“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” - Oscar Wilde
Like most people, I hate to remember my middle school self. But it pains me to remember my elementary school self. Between first and third grade, I gained a lot of weight. I was too young to realize that being “fat” doesn’t have to be a negative thing. When I was 8 years old, I thought I t was the worst thing possible.
When I went to dance classes, all the girls were half the size of me. To put things into perspective, dancers are ten times more likely than the general population to develop an eating disorder. I was spending hours in front of a mirror in a skin tight leotard. Fat. I was fat and I hated myself. I would cry on a regular basis to my poor mother. She would constantly tell me I was beautiful.
I couldn’t see it.
When I got to fifth grade, I got a severe stomach virus and started to shed the weight. This was definitely a victory for fifth grade Jessie. The problem was that the weight shifted and baby Jessie entered womanhood. I cried when my mother told me I had to wear a bra. No one else was wearing one. The beautiful petite girls around me were straight as a board and I wanted to be just like them.
My hips, chest, and uterus laughed at my desire to be a thin girl. My womanhood next rewarded me with huge red dots all over my face.
I was undeniably different from all the girls in my classes. I hated it. Why couldn’t I be like everyone else?
The differences didn’t stop then. Growing up in a practicing Catholic household, the way I started to understand and interact with the world was different.
In high school I was known to be religious. The overwhelming majority of students at my Catholic high school viewed religion as nerdy and prudish. That was me. On a high school retreat, I wanted to expand my friend circle and sat down with students that I usually didn’t talk to.
At some point, a story was being told, then the speaker paused mid-sentence. “You can’t say that. She’s too holy.” I was excluded from conversations. Looking back on it now, it was probably done out of respect for me, or my previous behaviors depicted me as a judgmental person. Regardless, I felt cast out.
I distinctly remember freshmen year when I decided to be like everyone else. I started partying and behaving like many of my peers. Shortly after, I started to develop a negative reputation. I couldn’t win. I wasn’t like everyone else and I never could be. I finally realized it.
I was never born to be like everyone else.
When I was in high school, everyone took Spanish or French. I took German.
At my high school prom, most girls wore gorgeous slim-fitted A-line dresses. I wore a ball gown.
While most girls wear their hair long, mine is short.
I was inspired by other people, but I started developing a sense of self. I wanted to be like everyone else in high school, but I was also always me.
Over the past year, I have started to understand that the more I do, wear, say, and listen to things that make me happy, the happier I have become. The more I am surrounded by people that appreciate the same things. More importantly, they appreciate me. They don’t like me because I can fit in well, they like me because of the ways I don’t fit in.
I think that’s true of everyone. People like one another for the ways that they resemble everyone else, but what is special about them. Maybe you care about developing picture or singing opera or always having a great taste in clothes. The point is that you are passionate and comfortable with the things that you do and that it is authentically you.
Today a teacher gave me writing advice. He said “always error on the side of breaking more rules.” He meant this in the context of theses and how I was taught to write one: A two sentence thesis can be better than a one sentence thesis. But I mean that you should error on the side of being more you, than being like everyone else, or who everyone wants you to be. You’ll be happier, I promise. Your friends may change and your family might be confused, but “those that mind don’t matter, and those that matter won’t mind.”- Dr. Seuss.