Navigating the unknown waters of growing up is a different, yet oddly similar, experience for everyone, united by bad hair days, braces, unavoidable awkwardness, trying to make friends, and discovering who one is meant to be. At a time when our interests, talents, skills, eccentricities, and self-esteem are being constantly re-shaped and refined, a common link found in most people's psyche during those developmental years is the desire to fit in with others, or at the very least, not be considered an outcast.
I was generally a confident person growing up, I had friends, got good grades, loved my school, and sought to be kind to everyone I met. My greatest insecurity, however, was rooted solely in the unkind opinions and comments of others that fueled my immense dislike for something that I now look at as one of my greatest attributes: my height. In second grade, I already stood at five feet tall. By the time I hit my growth spurt (well, another one) at the end of fourth grade, I had soared to stand at 5'8", and only a few years later, upon entering high school, I was 5'11", gangly and still taller than the majority of boys and girls in my freshman class.
In elementary school, whenever my small class of 25 would be lined up alphabetically for an assembly, mass, or to go to lunch, it was me who broke, like a skyscraper, away from the small, even, village of heads next to me; after hearing whispered complaints of "I can't see!" enough times during class or group pictures, it became second nature for me to walk to the back of the crowd of girls and
stand tower over the boys who had not yet grown themselves; and it was when I was told by a group of girls one day that I was "too tall" to play with them on the slides at recess that I began to spend more time with myself or other small groups of kids hanging out apart from the crowd.
Not knowing how to or if I should stand up for myself, I willingly went by taunting nicknames like The Giant and String Bean from girls and boys alike, half-heartedly laughing off the poisonous sting those words inflicted on my self-confidence. If I ever muttered, "I hate being tall!" to a family member, he or she would immediately pat me on the shoulder and say "No, it's beautiful!" even though I felt far from it. Although adults would gawk at me when I entered a room or would admiringly ask "How tall are you?" the subsequent praise that followed did, like the comments from family members, little to reassure me that I was okay just the way I was. Looking back on it now, I don't understand why when one doesn't like oneself, compliments from anyone other than one's peers are rendered seemingly invalid, but they were at the time.
It was not until I was nearing high school when everyone around me (and subsequently, their views on height) started growing that I came to see the beauty in my individuality. I began making varsity sports teams simply because coaches wanted to work with my height; I could now share cool clothes with my mom and older teenage friends; I was never denied entry to any ride at an amusement park, or was thought to be too young to do things like fly by myself; because I looked older, it was assumed I could be trusted with more responsibility, and after being hired at my first sought-after job at sixteen, it took my managers months to find out that I was not, despite their beliefs, twenty years old; I could only shop at clothing stores intended for adults, and managed to rock Tall clothes that accentuated my endless legs and arms; I understood that getting asked to help friends and strangers alike reach things made me feel special and that my ability to see over crowds at concerts was an experience within itself.
Today, I stand at an even six feet tall, and have come to love every long, able, lively, and beautiful inch of myself, yet, had it not been for those years when I wished I could be like my shorter friends, I would likely not be able to look at myself in the mirror today and understand that although the road to finding self-acceptance was long and difficult, it made the battle to obtain and achieve self-love all the more fulfilling.