Value of the ‘Ugly Phase’
By Dilshani Palugaswewa
Ceylon Today Features
“What was I even thinking?” is a phrase that I repeat several times a picture when I occasionally go down a rabbit hole of going through giant albums stacked up on a shelf in my living room, filled with plenty more embarrassing clicks of myself (and family) captured on a Canon film camera that produced pretty much all family photos taken up until my early-teenage years. And the ‘ugly phase’ I had, I tell you, lasted a very, very long time. In fact, if it continued even just a bit more, I might have ruled it down to just an ‘ugly face’ which I could do nothing much about.
Thankfully though, it was all to do with the oversized shirts, partially mismatching outfits, perpetually windswept hair and the sense of disregard to look on-point as a child/pre-teenager, just like all the other ‘90s kids. We paid no heed to our appearance when we posed for a picture and were blinded by the flash as we chanted ‘cheese’ confidentially even though there was no preview image option or delete feature.
We just clicked it and moved on in life. My point is, although I can die from embarrassment if those images go viral or just gets passed down my own family line and I am slightly envious of what today’s kids look in comparison; with their neatly blown out hair, posing at all the right camera angles, under ‘correct lighting’ and even retake the picture in seconds if they don’t like it – I am grateful for the time I grew up in. The innocence of not knowing what contouring is, being exposed to the technology as they are today and the bliss of not having to doomscroll on social media looking over other pre-teens putting up a facade to feel accepted or validated – if given a choice, I think I’ll choose my awkward clicks over gravely edited selfies.
Going through puberty as it is in any era comes with certain challenges and societal pressure, imagine all that with today’s added pressure? They definitely have it harder.
I didn’t quite understand the true value of the ‘ugly phase’ until recently. It gave us time to connect in the real world, play with real friends and enabled character development with less external pressure like if we had to compare our life with that of others, propelling us to believe in our abilities rather than filters, effects or the number of followers we had on social media that we could ride to stardom, overnight with a good sweet nothing to show for.
At a time where teenagers make it look like a crime to biologically go through the ‘ugly phase’ because they are always looking to fix, filter and edit out elements of a real picture without owning their flaws and differences, what happens to those kids if social media was to suddenly be shutdown one day and their ‘influencer’ tags could get them nowhere?
The saddest part is that although today, teenagers may find the validation they look online for, they don’t necessarily feel good about themselves even when they do.
I understand that with the changing times, we change too. And with that comes the good and the bad of social media and the inevitable impacts it has on our younger generation but what is worrisome is the idea that social media perpetuates and conditions them to believe that one has to look and wear a certain way and be something they are not if they have to, just to make their voice heard. This only promotes shallow and potentially toxic relationships.
Ideally, we should be preparing them with a strong sense of self-esteem that they develop through learning and enhancing real-world skills such as academics, friends and family and life goals.
It can be a real challenge, I’ll admit. How many of us millennials still find ourselves at times glued to social media hours on end, but I make it a point to remind myself that I’m allowed to be imperfect and it’s perfectly fine to look undesirable in a picture. It’s only human.