This morning as I went about my morning routine in the office, replying to e-mails and returning phone calls, I had a moment, just what seemed like an odd moment, but still an important one, where I had an extreme urge to blog and get out a plethora of positive, excited emotions. Ironically they were all emotions dealing with self-acceptance. I have had brief moments where I see myself in the mirror and I say, “Wow, you’re gorgeous, how did you not see this in yourself before” and others, where all I see are flaws.
So today, I was particularly surprised when this little thought nagged at me all day to blog, and to talk about how proud I am of who I am and who I’ve become. It started with a ritual I have in the morning where if I have a presentation or something that I have to orally prepare for, I talk out my thoughts and organize any concerns that are bothering me. I have been thinking about an hour-long talk I’m giving in the summer about my ethnic background at a conference and what I am going to say. Every day as I think things over, the content changes, I remember bits and pieces of my past I’d forgotten about, and ultimately I sometimes end up leaving for work feeling more confused about what I’m going to talk about, than when I first started getting the thoughts out as I’d gotten out of bed. I’m really not sure how the conference talk is going to work out overall, but I can tell you that I just feel incredibly passionate about this upcoming experience because it’s a chance to tell my story. And at this point in my life, I can comfortably say I’m proud of that story.
I did a lot of amazing things in college, and my alma mater truly opened the door for me to be creative and to be myself. Faculty nurtured me, taught me, constructively criticized me and ultimately helped me break out of my very hard shell. I struggled with this transition, this change, and I was terrified of myself. I wrote a one-woman show about my experiences with racism because of the nudging of a persistent writing professor who taught me that writing about oneself is often the truest form of writing. It’s real, and people like real. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and despite it’s success, I found that for a long time, I struggled with people approaching me about it. I didn’t know how to take praise for what I had done, because I did not see it as extraordinary. I saw my uniqueness as a way for people to point me out and to pigeon-hole me. I feared being different because I longed to be loved and thought that love somehow coincided with assimilation.
I got angry about prejudice and spoke out against it, but as strong as I was, there was a part of me that was always terrified. A part that was always angry. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I wasn’t the white New England girl, but I wasn’t black either. And here I was, being told I looked Spanish, so I should speak it, but I had chosen to speak German, in addition to my native English, because I fell in love with the culture, and the romanticism of both Austria and Germany, the Sound of Music, and the fact that my mother’s family had come from Germany. And I was incredibly agitated that the vast majority of the public that I met in my retail job (customers typically) would regularly insist on putting me in a box and needing to label me.
I discovered that even moving to rural New Hampshire, that this was still a theme in a little New England town that, despite it’s remoteness and whiteness, I still love to call it home. I didn’t grow up here, but I went to school here, and now I work here for the same institution that helped me find myself and encouraged me to embrace my diversity.
I have discovered many things over the years; I have discovered that I “pass” for white, but that people still want to identify me, and that they are always going to ask questions about my appearance, but I am starting to see something that I couldn’t see nearly ten years ago when I started college as a freshman:
I see that I have long brown curly hair, and though it struggles with humidity and frizz, and it isn’t the easiest to manage, I love it, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Sure, I don’t mind a trim here and there, and maybe I’ll cut it short again if I feel like it, but I don’t need to color it. I don’t need to be blond or red or purple or whatever; I am happy with my natural brown locks.
I have hazel eyes and no, they are not the blue eyes I always felt I had to have, but I am okay with hazel. They’re pretty, and a perfect mix of my mom and dad: I have bits of blue from my mother’s German side and bits of brown from my dad’s Caribbean side. And I have skin that is olive. I don’t have quite the awesome Italian or Greek tan, but my skin is beautiful, even if I still get acne as if I were a teenager ( though I’m close to thirty).
I have put on a few pounds, and definitely could stand to lose some weight, but the odd thing is, despite the need to lose weight for health reasons, I’m not unhappy with my size. I’m a taller woman, and would definitely like to be a healthier weight, but I don’t look in the mirror and scowl anymore and stress excessively about wearing makeup or heels. I don’t wear heels because of a bad back, and I don’t wear makeup for the most part unless it’s for theater, because I just don’t feel like it. And no one says anything about it. No one focuses on what I look like. I dress professionally; I wear what I want, and when I want to dress up for a date with my boyfriend, I do that. But I don’t need anyone’s approval to be happy and content with who I am.
I have struggled for years with this battle. I suffered anxiety and stress and worried about every possible outcome of a situation and other than creating sleeplessness or weight gain, the worry did nothing to benefit me. I wanted so badly to be accepted, but at the same time feared so greatly facing my identity and being content with it. Sure, some people are always going to alienate me, some are always going to say something racist, some are going to be gender-ist, and some are even going to tell me that I shouldn’t have been born, BUT, I know that I am truly content, truly happy with the beautiful woman I am. I am black, I am white, I am German, I am French, I am Bermudian, I am American, I am a New Englander and an English major with passions for theater, reading, writing, and loving and healing other people.
And I am learning every day to accept compliments when I receive them, and to be thankful for them. I am learning to celebrate my accomplishments and be excited for future possibilities. I am learning that just because I was in pain for a long time, does not mean I have to stay there. I do not have to be stuck, and though it will not be uncommon to experience race-related pain again in my life time, I will not let it define me, and I will not let it consume me as it had in the past.
A young freshman girl came up to me after a performance of my one-woman show about growing up biracial, and she approached me with such light and excitement because of my show; she was also of mixed heritage. She told me that because I had done this show, she felt that she could do something like it some day. In the memories I have of this time of my life, this is one of the few that I remember with fondness because so much anxiety had plagued me during my preparation for the show. I remember approaching my theater director and telling him I didn’t think I could do the show because I thought someone would come after me and hurt me. That they would be disgusted with my revelation of my background and want to kill me. When I told him this, my director said, “That is exactly why you need to do this show.”
These memories are reminders of what potential I have always had in myself, and also about the importance of continuing to “let my light shine” for lack of a less cliche phrase. I come from a family of teachers on my dad’s side, and though I never felt like getting up in front of a classroom, I always felt amazing on stage, and I think there is still some teaching in my blood that can be done, it just might not be in a classroom. I think I might be a teacher, but not in the “traditional” sense. I think I’m going to make a difference and influence the lives of others, and that sharing my personal story is a huge part of that.
I could say that I’m sad that it took me so long to realize these things about myself, about my inner and outer beauty, about my unique background and experiences. No one else has these specific traits or stories, so how could I ever have wanted to be the same as others, when being different is honestly, so cool? So I will not say I’m sad, because I am not. Not anymore at least. And I can’t beat myself up like I used to, because I no longer see the point. I see beauty and love and truth in who I am, and that my palette of colors truly makes the world a better, more interesting place. No need for assimilation, no need to blend in. If people think I stand out, then let them get to know me and I can teach them all the cool things about myself.
Today is a good day to be happy. Today and every day, and to love your own story. And if you like, to share it with others. :)