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Pia, 35

As long as I can remember, I’ve considered myself really ugly.

But I’m not. When I look at photos of myself as a kid, I see a beautiful girl with big eyes. The feeling of ugliness came from the lack of accepting, loving eyes, and didn’t really have anything to do with my actual appearance.

Since a young age, I’ve also had difficulties with my gender. I was six years old when I went to pee in the bushes with a friend of mine. As he was peeing, he waved his little wiener around, presenting it to the whole word. I, on the other hand, had to hide all shamefully in the bush. It felt unfair to me.

When I was a teenager, the feeling of ugliness became intertwined with not accepting my womanhood and sexuality. I wanted to deny them. That led to getting anorexia in the age of 13. It started out as a kind of a game, a decision to have an eating disorder. But it’s a disease that you can easily get hooked on. It was like a drug: I could control what was happening in my body.

Other people could see that I was losing weight, but the weight was not the main point for me. As the disease advanced, it turned into a mental, even spiritual experience. While other people in my age adored Johnny Depp, I looked up to Saint Catherine of Siena. She was a Catholic anorectic saint who starved herself to death to get closer to Christ.

At one point, I weighed 39 kilos. But I wasn’t any happier with my looks. Except maybe that I was always glad when new bones or bruises started to appear in my spine or hips. They were signs of victory. An anorectic bruises up because there’s no softening layer between the skin and the bones.

The acute phase of the eating disorder lasted a few years, but it influenced my life up until I was in my twenties. Then, one day, I just found a new force within myself. I decided that it’s been enough. That I want to live and enjoy my life.

Even after that, I’ve struggled with my looks but still have managed to live a normal life. It’s actually only now that I’ve started to be okay with the kind of woman I am. Having a child seven years ago altered my relationship to my body. For the first time, my body was an active entity with power. It felt unbelievable that I could create life, give birth and even provide nutrition to the baby. After that, I’ve been unable to think that I’m only an object of looks and desire.

I don’t want to be an example for my daughter of a woman who doesn’t appreciate and respect herself.

A distorted image of myself has prevented me from doing things that I would have wanted to do in my life, such as art. How could you pursue anything if you’re false and ugly and bad? A few years ago I decided that this has got to stop. Otherwise, things will remain unrealized in life. And then the only thing that’s left is bitterness.