Katja, 43

In my late teens, I started to spend a lot of time on my mask. I couldn’t imagine stepping outside without makeup. At the point when I moved from my parents’ place to live on my own in Kallio, Helsinki, the way I looked even caused me to panic. I felt that I looked so funny that all the strangers in the street were staring at me. There was probably some general panic disorder involved, but it all manifested as concern about my appearance. The anxiety was there every day. I was thinking that maybe I shouldn’t even go to the store or take out the trash when I look like this. Sometimes I could put off leaving the apartment for several days. All the while, I knew it wasn’t healthy. But I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.

My attitude has changed over the years, but the problem still exists. These days it’s more like giving everyone a mental middle finger. Like hey, here I am in the store in my nightgown with hair hanging over my eyes, suck it.

I’ve been thinking about the influence of my upbringing. I’m an only child, and my parents would put a lot of weight on things like being smart and doing well at school: more like intellectual qualities. I don’t remember a single time when they would have said something nice about my looks, called me pretty or anything like that. Instead, being beautiful or aiming for it was frowned upon at my home. If my mom was putting on makeup for an office party, my dad might laugh at her, like there she is dolling up again.

I used to date a man who was a bodybuilder and in many ways focused on his looks. Getting ready to go out would always take super long because he was making his hair perfect. After being together for a long time I asked him why he never called me beautiful. After all, it seems to be a part of being in a relationship. His response was that he didn’t think I was so beautiful. In a way, I was grateful for his honesty.

But still, I think it’s funny to be in a relationship with someone you don’t see as attractive.

I’ve heard hurtful comments in my life also outside of relationships. When I was working during my student years, a situation occurred at work that wounded me deeply. There was a man who held a high position, and everyone knew he was harassing women. One time, it was only him and me getting ready to leave work when he came to stand at the door of my office, blocking my escape. He insisted that I would go for a drink with him and then to his place. I did my best to turn him down as politely as possible, and after a while he did leave. But the next day, he wanted to comment on my looks. I had adult acne by then, which gave me a lot of anguish. The pimples were sore and very unsightly. He smiled, looked at me straight into the eyes and remarked with malicious pity: poor you when you have that on your face, have you noticed? I was just trying not to cry. I wasn’t the only one: he was good at finding a delicate part of someone’s looks and picking on it.

These days, the social media also feeds this obsession with looks - there’s a kind of hidden judgment that’s present all the time. Whether you get likes for your photos, how many, will you get hearts, and so on. Sometimes, for example, I may stalk the current partners of my ex-boyfriends on Facebook. And if I have more likes on my profile picture than them, I feel pleased. At the same time, I’m repulsed by my own superficial behavior.

And anyway, I’m ashamed of worrying about my looks so much. It is undeniably narcissistic that one’s interaction with the world can be so affected by one’s appearance. I also think that if I was beautiful I wouldn’t have to scrutinize these things so much. Luckily, age has also brought kindness with it. And my long history with yoga gives me a practical viewpoint to my body image. In yoga, what’s important is your inner self, not what’s seen on the outside. There are no mirrors in yoga rooms, either.