Friday, October 16, 2015

Be Yourself

I can recall, crystal clear, one day in the 7th grade when I was faced with deciding between expressing my uniqueness or fading into what the crowd expected of me.

Growing up, I always enjoyed creating through my fashion. In the 5th grade my friends unofficially "crowned" me most fashionable with my Clarissa Explains it All-style tights and frayed shorts. 
Listen, what happens on the playground in the 5th grade is pretty official in my book!

I also always admired my mother's style. No matter what she wore, I would see her as gorgeous and confident. Since I had grown to my mother's size by the 7th grade  she would often give me her purses or costume jewelry and even shirts or skirts she no longer wanted. These were real treasures to me. Everything in her closet, was interesting and beautiful. 

It's true that when you are an artist, you are one in more than one way. In my case, every form of expression was something you put your all into; fashion was no different. I had a lot of pride in piecing together my outfits for school and lucky for me, I went to a school that did not require a uniform, so I had creative freedom with my wardrobe. 

I didn't have the rad looking hat, but if I did I would have worn it too! 
On this particular day, I had decided to wear a sunflower print dress my mother had given me which I thought was super cute! It wasn't something that I had seen other girls really wearing. It looked like this:

I was in between classes at my locker getting my books out when some of the cheerleaders (whose lockers were near mine) in their spirit uniforms, began talking.
"WHAT is she wearing?" Mean girl #1 said.
"I don't know. It looks like something her MOM owns!" Mean girl #2 said as she laughed, closed her locker and the four of them walked away. 
I stood at my locker, hiding my face with the door. I was frozen in emotions. How did they know my Mom gave it to me? Is it REALLY an ugly dress? I didn't have many friends at that time, in fact, I was still kind of a new kid only having moved there less than a year ago, so I didn't have anyone there to stand up for me. It made me really, really sad. I didn't even say anything, I just pretended that I didn't hear it. I went to my next class feeling worthless and dumb. Do I throw this dress away? Should I stop wearing the stuff my Mom gives me, maybe it really is outdated and obvious. How will I make ANY friends if I don't know how to dress
Thankfully, I didn't live in today's world of social media, because a negative conversation about me in the hallway is microscopic compared to the damage that could be caused (and quite too often is caused) by negative comments on social media. 

I'm also very fortunate to have had the family I did. When I went home, I remember telling my mom about what those girls said, and my mom said, "Whenever someone criticises you, it's because they are jealous and wish they could be more like you. Pay them no attention my love."

That was all my mom had to say! Before I knew it, I was back to wearing whatever I felt. My Father was in the Army at that time and I can remember his closet being filled with camouflage pants and shirts. He had a pair of camouflage pants he no longer wanted so I took them! I wore them to work along with a sporty shirt (this was before rappers and boy bands made it fashionable).

Of course my classmates laughed and asked "Did you lose a bet or something?" But by this point, I didn't care anymore. I would remember what my Mom said, "They are just jealous". And it was almost as if I had some psychological insight that would protect me from criticism. It really freed me to be the expressive person I am today.

While most people try their best at staying within the social expectations of fashion (i.e. whatever the media says is fashion, is) I tend to try to stick out. There is something so amazing about being able to express one's self! 

Years later, I became a self-proclaimed artist and performance artist. Which means I have a valid excuse for wearing pretty much whatever I feel like it! I have to say "Thanks" to people like Lady Gaga for showing the whole world that no matter how you express yourself, all the criticism in the world can't break you, unless you let it. 

I share this story for any of you out there who may be struggling with your own expression. Here is the secret: BE YOU! Forget about anyone's opinion of you because what they express outwardly is really a reflection of how they feel about themselves inwardly. They see you being bold and fear the criticism they would face for being so bold, so they try deterring you from it.

Maybe I'll run for president one day, and when I win, I'll make dressing like weirdos a social norm! Wouldn't that be fun?

Oh, and to the mean cheerleaders from middle school. I probably should say "Thank you for being so petty and mean to me that fateful day. Without it, I wouldn't have learned the lesson that judgemental people like you are really haters, and it's my duty to shine anyways!" How's that for a big middle finger? No, no, no, let's turn it into a PEACE sign instead... 

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