“One should not look at anything. Neither at things, nor at people should one look. Only in mirrors is it well to look, for mirrors do but show us masks”, wrote Oscar Wilde in Salomé.
Standing in front of the mirror is one of those ordinary things we do everyday. I’ve always been comfortable with my own image – not in a self-admiration way like Narcissus of course. I simply accepted my physical appearance at an early age. That is thanks to my parents who have always been open about my adoption since day one. My mom had plenty of children books talking about adoption and has always read them to me saying “this is your story”. They very naturally taught me to own that reality and to be proud. Nothing taboo about it.
So I always had this consciousness that I don’t look like them or my siblings (both adopted too) and that was ok. I learned to feel great about who I am and to accept the way I look. Of course my teenage years had their challenges – I had a few years of obesity from 11 to 15 years old, which I struggled with like any teenager would. But nothing out of the ordinary compared to other kids at the same age.
I spent many hours of my life observing other people just to figure out if I could see some resemblance with me. Well of course, with my dark curly hair, dark eyes and tanned skin I was pretty sure there were no North European or Scandinavian DNA in me.
I’ve been very lucky to grow up in south of France. And I am not only talking about the food, the culture, the climate or the wines – all amazing of course. By living there, close to the Spanish border, I was exposed to different type of people thanks to the very rich history of that part of Europe; indeed, many immigration waves have shaped its population since centuries and there’s an incredible mix of population coming from regions such as the Mediterranean Basin, sub-Saharan Africa or even certain parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. That blend goes back to many generations. People here don’t look like the people who live even slightly further North in France (that includes Paris) and Northern regions of Europe. Once in a while I was sensing something in common with that Latin-Mediterranean-Arab-African complex lineage. For some reason I always felt connected to them in a “physical” way. Something in me was feeling that I belong to that identity. And my image in the mirror wasn’t telling me otherwise. But still, it was only assumptions and a guessing game probably pushed by a growing desire to know once and for good. Year after year that need to know my origins was inexorably flourishing.
Do kids who know their biological parents think the same way? Do they also wonder where they are from? Or do they get reassured about their own identity when they look at their mom and see her eyes and nose are the same as theirs? It was pretty obvious that I didn’t look at all like my parents and when you grow up and need to build an identity, the way you look is an important part.
Despite being totally comfortable with my appearance, looking at my own image in the mirror was an interesting experience. There was always that strange feeling, like a voice… something deep. I’ve always tried to focus my attention on all possible details, be it my hair type, shape of my eyes, nose, lips…. and that slightly tanned complexion even when I wasn’t exposed to sunlight for a long time in winter. Where the hell was I from? I was constantly trying to read those facial features as if they were forming a genealogical treasure map I had in front of me but I was totally unable to decode. My face was that sketch I could see but not decipher. How unfair that the most personal thing one can have – the face – was such a mystery! The few times I talked about it with friends or with my parents, I was told “oh don’t worry, that’s not important”. That was exactly not what I wanted to hear. It fueled my frustration even more. I was fed up to not know, fed up of these questions with no answers. That feeling I had in me was very archaic; it was a deep aspiration to know where I was from.
I was animated by an eagerness that must be close to the one of ethno-archaeologists and anthropologists. I’ve always been fascinated by their work to look into Humanity’s past and discover the mystery of our origin. Imagine how they feel when they make a major discovery – like Lucy- that overthrows everything we know about evolution?
I do not operate on the same scale as them but I like to think that I’m an archaeologist of my own life. The desire to access the origin is the same. There was something really primitive in that feeling. It was slowly becoming an obsession for me. Just like the archaeologist who’s obsessed with the fossil skeleton he’s been searching for years.
What I didn’t understand immediately, is that to discover where my bloodline comes from I must encounter my biological parents*. I guess that was only a normal and natural process to first feel that call for truth and then see the bigger picture and what was at stake little by little.
Do you talk to yourself when you’re in front of the mirror? I do sometimes. That’s how I made myself a promise when I was a teenager: one day when I’m strong and ready, I’ll search my origin. And I’ll access it.
*In the 1990s, ordering online a DNA test for ancestry from a private lab was pure science fiction.