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Breaking down, building up: the exhausting plague of identity

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JULY 19, 2023

On occasion, I have felt as though my very presence has been cause for embarrassment. I have felt almost as if the burden I am on others isn’t just expressed within my mind through my own emotional turmoil, but instead obviously carved out right across my forehead. 

I’ve waned through phases of self-hatred like yo-yo dieting, both literally and figuratively — back and forth, constantly upped with motivation, self-control and inevitably restriction.

Then, of course, with enough restriction comes the crash, the binge and the spinning out. It’s a push and pull between yoga, meditation and Buddha bowls, and then the depression shirts, gorging and meltdowns. 

The only thing I’ve ever been good at in this constant process of healing and breaking has been perpetuating pain. I have foolishly given myself hope, with renovation, and in turn curating my own personal hellscape. I have done all this, hoping that I will finally sand off the rust on my skin and expose fresh flesh. Then, I could add a thick layer of some chemical mix, to easily wipe away the remaining chips of my paint, leaving me unscarred, unscathed — clean.

Sometimes, I wish I was something rather than someone. I wish I could be as easy as a no-sew DIY project, held together by globs of E6000 glue and cheap gems — hoping that that would finally be enough. 

I wish I could be a project that has an end, rather than a purgatory of construction and demolishment. 

Simone De Beauvoir once said that you are constantly creating yourself, that your identity is a project that spans the entirety of your life. 

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

For the most part, I do agree with De Beauvoir, as well as in much of the vast philosophical work that deals with the construction of gender and integrally, identity. I am split between hope and exhaustion. As much freedom as there is in your ever changing persona, in who you are and who you decide to become, there is the constant breaking down of what you create. 

Will I ever be able to stop stripping down what I’ve created? 

Will I put an end to this misery of self-identity?

I see this self-indulgent back-and-forth in some of Taylor Swift’s songs, like “The Archer.” Swift sings about her struggle to save face and keep up the fantasy of how one appears, in order to protect who you really are. In this back-and-forth of confidence and self-hatred, she perpetuates the guard you have between who you seem to others, and who you are, in order to keep yourself from self-destruction. 

These little pieces cement over the depths of you and spin through the multitudes of your personality, all to try and keep someone you love from leaving. In the bridge, she moves from “They see right through me” to, “Can you see right through me?” to finally, “I see right through me.” Obsessed with how others see her and what they are capable of recognizing, she discovers that she is the problem, she is the self-induced plague that renders all of her moves useless. 

I, too, have “been the archer”: I’ve been the bold, the confident and the sought after. 

In that same vein, I’ve been the cool girl. I wrap myself in vintage leather, shooting inappropriate jokes from my tight-lipped mouth — hoping that maybe that will distract you from the depths of empathy, intense thoughtfulness and sensitivity. 

I’ve been attractive and elusive, I became a mastermind of evasion and illusion. I used to pride myself on being something so intense and so untamable in order to evade the inevitable sulk back into the prey: the sad, the depraved, the self-involved. 

As Swift so eloquently put it: “Who could ever leave me darling, but who could stay?”

I fear the people around me may become disillusioned with the girl they got to know and fell in love with. You may one day be studying my face and see my grotesque image that stares back at me when I catch my own reflection. 

You may find that all of the self-deprecating jokes weren’t all that unserious. You might find that you are ashamed to ever be seen with me, that I am the “prize” you tote around, that appears to everyone as a proud farmer with his plumpest pig. I cannot see them because I am too busy with my slop. 

However, did you know pigs never see the sky? Their bulbous heads and protruding snouts make it impossible for them to ever look up and for me to ever see the “truth.” 

Confidence and self-destruction. Glossing over and sanding down. The “prize” and the burden. 

I wonder how long it’ll be before I stop treating myself like a project — a piece of run-down furniture, full of mending potential. I wonder when I will become a person capable of change, as I always have been. 

I like to think I’ll meet her soon, whether she’d like to believe it or not.

Jordan Montero writes the Wednesday column on the connection between physical objects and emotional expierences. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

JULY 19, 2023