The Spectacle of the Self

By Alicia Lapeña-Barry, Collage by Irine Le


As the past five months of my young adult life have progressed, I have thought more about the word spectacle and the various instances and forms in which this particular personal phenomenon has taken place. Self-awareness and constant reflection have been integral parts of my being for as long as I can remember. This has been both a blessing and a curse. My mind is constantly on overdrive; I am always overthinking. However, these moments of deep reflection have enabled me to make really enlightening and important progressions and decisions in my life as an ~evolving~ being. Taking a more interior look at myself, I have started to notice the ways in which I present myself, the ways in which I have recently changed, and the ways in which I am growing. In my daily life, I present a version of myself to the world that has now become so inherent on the presentation of strength, empowerment, positivity and love. This has been vital to my survival and not only essential to my being, but has formed my most loved and happiest version of myself.

As a young woman growing up under dominant patriarchal social structures, it has been hard for me to find validation within myself, as I have often looked to find it under other peoples’ opinions of myself, especially through men. This I know to not be a singular or autonomous experience. Through talking with my friends and fellow womyn, it unfortunately seems to be a quite universal one.

These times have had dramatic consequences on me. As a result of certain interpersonal relationships I became a silenced, marginal, de-autonamized version of myself. I won’t get into the specifics, but I wasn’t in a good place. As someone who as a younger teen, prided myself on notions of feminism and empowerment, the moment I started becoming romantically involved with men, all of my values as a ‘strong girl’ had gone down the drain. I was coerced, manipulated and taken advantage of in return of being given some sort of attention and care, despite the circumstances being toxic and unhealthy. Moreover, I don’t think anyone is to blame for this. I know now it is simply a result of socialization and conditioning, and that it is a constant process of unpacking and working through these kinds of things in order to reject them.

The turning point for me came out of my last relationship. I have been in a lot of terrible ones, but this one was the most emotionally abusive; the one that silenced me the most. I was broken. In the relationship I was no longer myself. He had taken every part of me that made me strong and crushed it. Constant gas-lighting and undermining thrown at me had completely invalidated my feelings and made me lose my sense of self. Seven months after the fact and I am still working through the trauma and heartbreak, but coming out of it, I knew something had to change. I knew I was so much more than the person I was reduced to. I knew I was strong, I knew I was a good person, I knew I deserved love, and I knew that this love wasn’t to come from anyone else.

Self love and self care have presented themselves to me out of necessity.

In order for me to surmount these instances of pain and avoid further repetition of these circumstances, I decided to cut loose any ties I had with individuals who made me feel bad about myself, starting with my ex. The people you surround yourself with are relative to your own happiness and growth. The key in being able to love myself has been to surround myself with people who show me the importance of reciprocal care, love for themselves and love for me. Changing my environment contextualized a lot of things for me. It was sort of like an enlightenment, you could say. I learned the importance of investing time into myself and into things that benefit me positively. Whether this be in personal or social relationships, or simply in the way I comported myself and the decisions I made every day, I began a path of letting go and of embracing. Because of the positive setting I engulfed myself in, I began to become more self aware and even more knowledgeable about what would make my world a better one to live in.

Now, I actively participate in the spectacle of myself everyday. By this I mean: as I grow into a stronger, more empowered, intersectional feminist and *amazing* woman, I perform no longer for the validation of others but for myself. I have come to learn, after overcoming an incredible amount of pain, the importance of self care and of self love. Although there is a lot of current discourse on the notion of self cultivation and as repetitive as this notion can get, these instances of self prioritization have been the most validating and liberating of my entire life. I am now accepting the things that make me true to myself, the ugliness and the beauty—all of these I have come to learn are SO important for growth and self awareness. Once I learned the essence of self care, self prioritization, and investing the right amount of emotional labour into people who respect me and reciprocate it, I set the ground base not only for how other people treat me and how I allow them to treat me, but I how I allow myself to treat myself. Loving myself has been the liberation I needed to understand what I deserved and who deserved me.

Self care has meant a lot of things to me. First, it has been an acceptance of the pain and abuse I have experienced. I am the queen of repressing emotions and experiences, but the strongest form of self care has been prioritizing my health, specifically my mental health and seeking out the proper resources I need to openly discuss and work through my trauma. It has been to engage in pedagogical conversations with my friends and fellow womyn, and unpack the relationships which have formed who I am. Self care has been investing more of myself into my feminism, self care has been writing (which has been the most therapeutic, saviour in my life.) Self care has been investing time in myself, being selfish for the first time in my life. (Self prioritization is stigmatized but trust me, it can do ya wonders!) Self care has been staying at home, drinking my Celestial Seasonings peach tea and putting on facemarks every night, doing my readings, investing my energy in academia rather than men who don’t respect me and make me feel like shit about myself, etc. Self care has been tightening up my social circle rather than widening it. Self care has been maintaining active relationships with my parents and brother, whom I love more than anyone in this world. Self care has been looking in the mirror every morning, telling myself I will be okay, that I am beautiful, and that I am worthy of life and love. Self care is a process, a constantly shifting, process. It is hard to put these things into practice. There are times when I feel completely unworthy of love, when I revert back to my silenced self. But that, too, is okay; self care is realizing there are times when I feel terrible, but there are people in my life who are here of me, who support me, who care and most importantly, that I am here for myself.

So, I celebrate. I celebrate myself, my flaws, my accomplishments; I celebrate who I am. I put on a show for me. Because of the necessity to love myself, I have began to love the ‘Ali Barry’ show, the protagonist is me and the main plot is love, and I couldn’t be happier.


Alicia Lapeña-Barry is a (soon to be) 20 year old, Mcgill student majoring in Cultural Studies and minoring in Communications. She is currently living in Montreal but originally from Toronto. In her spare time Alicia enjoys watching avant-grade films, crying over cute cats and practicing self care.

photo-on-1-7-17-at-4-08-pm-2Irine Le is a seventeen year old Bay Area native whose interests range form dancing in her room to See You Again by Miley Cyrus, the Watergate scandal, and writing articles and creating art about her teenage angst.

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