I was the youngest of four siblings. We were all dressed alike, in clothes often made by my Mum. I loved that, the anonymity of being able to blend into the amorphous group of us; “The kids”. I also liked the feeling of belonging it gave me, I was part of them, and if anything was to be asked of us, my big brothers or sisters would usually step up. I remember hiding behind my Mum’s long seventies skirts and being happy to be in the background of whatever was happening. Vicariously exploring the world. I guess it is true to say that I wasn’t a naturally plucky individual.
My early life panned out in ways that forced me, whether I liked it or not, to find some strategies for encountering the new. My parents moved around a lot; in and out of three different countries, numerous cities and so many different houses, I literally lost count. I do remember how many schools I went to: thirteen. I remember each one vividly.
I remember every first day like it was a tattoo etched onto my memories.
It’s hard to belong anywhere in a hurry. I was always grateful for the schools that had uniform.
A costume for conformity.
As I grew older my early realisation about anonymous dressing became my modus operandi. I opted for the most commonplace pieces of fashion, nothing too bright, nothing too memorable. I yearned to be creative and express myself in rainbows, ra-ras and fluorescent exclamations. But it was easier to wear grey, black, taupe. To layer the invisibility on like armour. I realised that shape, too, had to be conformist. Too thin, too fat, people would look. Everything I did was to avoid people looking at me. But there was nothing I could do to halt my height. So with despair I climbed to six foot tall by the age of twelve. I perfected the sideways slouch and head-dip; sayonara six inches. I lived awkwardly underneath the radar, skirting the periphery, hiding in the shadows.
Under all that cloak of invisibility there was an extraordinary girl. I look back at old photos and I see her. Now, with the years spinning past there is so much I can see that was never clear to me before. I see that girl and I want to shout her into action, push her into the spotlight, drive into her the strength and self belief she deserves to have. She is a good friend, already. A deep thinking, good person. She is also hot, if only she’d realise it! She has so much going for her, and a limited time to enjoy it. She doesn’t know what is up ahead or how her life will be sideswiped, first by heart break and then by her heart itself. I want to wrap my arms around her and explain that even if she doesn’t feel brave, she needs to take a deep breath and jump. Jump into the degree she would have preferred to do, leap at the job opportunities she thought she wasn’t good enough for, dive towards the fastest, scariest opportunities instead of running away. And I want to tell her to look how the hell she wants to look, to wear anything she likes and to enjoy the freedom of being unique.
Now, my body and my health make it hard to blend. Sometimes I am tempted to stay away from people altogether, so they won’t look at me. But then determination ruffles my big brave girl panties and a strident voice in me shouts for attention. I go out anyway. I go out as I am. I look people in the eye and I will them, to see me for who I am; strong, stroppy and sassy. Soulful, sympathetic and sensitive. Sexy, in the way you can only be when you know yourself well. I meet people with my hand extended and my heart fluttering. Inside myself I am full of shaky affirmations, “take a deep breath” “be brave”, “you are a special and useful person, just as you are”. I don’t know if any of you need to reassure yourselves this way, but I do. And more now, than in all the years I have been alive, I think that I am worthy of my own friendship. I support myself and prop myself up. Cos that’s who I am. A Big Brave Girl.
I have a daughter of my own. A tween, just teetering on the edge of self awareness. She looks in the mirror and smiles at herself. She describes herself as an artist and without guile says “I am very good, you know”. She prefers shorts to skirts, hair out to hair up. She knows what she likes. Soon she is going to face an onslaught of ideas that will challenge her self perception. She will notice that boys notice her, and when they don’t. She’ll add up all the small comments made by her peers and the messages propagated by media and she will equal them into something about herself. She will discover her own imperfections and berate herself for her weaknesses.
All the while, I will stand by her, telling her, as my mother told me, “You look lovely”, “You have a good brain” “You are enough, just as you are”. She probably won’t hear me. Until later, when the echoes will reach her. I want that day to come quickly for her, but age tells me that we find our bravery our own way. Our wounds show us the way. I hope that she will let me be close enough to be able to listen to her words as she grows. I hope she won’t spend so long away from her brave self that the journey back is treacherous. I want to her see her self and smile.
Baby girl, hope of my heart; be brave.
Meet the world and find your path.
Breathe deep and find your strength.
Give much and love yourself.
Choose your words slow and use them strong.
Be your own version of beautiful
Find a passion worthy of your soul
and indulge it.
Create your own thing, to leave in this world, of you.
And know. That if I had my time over again…
Again, my creation would be