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How to Tell Your Stories Without Casting Yourself as the Victim

by Anneli RufusFebruary 23, 2018
looking in mirror


Empower yourself to shift the stories you tell.

I could tell this tale as if I was a standup comic, social scientist, low-self-esteem support-group speaker and/or seer. And I want you to tell your tales in such ways too. But more about that later.

Something weird has happened to me lately, twice: As I stood on a busy city sidewalk — different streets in different towns — a pretty young female dashed from a fancy salon and pulled me inside. 

It happened so fast both times that I thought some crisis was unfolding in these salons which required passersby to catch snakes or make tourniquets.

But no. Both times, the pretty female ushered me into a swivel chair while speaking rapidly about a substance she was squeezing from a shiny tube and smoothing into the skin around my right eye. These substances had names such as Formula 3000 and Crème Satine.

Each female asked what I normally "use" around my eyes.

"Nothing," I said.

They laughed, then echoed me: Noooothinnnng, as if I had confessed a crime.

"OK! I am about to change your life! You're so lucky," they both said, spreading cream under my eye on different streets in different towns on different days in the exact same way.

"This feels nice, right?" they purred, ignoring the paralysis that overtakes me whenever my face is touched, because I fear my cheeks or lips will be pulled, mocked or punched.

"Apply this only twice a day," they said as if compared to using nothing, ever, this would appeal to someone who avoids mirrors: "It works miracles."

"What? I need miracles? Like someone lost at sea?" I chirped, because dissociation does this, makes me say La la look at my words, not my body or face.

Not that these are as monstrous as I thought while being raised by someone who called herself Fatty. Still, hiding in words is easier than having organs, bones, and flesh.

Such as the flesh around my eye these strangers sleeked and patted — half like nurses, half like one-night stands — while crooning, half like pussycats, half like professors:

"Collagen can make your skin twenty years old again. Remember being twenty? Our amazing formula puts collagen into the skin with just a touch."

"So you need not inject it or stab me and pour it in?"

"Ha. No." Pat-pat-pat. "Wow."

Hands dropping suddenly, fanning outwards then upwards, they resembled stained-glass angels.

"You will not believe the difference!" Sleek heads swinging left to right as if dangling on strings.
"Wow. See this eye?" they said, raising small mirrors to my face. "Then thaaat one," as if narrating a horror film. "Don't they look like two different women's eyes? Maybe a mother's and her child's?"

"Yes," I said because I was raised to be polite.

"I am the creature with two different women's eyes," I intoned, rising from the chair, and left.

And this is where the story changes from how I would have experienced it nearly anytime throughout my life.

Back then, I would have used those incidents as proof that I was hateable, having been singled out by experts as so obviously ugly as to require not just repair but miraculous repair. Back then, I would have been ashamed of being hideous — selected off the sidewalk like a circus freak! — and of letting myself be touched by hucksters.

I would have re-screened those scenes in my mind constantly, letting them burn.

But now I think: Ha ha. You fools picked — and picked on — the worst possible customer. You picked someone who has been tricked too often to trust anyone. You picked a world-class penny-saver who, having grown up believing she deserves the worst, shuns luxury.

You picked someone you thought yearned for her vanished youth. Ha ha, as if I yearn for anorexia and being cussed at by my dad. As if I want to go back there and poke myself with knives. You were doing your job, for which hats off to you, but your job means preying on those you see as stupid, ugly, weak and old.

This time, your prey escaped.

Now reader, I want you to retell your own anecdotes: Write, speak or reimagine them, casting yourself not as a helpless victim but instead as an observer: tranquil, watchful, keen and kind. Maybe also victorious.

Anneli Rufus’ latest work, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, was released by Tarcher Penguin in May 2014 and continues this path, addressing self-esteem.

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