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Where Beauty Cannot Exist Without Shame
Delilah’s fingers traveled over the glass, tracing the contours of her reflection in the mirror. Nasty words sprang into her mind, but she said nothing. She just stared.
The winter sun had faded from the sky without warning. There were no grand sunsets, no emerging stars; rather, the daylight had seemed to disappear sneakily, ebbing away with no one noticing until it was all gone. Somehow, the darkness both suited Delilah and made her feel lonelier.
<i>I hate you.</i>
Delilah’s eyes were ruthless critics. They scrutinized her body, evaluating every feature and highlighting every flaw. They chewed apart every angle and curve until somehow, nothing was right and everything was wrong. It was her big nose, her gangly legs, her thick stomach. It was her flat hair, her meaty fingers, her lifeless eyes, her round face, her hairy arms, her acne. It was the paleness of her skin and the flatness of her chest. Everything about her was strange and ugly; everything about her was inferior.
<i>No wonder he asked her and not you. You’re disgusting. I hate you.</i>
No matter how she tried, Delilah couldn’t get their faces out of her head. She saw them smiling, holding hands, twirling across the dance floor as though no one else were there. She could see his suit, smell his cologne. She could picture him nervously standing at the door, talking to her father. Delilah could see her, too. She was wearing a long, floor-length prom dress with silver heels. Her hair was curled and her smile lit up the room. She was perfect.
There was a sort of heaviness in Delilah’s chest. It hurt to swallow. It hurt to breathe. She wanted to tear her eyes away from the mirror; she never wanted to see herself again. But she couldn’t look away.
<i>Nobody could ever love you.</i>
Finally, Delilah let herself cry. She turned and let her back slide against the mirror until finally she collapsed on her bedroom floor. <i>It is stupid to cry. You shouldn’t be crying over this.</i> She hated her ugliness; she hated her weakness; she hated her shyness. She didn’t even care that much about Prom. She hadn’t really planned on going in the first place. But it was another reminder of how alone she was, how friendless and unloved she felt, how sorely she stood apart from every other kid her age. The heaviness in her chest wasn’t for the boy. It was the feeling of nonexistence, the notion that no one understood or cared. Day after day, she was tortured by loneliness.
<i>Why are you so different?</i>
Delilah couldn’t explain to herself the reason she so badly craved glamour, but she did. Even as she loathed it, even as she mocked the Prada girls who giggled and flirted, she cried for a taste of that life. She seldom texted, she scoffed at Facebook, and she found parties boring, but her heart burned for fame and beauty. Hatred generated from a dark place within her body, feeding on her shame and growing like a giant mass of thorns. She hated herself; she hated the media; she hated pop culture; she hated humanity. She hated the world for becoming a place where beauty cannot exist without shame.
No matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried, Delilah would never be a part of that world.
<i>It’s not your fault.</i>
Realizing this was more calming than life-altering, for Delilah was forced to admit that she had known it all along. The tears dried in her eyes, and her breathing steadied, until finally Delilah was able to turn around and face herself. She’d known all along that, although the loneliness hurt, it wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t a bad person. She wasn’t mean. She was simply… quiet. She had never been ugly. She may have had insecurities, but she had also turned enough heads to know it wasn’t her body that prevented her from knowing love. It wasn’t her fault.
It was this warped, ugly society—this place where children were being brought up to believe that their success and happiness were entirely dependent on their use of social media and their possession of a Smartphone. It was the beauty industry. They filled magazines with photographs of airbrushed, hollow-cheeked skeletons, called them models, and then brainwashed young girls to think beauty only exists in a makeup kit. They amplified “sexy” until it became the Holy Grail, but cleverly made it wholly unachievable. And it was the media, perhaps the most liable of the three. They crammed sex and beauty down the throat of the world by any means possible: television, billboards, magazines, internet, and whatever else they could sell. They bombarded society with vulgar messages and polluted its culture with their filth, because for whatever reason, trash piques interest. Delilah felt it in herself every time she envied the trampy, little Prada girls. Sex sells.
<i>So what does that say about us? What does that say about me?</i>
Delilah stood up slowly. She stared herself in the eye, wondering.
<i>Then maybe I am to blame after all.</i>
Delilah took a few steps across her room and fell onto her bed. Was there really any difference between the corruptors and the corrupted? Were both not equally guilty? Perhaps teenagers were just too impressionable; perhaps she had been too young to fight the omnipresent influence. But it wasn’t that simple. She had allowed herself to be victimized. It wasn’t like no one had ever talked to her about these things. She’d had the talks, at school and at home. She knew about anorexia and body image; she knew about self esteem and self respect. She was well prepared to face the pressure, but somewhere down the road, that confidence had abandoned her. She had allowed herself to be manipulated.
<i>What’s happened to me?</i>
You need to be thinner.
You need to have a boyfriend.
You need to be popular.
Prom is the night you have been waiting for since middle school.
You need to want. You need to buy. You need to consume.
Delilah sat up and propped her back against the wall. The defiance had surprised her. For the first time in a long time, she considered the possibility of confidence. She remembered the beauty that existed there. She remembered the love that existed in self-respect, the companionship that existed in being a friend to yourself. She remembered the ease at which she once had pushed temptation away. There was a time when nothing could touch her. She had been a pillar of strength. How could it all have slipped away without her noticing? <i>What the h*ll happened?</i>
Sitting there, Delilah’s eyes came to rest on a dusty picture frame propped against her bedside table. Inside was a photograph of herself when she was much younger—maybe eight years old. She was wearing a t-shirt and trousers, her hair was tied up, and she was hanging like a monkey from the branches of an apple tree. She wore a smile that Delilah had never seen before, or had long since forgotten. It was confident, radiant, and beautiful. Staring at the photo, Delilah realized she didn’t know anything of this girl anymore except that she missed her, and she wanted her back.