In Your Image
nor, "untitled self-portrait", 2015
In 2016, American comedian Jenny Slate tweeted “As the image of myself becomes sharper and more precious in my brain, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love”. Screenshots of this tweet are often accompanied with an avatar of Jenny with a prosthetic Pinocchio-like nose. This is a declaration, very serious, yet it has a comedic ability of allowing its reader to also laugh at themselves and how seriously we approach life. The cultural impact of this tweet on the internet is not to be downplayed. Reblogs of this tweet on Tumblr are assured every time it pops up on somebody’s dashboard. Years later, if you google search this tweet, the internet has now turned it into a prayer.
There is something to be said about how a woman sees herself versus how that reflection becomes distorted through the eyes of others. In 2016, I had an inkling that my being could no longer align with the gender I was assigned with. Like Jenny Slate, there was an image in my mind that was becoming sharper. It was a matter of time before I manifested this image into the physical realm. Whenever somebody could not see me the way I wanted them to, it used to terrify me. It was an ordeal every time somebody I loved couldn't love me the way I wanted them to.
In February 2021, I bought myself a pair of roller blades. I vaguely remember skating as a child. One day, my cousins let me try their blades and it formed a core memory of my childhood. At the height of the pandemic, disco-infused pop music reigned through the likes of Dua Lipa’s album Future Nostalgia, The Weeknd’s mammoth "Blinding Lights" as well as Doja Cat’s sleeper hit "Say So". The retro revival in pop music was also accompanied with the comeback of roller skating and late ’70s-early ’80s aesthetics. On TikTok, gorgeous individuals with Farrah Fawcett waves in wide-legged pants went viral for learning how to skate. While I had no interest in TikTok virality, their effortlessness while on wheels was contagious. I also wanted to perform chic and cool and have it deeply embedded into people’s perception of my identity.
The pandemic was and still is a period of intense isolation. Like many others in my age group, I went from sleepless weekends on dancefloors and meeting new groups of people every weekend, to now taking long walks at a park on my own. I have become a person who chooses only to socialise once a month. Spending plenty of time on my own not only allowed the image of myself to become sharper, but also very precious.
Not even an hour after I bought and tried on my blades, I fell and scraped my elbows and my knees. While many would be worried at this bloody sight, this incident allowed something to click in my mind. When I started bleeding, I laughed at myself. As I analysed this situation from an out of body perspective, I could see myself for the first time, in a very long time. I was a child again, simply wanting to experience life, even if it hurt. At that moment, I was free of performance and expectation of others. All I wanted to do was to hug myself.
The fight for liberation for both women and queer rights cannot happen if not for our desire to be able to love ourselves. However, our own journey towards self-love, especially in a capitalistic-patriarchal society can easily be muddied with performative and consumerist ideas of self-care. The same way Jenny Slate’s now legendary tweet made its rounds on the internet and has been transformed into a prayer, I want to take this letter to be an opportunity for prayer. I pray that our journey towards self-love will consist of experiences that will affirm the woman and the person that we are in our heads, and may it never be separate from the person that we wish to be loved as. I pray for our autonomy and may our interdependence grow in such trying times. At 28 now, I can confidently say that I am able to understand the second half of Jenny’s tweet better.
I pray that you, my reader, will not just survive, but also thrive and never have to go through anyone erasing you simply because they have expectations and ideas of how you should perform your personhood. And if you ever feel that your voice is diminishing, make like Jenny Slate and laugh. I pray that you will hear joy again in the roar of your own laughter.