Stepping away from my shadow | Inquirer Opinion
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Stepping away from my shadow

/ 05:02 AM August 31, 2022

At the start of 2021, I made a resolution to go for a walk every morning. I’d set an alarm for 5 a.m. and walk for as long as the sun would allow me to without turning my skin Rudolph red. I’ve long dropped the habit due to the resurgence of academic work that comes with the start of a new school year, but I continue to carry with me an incident that happened around mid-February that year.

It was about 6:45 a.m. and I was walking the familiar path back home, the sun hot on my back as it was already quite late in the morning. In front of me was somebody carrying their daily dose of pandesal, yet my attention was drawn to the ink-black shadow painted across my feet. Like a sleek brushstroke, it loomed long and dark all over the gravel of our village street, an inch or two thinner in the waist than the version of myself that looked back at it. It stared back at me with no indication of the person it was representing in its silhouette; no worn-out production team shirt hanging from its shoulders, not even sporting the pair of black rubber shoes with exactly two holes on the right shoe, both seams worn down to the ground. I raised my right hand and waved it twice, the shadow followed; stomped my left foot twice, and the cycle repeated. I played with the knowledge that it existed only because I allowed it to, and it was on that note that I continued trudging back home, taking it along with me.

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I suppose this stood out to me as I remembered a certain evening from about 13 years ago when I was 5 years old, walking home with my parents from the 7-Eleven across the street. I remember seeing my shadow loom tall in front of me and saying “Selos ako sa kanya, mommy.” It was everything I wanted to be, a version of myself that wouldn’t have run out of breath in the dodgeball game we played earlier in PE class that day. I looked at my shadow as my goal, something entirely separate from me, and I proceeded to live through my adolescent years competing with it.

It started with cutting down on my portion sizes in seventh grade, followed by omitting carbohydrates completely the following year; relishing in the fact that my uniform fit better than it ever did before. I was losing so much at that time—my weight, hair, and even consciousness—but I was also losing to the figure that made itself present whenever I stood in front of the streetlamp across the block. I may have been dropping in the scale, but she was probably lighter, able to fit in a size small with ease. She could’ve fit into that one pair of pants in Uniqlo that I had to squeeze myself into just hours prior, and I remember thinking, I would’ve loved myself if I looked like her.

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But I never did look like her, and I still don’t. Despite having gone through every single fad diet there was in the book, there wasn’t a single moment that I looked at the mirror and loved what I saw. I was resigned to living my entire life out as such, yet I couldn’t run away from change when I was forced to live in isolation with only myself as company for nearly half of each day. I woke up to attend classes on Zoom, where I’m forced to look at myself through a screen for an hour straight. I host calls with my friends where I see myself in our gallery view, and I record birthday greetings and project contributions with my laptop screen flashing my face right back at me. Somehow, in the middle of being overexposed to something I used to detest, I thought I somewhat tolerate you a bit more now.

After years of chasing after my shadow, something faceless and without identity, I finally allowed myself to look at the version of myself who existed beyond their physical shell; someone who held memories, feelings, and emotions. The months of quarantine found me living out a Peter Pan-esque journey, slowly but surely stitching back my shadow to follow my lead and not the other way around. I began to look at the mirror each morning after waking up, telling the sleep-ridden, bird-nested hair version of myself that soon, soon I will learn to love you. And it’s not because I’ve become thinner, my double chin being still as prominent as it was ever since I entered recovery four years ago, but perhaps I’ve changed the way I viewed self-love. How could I have achieved self-love all those years ago if I was running away from the very essence of myself at every possible chance?

The moment I took my gaze away from my shadow without feeling the usual rush of jealousy at the sight of it, it felt like I was making my past self proud with each step I placed upon that strip of hot concrete. I suppose it also symbolizes the steps I’m taking away from what my shadow pushed me to do: scales, waistlines, calories, and the like. I don’t love myself just yet, quite far from it in fact, but compared to 12 years ago when I’d scramble after my shadow in hopes of switching bodies, I’m proud to say that I’ve finally taken the first step in hopefully doing so.

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Nicole Reyes, 19, is a college junior who finds happiness in her 13 cats.

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