by Madeleine Kando
I was born with a twin sister. She is 15 minutes younger than I and we always joke in our family that I did the pushing and she just went along for the ride. Like on a tobogan with me in front.
She is cute, my little sister. I call her that to get her goat because, of course, we are the same age. But she always did act like the ‘younger’ one. Always crying out ‘Mommy, Madeleine is hitting me!’ And since I was bigger and stronger I always held the short end of the stick in our fights.
I was also dubbed the ‘beautiful’ one. She was the ‘popular’one. As we matured, she morphed into a blond sex bomb. She was funny. Made everybody laugh. She was like the honey that attracted all the worker bees in our neighborhood and even though I was ‘beautiful’, it didn’t do me any good. She ended up with all the boys. I was too shy and awkward. Never much of a talker either.
I liked to pretend that I didn’t exist. I had fantasies of making myself invisible. That I could turn myself into a little pebble that could hide behind the wallpaper and from my safe hiding place, I could observe the world and not have to interact.
As I slowly became a young woman in body if not in soul, I suddenly realized that I WAS beautiful. The mirror told me so one day, as I was changing in front of it. I saw my breasts, my hips, my long legs… I thought: ‘wow, who IS this gorgeous aphrodite looking back at me?’
And that was the beginning of my downfall. The seeds of narcissism had been sown and I became obsessed with my looks. It didn’t help much that both my parents were photographers. And I often had to pose as a surrogate model because they couldn’t afford to hire a professional.
Yes, my beauty became like a fur coat. Everybody wanted to touch it, stroke it. Envelop themselves in it. And all the while I was hidden from view. My photographer parents, who mainly were concerned about my exterior, began to neglect what was inside. I couldn’t verbalize that what I really needed was for someone to see ME, not the fur coat. Until I too believed that THAT was the real me – I had become a beautiful, fake disguise of myself.
It is tempting to become what is in the eyes of the beholder. My morning ritual was to look in the mirror and if I liked what I saw, my day was going to be good. On bad days I was doomed to sulk in my room, unable to accept the barely visible shadows under my eyes. I was a good girl and wanted to measure up to people’s expectations of me.
But more and more the unanswered question came up: ‘Who are you really?’ I became sad and confused. Unable to voice my doubts, my looks began to isolate me. I might as well have been extremely ugly or suffer from a handicap: it would have had the same effect.
I was rarely able to relax and think of other things. I was stuck in the claws of beauty. Like a medieval knight in his armor: the slightest push and he gets knocked off his horse, shattering in a thousand pieces on the ground.
My kid sister, on the other hand, was all fun and giggles. Friends and admirers were aplenty. That made me feel even more like a freak. My instinct told me to break out of that mold. To leave everything behind. I yearned for freedom. Freedom from my photographer parents, from my family’s conception of me. And mostly from my own self-image.
And I did. I moved. But the voice in my ears kept saying ‘You are beautiful. You better act like it’. I had drunk from the forbidden well called ‘vanity’ and I had become addicted.
It took a good many years for me to sober up. I moved to the other side of the world. I got married to a man who not only liked my looks but also what was underneath.
But the most effective cure for my self-absorbed addiction were my children. That was my salvation. My young babies couldn’t care less how I looked. Children love you for who you are. And the question I had asked myself all these years: ‘who are you really, Madeleine?’ became almost irrelevant. I knew who I was the moment they came into this world. I was their MOTHER.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009
by Madeleine Kando