Monster In The Mirror
August 10, 2020 / Mia Macallister
The most terrifying thoughts are the ones that you hide even from yourself. They’re your deepest fears, lurking in the dusty corners of your brain trying to pry open the locked doors. They watch, waiting for the right moment to break out and take over, and in time, they do — becoming a part of your identity. Fears start out as everyday thoughts until something sours them and they begin to poison every waking move. All our ancestors had fears that shaped the way they lived, and influenced the way they are now remembered: once grand peoples seen as weak for their fears of being taken over, their populations growing, and allowing in strangers that could harm their delicate society. They gave a face to the feeling and created the Blemmyae: a race of monsters designed in the likeness of humans, but with one big difference: They were headless, with faces in the middle of their chests.
The Blemmyae were created by the rough tongues of Greek historians and lived long after on dirty medieval parchments passed between kingdoms. Headless bodies with matted hair growing off their shoulders, far stronger than humans ought to be, tore through the countryside destroying crops and villages. They represented a fear that still haunts us, but now look like nothing more than a few silly drawings in a history book. But still, artists and conquerors decided who was civilized or savage. While the Blemmyae were supposedly the monsters, on their tortured, torsoed faces, they showed our greatest human fear: being alone because we are not what others are looking for.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see the person I am expecting. I see the person that has been carefully crafted to fit in, to get along, to appease others. While appearing fully formed, that reflection feels as headless as the Blemmyae. There is no brain to guide her, just the thoughts and ideas that the situation calls for — nothing more, nothing less. I am a vessel for normalcy. I hide behind a picture-perfect version of myself and ignore the cracks along the surface.
Fear dictates my actions, a physical hold on my mental self, preventing me from becoming anything more than I am. I feel it always watching, waiting for me to slow down enough to acknowledge it and have it draw me back in. Fear is relentless. It continues to chase me, run me ragged until there is little of the original me left. Is it the monster destroying my internal village or am I? Even if I manage to break away from it, what would be leftover? Who am I without fear?
By their nature, lifelong fears never go away. They grow as you grow, always hiding in the shadows and peeking out over your shoulder. These are the fears that you try to ignore, and instead cloak with excuses about a different part of your life. It has become such a part of you that sometimes you can’t even separate regular thoughts from those created by it. Fear forces us to hide the most truthful parts of ourselves, an action of protection that creates the masks we wear every day. Yet no matter how put together you look, the monster inside continues to shred you apart, trying to help your fears escape.
Is there something past fear, or is that all we ever live in? Fear that we will never be more than we are. Fear that we will never live up to the person our parents see; that nobody knows who we are, truly, not even ourselves. Fear that the person in the mirror is all that anyone sees or will ever want to see. These clawing feelings have the power to either push us further, or bury us in the panic. For those that encountered the Blemmyae, fear was a form of coping. Tasked with the idea that they were no longer alone, no longer the highest power, people created monsters out of the unknown instead of facing it head-on. It was a way of saying the fear is not inside me; it is just beyond the hill. As we look back we recognize these creatures for the fear that they represent, and chastise our ancestors for being so easily fooled. Yet as modern humans, we still allow fear to get the best of us and hide in plain sight. Is there a way to immediately identify fears for what they are? If we manage to get past the fear, what comes next? Another, bigger fear? Maybe each fear we conquer helps us to coexist with the person behind the mirror.■
Story by: Mia Macallister
Layout: Shuer Zhuo
Photographer: Jessica Ye
Stylist: Ruth Mewhinney
HMUA: Gabby Duhon
Models: Kaitlyn Harris & Sage Walker