Unpeeling the Layers of Self-Acceptance

Two decades down and self esteem still goin’ strong

An illustration of the popular media character Shrek in a suit.
ILLUSTRATION: Jill Baccay / The Peak

By: Tas S

So far, 2023 has been a great year for movies. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, Oppenheimer, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, and how could I ever forget sweet ol’ Barbie — good hits all around, and these are only the crumbs of it. 

While I do love the current offerings from the cinematographic industry, I can’t help but think about my favourite movies from childhood, so I decided to rewatch a classic masterpiece: Shrek. Aside from being a feel-good, wholesome movie, it does a terrific job as a comedy. But, on a more serious note, the movie’s main attraction is in its underlying messages.

Shrek, on its surface, is a journey of growth, making new friends in unexpected partners, and finding love in unexpected ways. The story follows a lonely ogre, with a life extending only to the borders of his swamp, until the tale pushes him on a journey outside his comfort zone

On my rewatch, I was able to pick up on a lot more than I did as a kid. Having considerably far more experience as a young adult, I was able to relate to a number of situations I didn’t relate to as a child. The part that got me was when Fiona was having a heart-to-heart with Donkey about how she didn’t think anyone could fall in love with the ugly, ogre side of her. It played into Shrek’s insecurities as well; his biggest fear is people never seeing past his “ogre-ness,” because he can’t change his looks, or who he is inside. It reminded me of all the times thoughts like these had crossed my mind as I grew older, and living in this world got a bit more complicated with every passing year. As a child, things felt so easy; I don’t remember caring much about the hair on my legs, or the pointiness of my nose, or how chubby my cheeks were. As I transitioned from middle school to high school, it felt like the world had gotten a little meaner. Or, maybe it felt like that under the scrutiny of social media. 

Influencers were on the rise, and the more I saw fit, curvy, #wokeuplikethis girls, the worse my reflection looked to me. Even though I thought these girls were cool people, constantly seeing such conventionally “perfect” selfies began to hurt — it bit at my insecurities. I couldn’t help but wish I looked like that too, and that wish effectively lowered my self esteem during my teenage years. I’d wonder why my friends and cousins got blessed with certain features, and I didn’t. I thought about cosmetic surgery at the age of 14, which is a deeply problematic thought that no 14 year old without medical need should ever consider. The idea that “better-looking” people were somehow better people got stuck in my head. I wondered how popular, or how much more likable I would be if I looked prettier. 

My introduction to popular social media platforms was late, and although there were some inclusive communities, people eventually became openly mean about pretty much anything. What happened to treating others the way you want to be treated? Even conventionally attractive influencers or celebrities are scrutinized for things they do and how they look, especially women. Dressed up and posing? Trying too hard. Comfortable and natural? Pick-me girl. There is no way to please everyone.

But maybe that’s the point: there is no way to please everyone. It doesn’t matter if others think Fiona looks better as a human or an ogre. It matters that Fiona is happy with herself, ogre and all. It matters that Donkey and Shrek love her for the way she is, not just the way she looks. It matters that Fiona realized beauty is an inherently subjective thing, and with that, discarded the image of the person she thought she had to be. Maybe Shrek can help us relearn that we are cool the way we are, and that, just like an onion, everyone has “layers” that make us worth more than our looks.

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