Most of the time, I don’t like the person that stares back at me when I look into the mirror. I stare at the mirror and see the same old me; that husk of a person weathered by eyebags and pimples resulting from sleepless nights and a general sense of pandemic-driven exhaustion. It’s hard to believe that this person, this personification of all-encompassing sadness and weariness, is what has become of that girl who was so full of life and hope at six years old.

In my six-year-old eyes, I should have been better at making myself pretty by now. For my 15-year-old eyes, I should have already had a booming writing career—that is, in addition to being better at making myself pretty. But at 26, I threw all these notions out of the window. Now all I want for myself is rest. And when I say rest, I don’t just mean getting my full eight hours of sleep. Above all else, I want some semblance of respite from every other characteristic and milestone that’s expected of me since I started learning how to read.

Instead of being better at making myself pretty, I constantly fail at making myself worthy of a second look. Instead of a booming writing career, I have two jobs and an array of side gigs that take up all of my energy, leaving no time for my creative pursuits. Instead of finally being confident enough to grow out of my shyness, I am constantly being pricked by the talons of insecurity. In other words, I am not the “me” I had wanted to be at six. Not meeting anyone’s expectations is fine. What’s bad is not meeting my own.

In my head, the perfect girl would be the sort that has flaws but still manages to be faultless. She would be friendly and kind, always saying the right thing at the right time. She has many friends that she still manages to keep after all these years. She is beautiful without trying too hard, and her brand of charm enables her to make anyone do whatever she wants. She has the perfect relationship with her family that simply adores everything she does. She would be popular offline and online, even gaining the attention of the big social media names that could make anyone go, “Who is she?” She has a loving partner, and she knows how to make that person feel the luckiest person in the world to have her.

She would be successful in the career path she chose way back in high school. If she’s artistic, she would constantly put out work and not have to deal with prolonged bouts of creative block. She would be recognized for her efforts, and she would be happy. In short, she would not be me.

Unlike the perfect girl, I always manage to mess everything up. I never feel pretty, and sometimes I seem to make myself look worse. I don’t even have the right sense of style to compensate for everything. I say the wrong things at the wrong time, and I only have a handful of friends that I still manage to say those things to. I constantly put my real, opinionated self on the back seat when I’m with my family, because I’m too cowardly to confront them on their beliefs. I’m not popular at all, and it seems as though I’ve been living my entire life merely floating on the current of society. 

If I had to sum up my career in one word, it would be “stagnancy.” For my romantic relationship, it would be “confusion.” Plagued by two decades of anxiety and emotional trauma, it’s difficult for me to understand which of my feelings are valid to feel anymore. In both aspects, I simply don’t feel as if I have ever been good enough.

I wish I could stop struggling, I really do. I wish I could do anything to change my default self, the one that makes crying a daily habit and numbness a state of defeat. I wish I could find the reset button somewhere in the recesses of the universe, because I don’t know how to progress to the next level anymore. I keep hurting myself because I can’t be like them and I can’t be like her, the perfect girl. Like what Sylvia Plath said, I’m not always good and kind and loving. I sometimes lash out or shut down when triggered, thanks to my brain being wired to constantly execute a fight-or-flight response. I keep trying my best even though it seems like a lost cause—like I’m a lost cause. I’m not the perfect girl, and it feels like everyone I care about will also suffer for it.

In my head, I would just end this with, “but that’s alright because I have finally learned how to love myself.” The thing is, I’m still working on loving myself. I’m still trying to wake up every day without feeling like I need to exert way too much effort to feel good enough. I still have my self-imposed deadlines for being better, and it feels like hell knowing that I am on the far end of the measuring stick. I’m still waiting for the day that I stop drowning in my own thoughts and emotions so I can stop feeling selfish when I drift away from the people I love.

But this isn’t the end, is it? I’ll leave all the pretty ones with the perfect beach bodies to their social media paradise. The edgy goth girlfriends, the sporty chicks, and the flawless artists in their cool studios and immaculate one-bedroom lofts that I can’t afford. All of them perfect, but at the same time less so in their own ways. I just happen to show imperfection more often than they do.

Maybe the perfect girl does exist somewhere in the world. Maybe there are a lot of girls like her. But she isn’t me, and never will be. And in the end, maybe we’re all better off that way.

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