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A narcissist’s guide to self-love

Written on November 2021

The old saying goes that you should stay true to yourself. But what if you don’t even know who you really are?

I went back to Xiamen last year – a coastal city located in southeast China. It was the first time I had seen my primary school friends since 2008. Some of them are married, even with kids; some are influencers with millions of followers on social media now; some of them, to be honest, are happily mediocre.


When I arrived at the dinner for the reunion, no one recognised me. I was so fat as a kid that my mum had to customise my school uniforms. I wore glasses and looked innocent. As I remember it, I was still straight when they knew me and had a crush on the prettiest girl in the class.


But I’ve been reborn as DDA. He is a 25-year-old gay man who wears contacts, exquisite makeup and eccentric fashion, stepping out in 5-inch platform heels that define his extravagant 24/7 lifestyle. Fit and fabulous? That’s an understatement!


Their jaws dropped as I entered the room.


Every breakdown in my life has led me to an epiphany, which somehow enlightens me about myself in new ways. It’s a parabolic pattern where I reach the peaks by touching the bottom. Pun intended.


The good thing is, if I don’t stop trying, the ratio will never end, meaning I can reinvent yourself infinitely. Therefore, the current me is always the best me.


My every upgrade culminates in my appearance – the way I dress, the makeup I choose, and the attitude I perform. In other words, the prettier I look now, the sadder I have been.


Makeup is one thing that has brought me out of self-pity. I had the most incredible skin until I started suffering from acne in adolescence. The skin condition ruined my life. I still have large areas of scarring on my cheeks.


My skin issues made me hate myself for a long time and the scars destroyed my confidence. I would use very thick concealers to camouflage my uneven skin texture just so I could get away with my reality for a couple of hours.


But lighting – no matter how hard I tried to conceal – can always enhance the scars from different angles. It was never under control, but I was under the spell of wanting more from life. “I wanna be the one to walk in the sun,” sings Cyndi Lauper. This boy just wanted to have fun but he thinks he’s not worthy because of his flawed visage.


I examine my own reflections a lot like the Narcissus himself, which is also why I kept finding fault with my complexion. But one day I looked in the mirror and thought to myself: those feathery eyebrows, those incredible lashes, those kissable lips, those supermodel cheekbones… All this time I have had attributes that people would pay money and go through the pain of surgery to attain. I just hadn’t appreciated them. 


The first step about self-love is to know your weaknesses but, at the same time, know your strengths too. My old friends may not have recognised the current me at the dinner, but neither did I recognise another me underneath the scars back then.


I started to appreciate myself, at last.


I embraced myself until I came up against another identity crisis – the toxic masculinity in the gay world that rendered me the odd one out. I don’t remember how I turned gay nor should I have a reason for it. However, the urge to justify my masculinity was unpresidential since my gayness came along. 


The gym was my worst nightmare. Every time I work out with my 2kg dumbbells in the weights zone surrounded by Rock Johnson sort of figures I feel suffocated by embarrassment. Their patriarchical symbolic muscles cast shadows over me. I was never interested in building muscle.


I don’t know where that embarrassment came from. Now I think I was just being awkward because I was trying to fit in with conventions. It costs me a journey of self-abasement to realise that my body is actually award-winning. My shoulders are broad with softly sculpted muscle lines. My chest is wide while my hips are even wider, shaping a voluptuous hourglass physique. The rear view is so exciting that Instagram considers it against community rules.


Yes, I share my body on Instagram, rapturously, because I’m proud of it. And there’s more – I also share my mental health, my boy dramas, my worst selfies without makeup on – all on my Instagram Stories. I am true to my followers and to myself.


“Don’t you mind people thinking you’re ugly?” my friend asked, indicating an awful picture I had posted of myself. I couldn’t care less. That was a time when I gained a little weight, lost a lot of sleep and felt unmotivated. I wasn’t supposed to look good or I would be stressing myself.


In fact, even in days of self-love, we are allowed to feel bad as long as we don’t get addicted to the drowsiness that comes with it. Here comes an important thing – always be gentle with yourself.


My bad pictures don’t deny how pretty I used to look. Most importantly, I know I can regain that flamboyance whenever I want to. I don’t want to show off. I exhibit my charisma simply because good things deserve to be shared.


Everybody has bad moments. We just need to recognise them, own them, digest them and then move on from them. Knowing we can always be good again gives us self-assurance. A little cheat makes the guilty pleasure but overdosing demobilises the persistence. The task for each and every one of us is to work out our own approach.


If I gain weight, I can lose it through exercise and I have arrived on a personal routine that is effective. If I look bad, I know how to refresh myself with makeup. If I am not motivated, I can always throw myself through another phase of self-hate to get a reboot, although I prefer not to.


Self-care and self-love require supportive actions too. That’s why, every now and then, I buy myself a gift with notes so that I can open a loving message to myself.


Born and raised in China, my culture taught me to stay humble. I could only encourage myself with humility and self-abasement to do better. How toxic that became over time – just like masculine stereotypes in the gym!


Therefore, DDA was born. DDA is the alter ego I crafted after my depression. He is witty, extrovert and not afraid to be good. Rebellion is the starting point of self-love. It helps us recognise our feelings and prioritise them – just be aware of the thin line between arrogant selfishness and empowering self-love.


Every narcissist is self-centred at one level or another. For me, self-love is dialled up to the max. And that works for me – most of the time, even though that put my old school friends mystified.

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