“1, 2, 3, smile!”
My roommate was trying to take a picture of me for me at the blue gate in front of the Chefchaouen city. I tried hard to turn up the corners of my mouth so I could fake a cute smile.
“Come on, give me a better smile.”
I tried even harder, and ended up laughing a little bit. My roommate seemed to be a lot happier with this picture and went, “Hey this is a really nice picture. It should be your Facebook profile picture.”
I took a look at the picture and lowkey thought I looked really ugly in that picture. My smile wasn’t natural. My nasal hair got out a little bit. My nose looked so flat. Nothing looked right.
“Well, I don’t really like having pictures taken. Well, you know, I don’t really need pictures to prove that I’ve been there…”
I always had to come up with a thousand reasons why I do not want to have my picture taken, for whoever tries to take a picture of me, or I guess for myself as well. During my semester abroad in Prague, I had zero pictures with me in them. When I traveled, weirdly enough, I talked to myself all the time and explained to myself that pictures are just unnecessary. But that’s not the real reason why I did not want a picture of myself. Neither is this only a matter of a good picture and a bad picture.
The real reason is that I think I’m ugly. Yes you did not misread anything. I think I’m ugly. And it’s been so challenging to face the brutal truth upfront.
Reflecting on my life story, I think I used to be a bit narcissist in high school. I still remember staring at myself in the mirror before taking a shower and thinking, “oh man I’m so hot I’d marry myself.” But things became a bit different once I entered college. I tried to flatten my hair and adapt to those hairstyles that fit soft blonde hair but seemed so out of place with my black spiky hair. I’ve internalized racial inferiority somehow and thought white guys are a lot more attractive than men of color. Being told I’m ugly by racist students did not help me gain confidence either. I became increasingly uncomfortable with how I look, and being very uncomfortable in front of camera.
I think going by my real Chinese name in this study abroad program is the best decision I’ve made in this program. Surrounded by a group of open-minded students who are eager to learn about who I actually am, not just an Americanized student who has internalized racial inferiority but as a full, multidimensional Chinese person with a very difficult background. My roommate in Rabat is black and when I confided in him that I think I look ugly, he responded, “Yeah man I know how you feel.”
When I came back to the desert, my roommate sent me a picture of me in the desert with a message, “hey you look hot in this picture.” Taking a glimpse at it, I honestly still think I look kind of ugly in that picture. I picked up my phone and responded,
“Yeah I know right I look hot in that picture.”
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<p>Speaking fluent Mandarin Chinese, English, and conversational Czech, Yu Chen is currently looking to perfect his French during his upcoming semester abroad in Rabat. Passionate about revealing social and structural inequalities around the world through film and media, Yu Chen is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Gender & Sexuality Studies and Digital Media Production.</p><p>Previously, Yu Chen has studied environmental issues in Okinawa, conducted research on social practice art in Puerto Rico, exchanged at the Film & TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and tasted 44-year-old homemade Serbian Rakija in Belgrade.</p>