I don’t remember the year I began to feel uneasy about who I was, but by the time I reached junior high, I hated everything about myself. I was flat chested, I had my father’s long nose, my teeth were slightly bucked and crooked (I hated those the most), and I had a tendency to stand out from the other kids because I was strong willed, tenacious in defending my moral positions (I had many), and vocal about it. I loved school, had a curious mind, and felt compelled to answer every question asked, so I was also labeled smart’ by my teachers and my peers, a status that made me feel more isolated than accepted.
At the beginning of my eighth grade yearthe year I started my period, the year my eyes wandered from t-shirts and Levis to pastel blouses with bows tied in the back, the year Mom let me wear make up, the year beautiful Joe Rebein transferred to my schoolI decided to make a change. A big one. So I determined to become a quiet person. Quiet, less aggressive personalities than I seemed to blend with the mainstream better. People liked them and being liked was important to me.
Well, I managed to stay quiet for the better part of two days, at the end of which I ran screaming from school and reverted back to me . Times two. As a thirteen-year-old girl hungry to be accepted and seeming to fail at every attempt, I couldn’t comprehend that though I recognized and at the same time mourned who I was, the me I realized I would never escape, I had also glimpsed the immutable nature of my spirit and sensed the unique personality I had spent an eternity carving out for myself, the one I now loathed.
Forty years later, I have smoothed out many of my rough places but my personality hasn’t changed all that much. Though I’m not thirteen anymore, I still come off as the uncouth, red-headed cousin when I compare myself to demure, more soft-spoken, peace-at-all-costs women who can stifle their opinions even when they shouldn’t, and I’m tempted to remake myself into a creature the world will applaud. I have to remind myself everyday that my power, my beauty lies in my difference. Clark Moustakas’ insight into humanity has become my mantra: “At bottom every [woman] knows well enough that [she] is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as [she] is, ever be put together a second time.”
I wish I could look into the mirror and see in my eyes who I was before I was born, but I suspect that if I could, I would see a familiar face. Breath by breath I discover that the woman I am is essentially the woman I have always been. And that’s a good thing.