Deeper than the Surface
3 October 2016
“She don’t see her perfect. She don’t understand she’s worth it. Or that beauty goes deeper than the surface.”
Even my family and closest friends may not notice this, but when I am getting ready to go out, when I am washing my hands in the bathroom, when I am going up the escalator in a mall, when I am trying on clothes in a store, I avoid looking in the mirror at my reflection as much as possible. I put my head down whenever my green eyes meet the same eyes in the glass because the sight of myself makes me sick to my stomach.
I haven’t always been like this- babies aren’t born hating the way they look. No. This hatred, jealousy, and insecurity about one’s self comes from the outside world. It comes from the media. It comes from the magazines. It comes from the reality TV shows. But, it also comes from the girls we see as beautiful on our Instagram feed. It comes from the girls that seem like they don’t even need the “dog filter” on Snapchat to like a selfie of themselves. It comes from the girls in class that don’t even seem like they have to try and look presentable. It also comes from the kids in school that called us fat, skinny, short, tall, ugly…the list goes on and on.
I remember hearing the words from Taylor Swift’s song ‘Mean’ for the first time, which say “You have pointed out my flaws again as if I don’t already see them.” It reminded me of the times classmates would call me anonymously, making fun of and bringing attention to my biggest insecurities, as if I didn’t already notice and hate them enough on my own. Ever since then, I am overly aware and sensitive about the way I look. Ever since then, I have hated what I look like and I never talk about it…until now.
“When’s the last time you bared your soul? Shared it all? The darkest secrets of your life? For one College of Charleston senior, she does this as often as she can…” The voice of Dean Stephens, the anchor on ABC News 4, began blaring on my friend Laura’s TV screen. My story was being shared live on the 5 o’clock news to the entire Charleston community.
I had been waiting all week for this exciting moment, sharing the time and channel of the News with my friends, family, and classmates. But, as I watched myself on the screen before me, I began to feel a pit in my stomach and nauseous. Within the span of the four minute segment, I began sobbing inconsolably. I heard maybe three words out of the entire feature because I couldn’t get past the reflection, which I normally avoided, that I saw on the screen. I was disgusted with myself and what I looked like. I put a pillow over my head and stopped looking at the TV screen as it finished up.
Now, to you this may seem extremely petty and overdramatic. But, this is a perfect example of what my mental illnesses do to me. They can affect my thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in a matter of seconds. What was supposed to be an exciting and honorable memory turned into something that made me hate myself. My PTSD brought back the flashbacks of insults and comments I heard and made me believe they are true.
The segment finished and Laura said “Did you even listen? That was amazing! You should be so proud!” Her words went in one ear and out the other. Floods of texts came in from people saying they watched the news and loved it. I began to feel like I was going to throw up at the thought of these people seeing what I saw of myself on that screen.
I didn’t see the strong girl that others texted saying they saw. I didn’t see the brave young woman people were saying they were proud of. You want to know what I saw? I saw an extremely ugly girl, who looks terribly disgusting up-close. I saw the girl that was told no one likes her. I saw the girl that was told only negative things about herself. And I saw absolutely nothing past that.
My family started to text me saying they loved it and wanted to share it on Facebook. I immediately shut them down saying I was so embarrassed about what I looked like and for them to just keep it to themselves.
I got a call from Dean, the anchor who I have gotten to know these past few weeks because not only have we been working on this piece together, but he also was the one that chose me for the Jefferson Award. He and I have become pretty close and I was ashamed on the inside as I talked to him on the phone because I was so incredibly honored to have been a chosen recipient, but I also hated myself. I knew that the way I was feeling was selfish and petty, but I couldn’t help it.
To make matters worse, it was the night of my birthday party I was having at a local bar I rented out. I got home from watching the segment and buried myself in a pillow, crying and not wanting to show my face at the party that night, debating whether or not to even go. Noa, my best friend, came in my room and asked what was wrong. I began to tell her I hated myself. I told her that I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. I know logically I was being ridiculous, but my PTSD made these thoughts and flashbacks so strong in my mind, that I couldn’t think rationally. Noa began to cry as well, saying it hurt her so badly to see someone she believes is beautiful inside and out hate herself because of what others that don’t know her told her she was back in high school.
I tried to get myself together and started to get ready. A group of friends were showing up at my house to go with me to the party, but I stayed in my room. I sat staring at myself in the mirror for thirty minutes or so balling my eyes out as I heard them laughing and having a great time downstairs.
But, I finally got myself together and walked down with the “mask” I always say I have taken off. We went to the bar and while I looked out at everyone there having a good time from the stage, I just kept thinking about how none of them knew how I actually was feeling. How empty I was feeling. How repulsed at myself I was. And that’s the power of my mask- it can make it seem like everything is okay, that I am having the time of my life, when I am not feeling that way at all.
I woke up the next morning and opened my phone to multiple “message requests” from strangers on Facebook. The messages were from people in the area that had tuned in to the segment, who did not know me, but said they were inspired by my story. Parents of kids who have committed suicide, friends of those who are currently suffering, siblings who are scared to death that their brother or sister won’t make it- and I was being told my story gave them the hope they needed.
They weren’t seeing the surface level Emily that I had been focusing on, they saw the deeper, raw Emily Torchiana, who shared her most private and difficult moments.
That’s when it hit me: I was not practicing on myself what I always preach to others. I speak at schools and I tell students to put their hands over their hearts and realize they have a purpose and worth, because they do. Meanwhile, here I was, thinking all that mattered about myself was on the outside.
I went on Facebook and decided to post the link to the segment, not for any recognition, but in hopes that it will reach those who didn’t get to tune in and may need to hear the message.
As I clicked “post”, I no longer saw the extremely unflattering photo of me that pops up when the link is shared, but instead I saw a girl that is sharing her deepest thoughts and emotions in hopes of helping someone who is struggling. I saw a girl that still has a long way to go with treating her illnesses, but also a girl that has come a long way these past seven years. I saw a girl that is beginning to tell herself what she tells every person in any room she speaks in and that is this- You are more than what the outside world sees you as. You are worth it. You are loved. You are important.
To those reading this, you are not alone in this journey- we are in this together. I am learning to love myself every day, to see past my physical flaws. I may not fully love myself right now, but I am not going to stop trying. And my hope is that you will do the same. Your value does not decrease based on other’s inability to see your worth. You are more than any mean comment anyone has ever told you about yourself. Never doubt yourself because you are capable of so much more than you think. We are all unique and at the end of the day, all that matters is what is on the inside.
“There’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark. You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are. And you don’t have to change a thing, the world could change its heart. No scars to your beautiful, we’re stars and we’re beautiful.”