As I leaned at an awkward angle over the bathroom counter, peering into the magnifying mirror (a torturous invention, why do we even have those?) and yanking out rogue eyebrow hairs with a pointy metal tool (hint: tweezers), I wondered why. Why was I bothering? Even I hadn’t noticed the extra hairs between my actual brows until I glanced into the magnifying mirror. Just to confirm this, I looked at myself in the wall-mounted mirror, the one that didn’t show every blemish in horrifyingly high definition.
Nope. No unibrow.
And yet I couldn’t help trapping yet another hair between the tweezers’ points and pulling it out. Now that I looked closer, I also needed to slap one of those blackhead strip thingies on my nose. Except…oh great, I had blackheads around my lips too. A pore strip there would only pull out the (also unsightly) little fuzzy hairs around my mouth, not to mention exacerbate my winter chapped lips. (I only know this because I’ve tried to purify those blackheads before. And it hurt.)
The truth is, I’ve had a weird thing about plucking my eyebrows ever since sixth grade. That was the year the boy in front of me, who I may or may not have had a mild crush on, turned around and said, “Do you tweeze your eyebrows? Because you’ve got a unibrow goin’ on there.”
As a result, that weekend I endured the painful ministrations of a friend and her tweezers. It just so happened that this cosmetically gifted friend had also gifted me with another random insecurity – when I wore my hair in a ponytail to school one day, she commented, “No wonder you wear your hair down all the time. Your ears are filthy!”
Who says those kinds of things to a 12-year-old? But more importantly, how is it that these off-hand remarks to the 12-year-old I once was still affect my view of myself to this day? Psychologists say we remember seven negative things for every positive comment about ourselves; to me, this ratio is unsurprising. I always used to journal or somehow record the compliments I got so they wouldn’t slip away, but I’ve never had trouble remembering the times people have asked me why I never tried lightening my freckles.
Now that I’m in college, you’d think the opinions of a few sixth-graders from way back when wouldn’t affect me so much. But if I’m being honest, it’s not even their voices I still hear anymore. I see stray eyebrow hairs and yes, I think of that boy twisting around in his desk to make a blunt observation, but it’s my own internal criticism saying, “Better get rid of that unibrow. We don’t want a repeat of Fred’s comment.” I put my hair into a ponytail and it says, “Shouldn’t you clean your ears, just in case? Remember what Sally said.” The fact is that although I am older and at least a smidgen wiser, I have so deeply internalized these critiques of my appearance that I no longer even need the memories to bolster them. They are standalone insecurities. I have made them my own.
I have learned from experience not to pin all my self-worth on others’ opinions. I am still learning, slowly, to accept my body and the self inside it. First, though, I’ll have to put the tweezers down.