A different me
Not too long ago, I was going through the pages of the journal I kept as a teenager, and I was taken aback. Of all the entries, I liked those which were quite philosophical, where I reflected upon the meaning of things, because I reached some interesting conclusions for a fifteen-year-old. But the unpleasant surprise came with those which revealed how self-conscious I was, and the way that kept me from living life to its fullest. I almost felt the urge to tear out the pages and set them on fire. I thought exactly what l think when I see pictures of myself from those years, which, in addition, were the years when I was on the verge of obesity: ‘I hate this girl’.
When I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, I also felt the urge to set it on fire. I loved the criticisms of mental health treatment and the role of women in the 1960s, but I cannot begin to count the number of times I wanted to punch Esther, the main character, in the face. If I engage in some introspection, I realise that this is linked to the fact that some of the issues she deals with are those which I dealt with when I was younger. No, I was not manic-depressive, nor did I try to kill myself, but I did make a big deal out of non-existent problems. Nowadays, I still face challenges, but at least they no longer revolve around self-loath. The thing is, in a way, I saw my younger self reflected in Esther, and I did not like that at all.
In the novel, she also has what psychologists call ‘out-of-body experiences’, that is, a feeling of being outside of your body, as if observing yourself from a distance. That is exactly how I feel when I look back at my high school years: like teenager Juliana is an entirely different person. Actually, I believe most of us do. I always wonder who invented the phrase ‘high school years are the best of your life’, because I have yet to meet anyone who can identify with it.
When I started college, I saw the perfect opportunity to become the person I always wanted to be. Nobody knew me or what I used to be like. So I did a complete 180 in terms of appearance by losing weight and wearing nice clothes and makeup. It is not that I became superficial: I had always loved everything beauty-related, but I used to think I was not worthy of it because I was not beautiful. Personality-wise, I started to pretend I was confident and outgoing, until I noticed the positive impact those qualities had in my life and they grew on me. In other words, I faked it till I became it.
No, I am not the queen of self-acceptance. I, like all, still have my moments, but now I know I do not have to love every single thing about me in order to be happy: I just have to embrace what I like and accept what I do not. That is precisely why I should not be ashamed of my past, the main thing I do not like. After all, overcoming self-hate shaped me into the person that I am today.
At times I find it very hard to make peace with my younger self. I feel as if there had been a cut in my timeline where I changed bodies, and locked the old one inside a bell jar that I now look down on. But there are days, like today, in which I think I would like to come to terms with myself; forgive me, release me from the jar and embrace my past, not as reminder of how ‘flawed’ I was, but of how much I have grown.