It was my first year in Canada. Recess in Grade 6. A few girls from Grade 8 beaconed to me – I was to become their next fashion project.
“I like your gray eyes,” one of them examined my face like a canvass before procuring her mascara.
I smiled in reply, “I think all shades are beautiful.”
The girls seemed to agree in celebration of diversity. A pretty brown-skinned girl was making her way across the grounds. Our eyes met. Hers were striking jet-black. She seemed eager to join us, but the girls whispered to each other, “Don’t look at her.” Sensing their distrust, the girl continued on her way. Her stunning eyes brimmed with emotion which I remember to this day, and which I continue to see daily – in the media, in passers-by, in the mirror.
Back then, I asked, “What’s wrong?”
The fashionista shrugged, “I don’t want people like her using my mascara.”
I refused the make-over and never spoke to those girls again. Meeting in the hallway, they would avoid my look. Did they feel guilt or scorn toward me?
Sometimes I wonder if they were victims of rejection eager to pass on the hurt.
What did they see in the mirror when they looked at themselves?
* * *
In 2005, I was offered modelling, which I turned down, as a bad case of anemia made it hard to commit to a rigorous regime of skipped breakfasts and gym-sessions. Then, a tumor developed behind my left eye, causing strabismus. No one called my grey eyes beautiful anymore.
A friend and I were playing around with a camera at a small park. An artificially blonde woman approached us, introduced herself as an owner of a modeling agency, took a sideways look at me, and then gave the card to my friend, “Do get in touch, you might be a good fit for me. Just you please – no offence.” She smiled goodbye to my friend exclusively and without another look at me – the lazy-eyed “misfit” – climbed into her chic car and drove away…
What do I see in the mirror when I look at myself?
* * *
The smallest “defects” – or what society has dubbed as such – break or make one’s destiny. Physical appearance, nationality, faith – the layers of bias have multiplied indefinitely.
In 2016, NYC, two young men from the Caribbean approached me, asking to purchase a CD with their native music. I didn`t have cash – and truth be told, I didn`t want another CD to collect dust in my archive…The young men walked away, and I heard one of them say, “It’s so hard being black.” I ran up to them and said, “I swear to you, that wasn’t the reason.” One of the young men stayed silent, analyzing me. The other said, “Thank you.” Was that a “Thank you” for the truth or a “Thank you” for rejection imposed by centuries of pain?
There are myriad of divisions threatening the world. The clash of minorities is perilous to our common human heritage.
Recently I was advised to change my Russian last name to break into publishing.
In response, I am starting this blog, and petition to remember: do not shatter the mirror with your “imperfect” reflection. Make it radiant instead with the confidence of YOU.