Last night I saw a dance performance about Narcissus. This got me thinking about the construct of conceit. We all lean on a sliding scale of narcissism, no matter how quick-to-judge we are of others who exhibit an overdose of this trait. Granted, being self-involved to the point of disconnecting image from reality is problematic for intimacy and whatnot, but narcissism is nonetheless a form of survival -- as long as we don't fall into the water of our reflection. You need to see things mirrored to gain perspective and, maybe, get a little outside of the esoteric and into the body (as was illustrated in the physicality of the performers). I knew I wanted to write about this, but I didn't know how. Until now.
I have psoriasis. There, I said it. Publicly. First time ever. (Cue major exhale.) This is a new plight, specifically since I moved from LA to NY, specifically after a breakup, specifically when I eat nightshade vegetables. So. I'm almost eight months in. At first, I thought this autoimmune thing was a temporary -- not chronic -- result of over-drinking and under-sleeping. And over-stressing about the next phase of my life. Probably true. All of the above. I went to a dermatologist and got some disgusting steroid cream to quell my disgusting affliction. It cleared. I was relieved. Until it came back with a vengeance and became something I had to accept and conceal and, because I'm a woman with a certain-sized ego, reveal its delineation before coming into bare-skin contact with anyone of crush-worthy magnitude. I've felt the need to clarify that this thing is new in my life, that I'm normally The Girl With Really Pretty Skin so as never to be The Girl With Psoriasis. But context is context and people are defined at specific moments in time more than the narrative they project onto the histrionics of their lives. So my conversations and explanations were, quite literally, in vain. I cannot control people's perceptions no matter how hard I try.
This morning the girl practicing yoga next to me had a serious case of psoriasis. Wearing short shorts and a t-shirt that crawled up to her sports bra during down dog, I was instantly familiar with her flawed skin: huge patches on her elbows and knees and polka-dot throw-up splotches all over her flabby belly and pale shins and tone-less arms and cellulited thighs. For the record, her case is way worse than mine (paging Narcissus). My initial impulse was empathy -- an emotion that, unfortunately, generally alludes me. I used to view flaws as something against which we should fight as opposed to something that we should accept. My next reaction was reverence for her bravery. I'd never be so bold as to expose my spots for the world -- or the yoga room -- to see. I so fiercely fret judgement and coming across as less-than-perfect that I'd never fathom throwing an extra log into an already-lit flame. My final feeling was anxiety, so much so that I couldn't maintain my balance in the easiest of poses. This girl has no doubt had psoriasis longer than me and, in an inevitable amount of time, I will become her. Or so I deduced. She is an exaggeration of everything I fear about myself, down to her extra weight and awful skin. I was staring into a funhouse mirror and, for the first time ever, understood the delusional image I've created of myself, which, in turn, debilitates me and makes this thing I cannot control way worse than it is. If I am Narcissus, she is my distorted reflection. This is the opposite of falling in love with oneself, yet this is still a drowning of sorts.
When completely outside of yourself, you never see things as they actually are. Something is always magnified. It's as if the person staring back at you isn't really you, but a more grand or repulsive image to which you cling. You extrapolate meaning based on perception to better equip yourself with the tools necessary for survival. Or else you just wallow in self-love or self-loathe. The incessant need to editorialize is counterproductive considering we cannot shape other people's opinions and, even if we could, what would it matter? We'd still have to contend with ourselves, which is the hardest part. And therein lies my contraction: I perform through the lens of confidence while secretly feeling like the girl next to me in yoga. This juxtaposition is exhausting and I won't accept it any longer. Fortitude, after all, cannot be feigned through an inflated sense of self-worth, regardless of what we proclaim otherwise.