comes to creativity
  • A heart that can understand the most difficult of human emotions
  • A beautiful body that is anything but hideous

I think now is the time to drop that idea that doesn’t serve you.”

By now, tears were streaming down my cheeks and my sobs were uncontrollable. Aayesha took me by hand towards the couch in her office and poured a glass of water for me.

“Do you want to know a secret?” she asked. “But it comes with a responsibility.” Her eyes were shining and her mouth was curled up in a smile. I nodded.

“The feeling that is gnawing at you, I too have experienced it first hand,” she added seeing my willingness to know the secret.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Aayesha is a gorgeous woman — beautiful eyes, a picture-perfect smile, and flowing hair. When she started laughing, I realized my jaw was hanging open. I quickly closed it and lowered my gaze in embarrassment. But it just didn’t make sense. Aayesha could easily be an influencer on Insta. Maybe she was, I should check… My trail of thought was interrupted by her voice.

“Do you think that beautiful model, Sonia, who worked with us on our last campaign doesn’t know one bit what it feels like to be hideous?” asked Aayesha. “If you do, you couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“I have learned that there is no correlation between this feeling, let’s call it a hideous monster, and how one looks. I haven’t figured out how it all started. But I do know this — this is being constantly perpetuated not only by those people who utter such comments but also by those who give it attention, who believe in them and remember them for years at end.

“Now that you know this secret, you have a choice:

  • to be a perpetuator of this hideous monster by continuing to believe it, or
  • to be a savior and release yourself and others from the grips of it.

“Do you choose to listen to others or do you choose to listen to your amazing body? Look, you don’t have to believe anything that I say. Test it yourself and choose what is right for you.” And just like that, she ended the conversation. Her eyes shone brightly and her face was lit up with a smile.

So, last night when I returned home, I tried to listen to my body. To my surprise, what came out were all the snarky insults, mean comments, and scornful looks that I received over the years. And what also came out were all the ways I had supported that belief. But what upset me the most was how could Aayesha suggest that I was beautiful. How could these two realities co-exist!

After a night of anger, disbelief, and constant tears, I stand here in front of the mirror. I don’t feel the need to cry anymore. My mind is quiet. For the first time, there isn’t a need to add a commentary for what I see, either good or bad.

That reflection that I see in the mirror is mine for the time I am on earth. Remind me, what good comes when I judge it...

Of course, it is my responsibility to keep the most sophisticated machine on earth going for as long as it could. But other than this, whatever I tell myself about it is just a story… I hope I remember this tomorrow…

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Vidhi Vashisht

Vidhi Vashisht

Finding meaning and magic in the mundane