I remember the moment vividly: it was fourth-grade project presentation day. Our assignment was to choose a culture we admired and to write an essay saying why. I chose Native Americans and wore a full-on tribal costume I thought would be a nice visual reference to accompany my presentation. But my classmates teased and ridiculed me, and I was an outcast for the rest of the week.
This is just one of the many ways I tried to express myself during my younger days. My parents always dealt with these moments graciously—with love and support. But from a child’s perspective, there’s a strong difference between your parents unending love and acceptance and the love acceptance of other people in the big world.
My teacher, Mrs. Bethan, was there that dreadful day. She pulled me aside, straightened me up and told me she thought my project was brilliant. She also told me that being different was a thing to embrace and celebrate.
It has been a struggle to remember this over the years. Like most teenagers and young adults, I went through many phases to get to the internal confidence I have now. The way I choose to express myself has instigated all kinds of theories, including one that I am just an attention seeker and my “image” is a ploy to separate myself from my family’s success. I always found this type of talk strange , considering you can google my superembarassing 15-year-old suburban vegan Rasta phase, or my early 20s avant-garde, hot mess fashion choices. Believe me: These choices were neither considered popular nor, as far as I’m concerned, “cute”.
The point is, I made—and I make—decisions according to my personal taste and aspirations in those moments. And with each phase I’ve transitioned from, I’ve always carried something that is still very much a part of me today.
A pivotal moment on my journey was when I decided to define success by what made me happiest. I realized my goals and aspirations could be crafted by my own hands. I was reminded then that being fully and wholeheartedly me was being the best me I could be. It’s a 17-year old lesson that I’m still learning.
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