Words by Kristen Cole-Ford, photographed by Rachel Castillero
The reflection represented possibilities, but also limits. She’s always had a hard time understanding the disparities between what she saw in her reflection, what she wanted to see, and what everyone saw when they looked at her, or at least what they said they saw. Her awareness of her appearance became both a crutch and a handicap as she grew up. She saw in the mirror everything that other people found wrong in themselves, even if it wasn’t there. She would focus until a flaw would manifest itself. Every negative thing she’d heard someone say about someone else, she internalized and projected it into her very own reflection. Fat, ugly, hairy, asymmetrical, awkward, clumsy, Other.
You could call it empathy, or extreme adaptability, but in any case the scars began to form. She never understood how she could at certain times look at this image with reverence and pride, and at other times look at the same image, the same face, the same body, and feel such hatred and disgust. Such dissonance.
She looked too long—
Appropriating the input that everybody around her gave themselves, she directed it inward, and outward toward her external representation of being. Her skin soon housed the trauma and shame of stories she played no role in, weighing her down more than starvation could keep up with. She covered it up by making herself up, by “being pretty." This vain ego sensitivity—an obsessive selfloathing—manifested as selfdestruction, the need to validate her own femininity, her very existence by seeking physical approval, attention, affection, and sex. She longed for this verification of femininity that she didn’t feel when she looked in the mirror. Her hyper self-consciousness brought such a vile type of intimacy with herself that she could never truly see herself as WOMAN. So she hid, as we all do, under one form of camouflage or another.
One day as she held her belly, she realized, almost as if for the first time, that it would one day hold and grow a life, that she didn’t deserve this constant belittling and that this body was one to be held as sacred and protected as the body that would come through her into this world. She immediately knew that she would do anything to protect her future children from the overwhelming anxiety that she experienced for so long, and the only way to do that was to let it go.
The stories of ego that haunted her spirit began to dissipate and lose their power over her. Her body softened and even began to move differently. She knew she was shaking loose layers of lies that had shrouded her being since childhood. One layer, then another, then another, peeling back the objectification, the lens she saw herself and judged herself through. She could finally recognize that a woman’s physical form, however it appears in its reflection, is merely a vessel, but one that should be celebrated and nurtured and not derided, picked apart and criticized. The beauty that she sees now when witnessing other women—of all shapes and sizes and colors, loose skin, mismatched parts, scars and discolorations—this is a reflection of her growing consciousness. They are all magnificent. She is magnificent, this goddess... She is YOU.
Connect with author and photographer through Instagram- @littleowlmama @rachelcast