Self-portrait of my perfect self

Until I turned 16, I was on a mission to create the most aesthetically pleasing Tumblr blog. I used to spend hours reblogging and liking tens of images: abstract paintings, people standing in art galleries, cigarettes and Turkish coffee cups, dusty bookshelves, palm trees and short poems. For some reason, I never looked at the captions of these posts — I didn’t know who took this photograph or painted that painting. But short poems in the form of one sentence over one page (yes, like Rupi Kaur’s), the ones that kept me staring at my screen for a while trying to hardly digest them, were an exception.  

On yet another day of aspiring to increase my growing collection of images, I stumbled upon a picture of a sign with one of these poems. It said, “If someone does not want me/ it is not the end of the world./ But if I do not want me the/ world is nothing but endings.” My 15-year-old self was in absolute awe of these two sentences. The sign, thankfully, included the poet’s name on it: Nayyirah Waheed. This saved me hours of helpless Googling. Yet it was still difficult to find any information about this mysterious poet: no pictures, no biographies, nothing. Only snippets of her poetry all over the internet. So the hours of Googling occurred anyway. 

When I finally found her website, I learned that the poem I read was part of a collection titled “salt.” which was published in 2013. I immediately added it to my cart and purchased it even though I knew the package would take ages to arrive. (My Tabuk address always seemed unrecognizable to shipment companies.) So I placed the order, hoping to reexperience the poem, but this time on paper. 

After a month, and five emails about a delayed shipment with DHL, it arrived. I unwrapped the package hoping to begin the poems during a weekend. Once I started it, it was only me and Nayyirah’s very short poems staring at me, dissecting me and leaving me open to catch my breath. And with each page flip, the process was repeated. 

I read one poem, though, with an eye roll. It was, “ ‘i love myself.’/ the/ quietest./ simplest./ most/ powerful./ revolution./ ever.” I’m not sure why I disliked it at first. Maybe I thought it was trying to sell me what other positivity and self-love quotes I tried to avoid all over Tumblr were. Or maybe because I was struck with the realization that I never said this phrase to myself. I repeated “I love you” to almost every person I knew. This even included mutuals on Tumblr I’d known for less than weeks. But I never said it to myself. I never found a reason to say it. 

I learned self-hate way before I learned self-love. I’d always wanted to be smarter, prettier, taller, skinnier, more masculine, more muscular, more outspoken, more outgoing. I spent more than half my life hating everything I was. How, then, was there any of myself to love? Why did Nayyirah remind me of this unprovoked? 

I grew up surrounded by people who starved their bodies and bleached their skin. They all wanted to be everything they weren’t. They were all preceded by people who wanted to reach the same goal: a “perfect” image that our tongues and bones and souls could never reach. We inherited their self-hate, and we continue to pass it on to the next generation.

I don’t think the people before me were waking up and consciously deciding to reject every inch of themselves. It was all because of years of unrealistic, socially structured expectations. Years of Eurocentric beauty standards and imperialism. Years of patriarchy enforcing gender roles and cis-heterosexuality. Years of parents’ fears, peers’ expectations and society’s pressures. Years of forcing each other into believing that none of what we had was enough — there was always a more perfect image, body, face, voice to strive for. 

Yet here I am, with Nayyirah’s “salt.” trying to defeat years of inherited self-hate by myself. Similar to what my friend once tweeted, “Have always wanted to be someone else my whole life, when will I start wanting to be me?” I spent all my life wanting to be everything I wasn’t. And now that I have recognized that this was flawed and not me, I will spend the rest unlearning it. 

But it’s hard. When the entire world, through its people and media, ensures that the mindless comments and harmful stereotypes grow on you, the mission of self-love becomes hard, unbearable even. Hating everything you are, in this case, becomes easier — it’s a way to reflect the expectation they have of you

Although I haven’t created the perfect Tumblr blog, I found a poem — or as Nayyirah would say, the poem found its way to me — to teach me how to admit my love to myself. Self-love is revolutionary. Self-love is an act of resistance. Self-love is a rejection of a colonial, patriarchal and socially constructed perfect image. And while I used to rarely say “I love you” while pointing at myself, or did it occasionally with partial disbelief, I now wash myself with it. It’s cringeworthy. It’s difficult. I don’t feel like it sometimes. But I murmur it. I shout it. I, most importantly, believe it.