By Law May Ning (14S03O)
Cover Photo by Georges Ip of the Photographic Society
A couple of days ago, my family and I ended up babysitting my 3 year old cousin. Decked in a baby blue dress and a matching pseudo-pearl necklace, the irresistibly adorable little girl pranced into the house and waved at me. “P-ween-cess,” she mumbled happily, pointing to the Snow White plastered on the front of her dress, a shy smile on her face.
“Aww… Meimei so pretty,” I responded.
Her face lit up.
“Meimei p-wee-ty,” she repeated proudly, her happy eyes filled with that simple belief.
The sheer conviction of her statement made me think: Just when do we stop believing in ourselves like that?
Self-esteem is a touchy subject – especially for girls, as research has shown. Which girl hasn’t honestly felt, or at very least heard, the barrage of “I’m ugly” denunciations? While a disproportionate focus seems to be placed on the contributions of external factors in constructing our self-image, ultimately, one questions how much less significant individual mindset is. Overly disparaging peers and the pernicious media are, indisputably, important factors, but is our biggest critic in fact ourselves?
It is highly improbable, given the sheer ubiquity of these issues, that every single person who has ever felt bad about him or herself did so only as a consequence of a caustic comment. For every condemnation, we do receive a fair share of encouraging words from family and friends – yet, a single “you’re fat” results in a crushing blow while “that’s pretty,” is met with scepticism, perhaps from a mixture of humility and habit. Beyond leaving us the tendency to look only at the bad, overt modesty sometimes translates into negating any compliment altogether.
And in the Rafflesian context, this mental self-flagellation extends beyond appearances.
The issue of intelligence is one that touches the hearts of all Rafflesians. By virtue of the simple fact that one bears the label, there are expectations, societal and personal, of a certain level of intellectual competency. Alas, what exactly this level may be is nebulous at best, and the yardstick by which it is measured is as equally subjective. There is a blurred line between being exam smart, which an entrance to the Rafflesian family would presuppose, and being intelligent in terms of learning fast. It is difficult to judge which is more helpful than the other in our society. However, what it does mean, is that even within our little bubbled sphere, there will be inevitable differences in the way people address things – and the amount of effort needed to digest concepts. Intellectual giftedness may not always equate to good results. But being exam smart probably requires a certain amount of effort to sustain those stellar grades, the easiest available measure of this dubious intellectual standard.
If one isn’t amongst the gifted few breezing school with little effort, it is easy to doubt one’s self-worth. One of the very assumptions of being a Rafflesian is rendered invalid, and part of one’s identity becomes compromised. Feelings of inadequacy are a natural result.
We need to put things in perspective.
In our not altogether avoidable obsession with not being left behind, we are occasionally blind to the nuances associated with “being intelligent”. Is the measure that matters to us really the one on a piece of paper? And what more of different types of intelligences, such as the obvious Science-Arts distinction, the more subtle musical intelligences, social intelligences, even athletic intelligence? Ball-sense and being able to coordinate hand-eye movement is not something gifted to all, as many of us can easily vouch for. What does being intelligent really mean?
And, the equally big question: To be considered “good” in something, do we have to be better than everyone else?
Judging our self-worth in relation to others means that to be things like passion are neglected. Aptitude is the only thing left valued. We strive to become as close to perfect as we can get, and in every single facet of life. But for every person that you can draw better than, someone else can play the piano better than you.
Where does it end?
“Great expectations” are an irreproachable ideal – one that motivates us to strive for excellence to the very best of our ability. The problem arises when “excellence” becomes synonymous with “perfection”, because while both are admirable, only one is achievable.
Humans are inherently flawed – we all have our deficiencies, and short of being the lucky few that (appear to) have everything just gifted to them, there is absolutely nothing we can do. It is one thing to know this, but a totally different one to believe it – the latter requires something we might not have in moments short of an epiphany. Instead of telling everyone the cliches that “everyone is beautiful”, or “everyone is gifted”, the truth is, those are lies.
We have blemishes. You probably aren’t the prettiest girl around, or, if you are, you might not the one with the most A’s. There is going to be something wrong with you. But if everyone could be so flawless, we’d all be indistinguishable moulded robots marching through life’s factories. We should embrace imperfection, because without it, we wouldn’t be who we were.
Taking a piece of advice from the 3 year old girl as she tried to drape her undersized necklace over my head, “you’re boo-ti-full”.
Well, beautiful enough.