I guess it’s after the first five years of our life that we start taking comments on how we look seriously. Who remembers what people said before that? And anyway, until you are four or five, people will say you look cute. There isn’t even a question of “not”, because babies, toddlers – they are cute by default.

I was a very cute, chubby baby and I remained that way until I was five. Then I turned into a skinny young girl with bunny teeth in the front. And that was bad – at least I was made to believe it was. I remained skinny for the rest of my life until recently when I put on some weight and started looking slightly different.

My early memories as a child involve someone or the other commenting on how frail and skinny I looked and how my mom badly needed to feed me well. All of them would ensure that they left no stone unturned in making it extra clear to me that I looked pathetic by using similes like “as bad as a monkey”. The expression on their faces sometimes made me wonder if it was an insult to monkeys – “Did I look that bad?”

As I grew up, the frequency of comments from everyone including total strangers went up, so did their tone of disgust and contempt. And along with that went up my inferiority complex. It didn’t really help that I was always with girls who were considered extremely beautiful and had all the attention of the guys. These morons would look at the faces of every girl in my company and not even notice me. In addition, some jackasses on the road would pass comments like “Ugh! Not a girl I would want to look at” or “There is something wrong with her face”. I know it sounds deplorable. But in those days of idiocy, I used to come home from college and cry about how even the jobless eve-teasers wouldn’t look at me because I was in no way good-looking, especially compared to other girls I was seen with.

That must have had something to do with my extreme stage fright too. Recently when I put up a couple of videos of me singing, I was surprised to see that almost no one in school knew that I sang. The funniest part was that I learned classical music for almost 6 years while I was in school and had even performed with accompaniment instruments at a famous temple nearby for two years during the festival season. I did well because there wasn’t a huge audience. No one in school even knew about it because I never thought I should tell them about something I was good at. I never sang on stage. I didn’t even sing in class when I was among friends. Later on when I went to college, I started singing in groups and taking up opportunities to emcee events. But every time I was on stage, despite the confident look on my face, my knees were wobbly and I was shaking inside. I was way too aware of my uneven teeth that braces couldn’t fix and my skinny limbs.

I don’t think that feeling of inadequacy in looks ever really left me, even when I was in a serious relationship in college. Not that it affected the relationship. But every compliment on how I looked from my then-boyfriend felt a little funny to me and my response to such a compliment from anyone would always be an awkward joke. That feeling slowly left me when I became more involved in my career as a trainer and saw how confidence and kindness were seen as my beauty by my trainees. Add to that, I fell in love with my best friend who made me feel beautiful in every way a girl can. I still believed that I was ugly up until then. At least, I believed so until recently.

I went home to Kerala in June and went through my old photo albums thinking I would have a good laugh looking at my ape-like face and also maybe, relive some of the good times despite how I looked back then. I then had a moment like the one Radhika Apte had in the ‘Find Your Beautiful’ video. For the first time I realized that I looked the same back then too, slightly leaner, a lot younger maybe, but the same. In fact, going through those photos that day I realized that I never looked bad. I was no stunner, but I seemed to have been cute in a way always. I couldn’t believe that I had hidden all those photos out of anyone’s reach only because I thought I looked horrible in those.

Then why did I believe all these years that I looked ugly for most part of my life? I was made to believe that by almost everyone who told me how being “skinny” was horrible, how I needed to put on weight and look different if any guy had to take a second look at me.

So if anyone makes you feel that you are not beautiful, for whatever reason – too skinny, too fat, too fair, too dark – there are so many – read through this again. The very same photos in which you tried to blacken your face with a pen so that no one sees you like that will seem pretty pictures of yours later. Someday, like me, you will realize that you were, you are, you will always be beautiful – only if you are ready to believe that and ignore anyone who makes you feel otherwise. True, beauty is not skin-deep. True, there are so many other qualities that one should be proud of. But none of it means that you shouldn’t believe you are beautiful. Because you really are, and there is nothing wrong in feeling good about it.

Also published on Medium.