Beauty Is Choosing To Love

I used to take ballet classes. Every week I’d put on my little pink shoes, wrinkled like pruney skin where canvas met elastic. I’d roll on a pair of uncomfortable white tights and pad onto the linoleum floors of a local ballet studio, where an elegant former ballerina with an impeccable scarlet bun would teach us stretches, jumps, and twirls with French names that I couldn’t keep straight. I was the biggest girl in class. I was self-conscious about my moon face, my big belly, and my lumpy legs. At seven. I hated feeling like an elephant every time I tried to do a jump at the barre, landing so hard on the linoleum that the floor basically trembled. Out of breath constantly. The teacher’s well-meaning voice telling us to suck in, align our spines, until I just needed to curl up in a big fleshy ball on the floor and take a nap to forget about how huge I felt in that studio. It did not help that the studio had wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, so that my burgeoning self-hatred had ample room to rise like a bowl of spitefully bubbling yeast.

I quit ballet when I started middle school. Part of it was that the students at my level were now required to attend class four times a week, and I was not about to subject myself to that on top of the new academic course load. I told myself: if I could not be light, graceful, and willowy, I would be studious. I at least always had that going for me. Little miss smart, little miss mature, little miss studying Encyclopedia Britannica and E=mc squared in the middle of fourth grade social studies. (On some level I knew I must be playing into an Asian stereotype, but I didn’t care anymore. It only took me a few years of being alive to get hungry for love, even if that love came in the form of appreciation for how much I crammed into my brain. As if each fact was a grain of rice, and I was only worth as much as the bowl was deep.) I became a top student. I wore clothes that didn’t make me feel amazing, but were functional, and I told myself that was enough. I scorned the experiments with fashion and makeup that my tween peers were trying, and told myself that all I needed was in my head. I adopted a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude towards confidence: I smiled big, shut up about my feelings, and focused on what was right in front of me. When my first boyfriend abused my trust and took things further than I gave consent for, I channeled the insecurities gushing out of me like blood into rage at the person he moved on to onto next. I feigned confidence, in the form of attack. When my friends told me I was disgusting after he bragged about his actions (even though they knew I hadn’t wanted it), I applied to a high school where I knew they wouldn’t follow me. My mantra was,: “I don’t need you”. Pervertedly, I found a kind of confidence through this — the knowledge that I had the power to start things over. I had agency in what I could change, and I forced myself to focus on those things and not on what I craved but had no confidence in my ability to achieve (i.e. beauty and love).

This self-restraint actually saved me. I compartmentalized the parts of me that screamed irrational criticism about my physical appearance and my unstable personality. I focused on finding things to love — music, art, literature, idols — and amazingly, it actually worked. I had spent so long trying to be a social chameleon, and I had interrupted the process of finding out who I am. By discovering new favorites (Riot Grrrl, musical theatre, indie artists) and new role models (Regina Spektor, Awkwafina, Janelle Monaé) I started figuring out how to be a human instead of a ghost girl — a paper cutout ready to paint herself in the favorite colors of the people she wanted to impress. I learned that love is a daily choice more than a feeling, whether for a person, an interest, or oneself, and I began to choose to love the things that loved me back.

Confidence, or what I think might be confidence, has come along pretty naturally since then, but it’s no destination — it’s absolutely a journey. Being empowered by others has given me the ability to empower myself through creativity and, yes, sometimes forced but necessary self-appreciation. My confidence and I take care of each other: I feed it through the development of my personhood; it holds up my body daily and carries me through my anxieties. I still have chunky thighs. I still have a moon face and an only irregularly visible jawline. I have tangled hair, a big belly, back problems, dry skin, and yellow teeth. And I try to pour my love into confidence instead of rage; not into my still-constant anxieties, but into appreciation for my ability to take up space in this universe; into my capacity to fuck up harmlessly; into my big beautiful bod and my lanky sitting posture and my brain and my face and my voice and my heart. And I don’t take myself all that seriously. Which helps too.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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