Inari, 42

I have never looked cute or girly in a traditional sense. I’ve been more like the funny-looking one. At school I was told I was like a board. I also got comments about my teeth, because I wore braces for years. And my nose was too big.

Much like my looks, my personality didn’t fit the ideal. I’ve always been keen on voicing my opinion and ended up in all sorts of conflicts. All the while, I would compare myself to others, to more popular girls, and tried to be like them. I would use makeup, and in junior high my hair was long and trendy. I would even try to shape my personality into being that of a more well-behaved girl. Then, in high school, I got bored with all that and shaved of all of my hair. That was a cool, liberating moment.

In my twenties I got an eating disorder that lasted a total of about five years. Not eating was a way of exerting control, it was a reaction to my whole life being so open and the world seeming like such a mess. I didn’t know what to hold on to. I thought that this is the one thing I can control. I wanted to fade out my body in other ways, too. I would wear only black, for example. At my lightest, I weighed less than 40 kilos. That’s when I woke up and realized that I had no energy for anything, not even walking in the street. With the help of therapy I learned to recognize the thought patterns that made me get sick.

In addition to therapy, I’ve found help in sociology – it was and is a big love of mine. I used to study lighting design in the university of applied sciences, and while I was doing my thesis, I discovered that I like to study and write. I had never really done that before. I remember going to the main library and thinking that I could do this more often. I had never even heard of sociology, but the description of the subject fascinated me. The book to read for the entrance exam was Bauman’s Thinking Sociologically, and there was no turning back. I’m sure it helped me recover from the eating disorder when I shifted my interest to everything related to sociology, and that I was so good at it.

On the other hand, I’ve been thinking that my difficult relationship with my looks was one reason why I became a PhD. For a long time, I used to think that if I’m not pretty, I can at least be smart. It wasn’t before my later years that I fully realized that they’re not mutually exclusive.

Besides my studies and my career, all these troubles have affected my relationships, even in choosing a partner. Music has been important to me since a young age, partly because it’s helped me find alternative aesthetics and role models. Through the band The Smiths, I learned that girls and boys don’t need to be a certain way. My current partner is a Smiths fan, too. When I was younger, I had a hard time with relationships because I would get quite jealous. I always thought that the other one would soon find someone nicer and prettier.

Nowadays, when I look in the mirror, I still see flaws. These days I just kind of accept them, but they’re not a cause of pain and anguish anymore. I feel that I’ve found my own mental home and style. But I still don’t know how to take compliments about my looks. It feels like I don’t truly know how I look. I never recognize myself from photos. Except for this one taken by Outi. It made me feel approving of myself, like yes, that’s me.