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I’ll always remember it as my “day of humiliation.”
It was sometime during my 7th-grade year.
Like many young girls, I was insecure and awkward — long legs and lanky, acne, and I hadn’t grown into my teeth yet (big teeth, small face).
However, some memories are etched deep into our minds.
That’s the case of that fateful day for me when my style became my fear.
In fact, it’s gone down in my history books as the worst day of Middle School.
Just a teenager trying to find her style.
Posters of Rob Lowe and Kirk Cameron were hanging on my wall.
I was sneaking around to watch Pretty in Pink and Can’t Buy Me Love.
(yes, while the other kids were allowed to go, I had to lie to my parents re: my whereabouts because I wasn’t allowed to go to the movies.)
Style-wise, it was a time of acid washed jeans, aviator sunglasses (thanks to Tom Cruise in Top Gun), studded leather jackets, and multiple ear piercings. Let’s not forget Swatch watches and “Member’s Only” jackets. (Do you remember those?)
My 7th Grade Style Experiment
While I was desperately wanting to fit in, I can assure you that with my personal style, I was not a member of the trendy club.
One thing I had going for me is that I didn’t want to look like everyone else.
While I see this as a good thing now, back then it didn’t feel like such a great idea, especially when I had no sense of style and was on my quest to find it.
But there was another factor to consider when on my quest to find my personal style: my family didn’t have the money.
Paying eighty dollars for the expensive “Member’s Only” classic jacket was out of the question, so they bought me the knockoff called the “YMCA.” It looked the same, but everyone knew (including myself) that I wasn’t cool like the rest.
So, while the popular (and rich) kids were staying on trend, I always felt behind with my hand me downs and knockoffs.
I needed to find my style.
And it needed to be affordable.
Discovering my Signature Piece in My Grandma’s Shed
So, I headed to my grandma’s house.
My dad’s parents lived behind us in a single wide trailer. I would sometimes have to stay with them. While I loved them dearly, it wasn’t my favorite place to go. It smelled of mothballs, cigarettes and burnt food.
Unlike my mom and her mother, who always kept their homes immaculate, my dad’s mom didn’t inherit the domestic gene.
But, she did have a unique gift:
She found the most eccentric things at flea markets and yard sales.
My grandpa built a shed behind their house beside the grapevine to house all of their stuff. Looking back, I realize they were hoarders. But as a young girl, I saw them as collectors of exotic things.
The shed became my escape from the cigarette smoke and my entrance into a whole other world.
In it, I’d found assorted even teacups and saucers and host tea parties with my imaginary friends. There were old dolls that I’d clean up and clothe. I found a violin and attempted to become a modern-day Mozart. I discovered the world through maps, books and all sorts of treasures in that shed.
The shed also became the place where I would start my quest to discover my style.
There were also boxes and boxes of clothes and accessories that my grandmother had collected over the years. Looking back, I’m sure that there were some vintage pieces that would have stood the test of time. However, vintage wasn’t cool to a 12-year old back then. And honestly, what did I know as I did not yet have a very well honed understanding of style savvy.
One autumn afternoon, while rummaging through a box of clothing, I found a pair of burnt orange over the knee boots with a huge platform and five-inch block heel.
(Think Brigitte Bardot. )
My heart skipped a beat.
I also found a “perfect” length pencil jean skirt.
(read: the length was “perfect” because I wasn’t allowed to show my legs so the skirt hit right where the boots stopped. )
I put on the ensemble, looked in the dusty shed mirror, and loved what I saw. It was unlike anything I’d seen the other girls wear. It was so unique. And it was so me! I felt alive!
There was only one problem:
Walking in them.
Plus, they smelled like mothballs.
I spent a week practicing sashaying down the ramp of the shed to avoid looking like a duck.
And, I knew the outfit needed a bit more panache. I found a simple white t-shirt. But, I felt like it needed something else. A blazer! Yes, integrating a classic with the edge. Brilliant!
The only person I knew that had a blazer was my dad, so I raided his closet. Keep in mind, my dad is six feet six inches tall. The blazer I found didn’t exactly fit well but it *did* have a hint of orange, so I was thinking more about the color palette versus the fit.
Yes, I had assembled my own style.
And I was so proud of my artistry.
It was time to make my middle school hallway my runway.
I was so excited to wear my new outfit to school, and yet, at the same time, I had knots in my stomach.
I knew it was unlike anything that I’d seen walking the school halls before.
My worst day of middle school. Here’s how it went down.
Suffice to say, I wasn’t prepared for the first wave of humiliation.
I stepped onto the school bus, and every kid burst into laughter.
Even the bus driver joined them.
I felt nauseous, but I couldn’t get off the bus as it had already started to roll away.
This response had me in a panic about walking into school.
With sweaty palms and a weird gait (because despite all my practice, I was still walking like a duck down the hall), I attempted to sneak into Mr. Austin’s first-period science class.
The bell was ringing. I was the last one to take a seat.
Mr. Austin had a sarcastic wit about him, but that day, it wasn’t much appreciated on my part.
“Well, Miss Rising, did you think today was Halloween?”
My classmates broke out into laughter.
For the next two hours, I attempted to hold my head high as I wobbled down the hall from class to class getting stares, laughs and the typical middle school jokes.
My excitement for style began to fade into self-loathing.
Why did you wear this?
What were you thinking?
You’re not one of those cool kids that can pull this off.
Just stop trying to stand out.
Who do you think you are?
You’re just a poor girl who lives in a trailer.
And, with that, my poor little heart couldn’t take any more.
I’m not sure if it was the kid’s cruelty or my own that had me wave the white flag of surrender.
I called my mother and told her I had a stomach ache (because “my heart hurts” was not an excuse to leave school). With tears in my eyes, I waited in the office for her to come pick me up.
As usual, my mom was always there for me.
She picked me up and didn’t ask many questions. I think she knew it wasn’t my stomach but what I had to endure that day when I attempted to become a “girl of style.”
I never wore those boots or played dress up in that shed again.
I began to accept that I was not a stylish girl.
I reverted back to my old wardrobe — safe and known.
I’ve been thinking about that little girl a lot lately.
Little did I know that this humiliating day would actually mark the turning point for me as an adult in developing my own personal style and into the woman who I am today.
Looking back, if I could reverse time, here are some things I’d like to tell her:
A Letter from moi to my 12-year-old Self.
My Dear, Sweet, Girl:
All those questions you have, about the travel, fashion, love, growth, spirituality?
Be brave enough to follow them.
You may not realize it now, but …
Your curiosity is your strength.
Your answers will be found in living out the questions.
Keep your desire to play around with clothes, write stories, study caterpillars, read books, travel even if it’s in your own mind. But, don’t ever stop being curious about the world, yourself and others.
Your imagination is the most beautiful part of you. Nurture it every day. It will lead you to dream worlds that may one day become your reality.
You’re not here to be perfect; You’re here to explore and play.
Be willing to …
… put together horrible outfits.
… publish terrible work.
… freeze on stage.
… burn the lasagna.
… make a fool of yourself.
… do those things that scare you.
… be judged.
… take risks (especially style ones)
In all that living, you’ll realize that being perfect is boring.
And, when you forget, I want you to remember Rumi’s wisdom: “Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where people were always kind and celebrated each other’s effort to experiment and grow?
But, darling, that is not the world we live in.
Accept that as a fact of life. Let it be.
Be willing to allow people to judge you.
When people make their sarcastic comments, laugh at your failures and speak ill will towards you, extend them, love. They are hurting, but never let their hurt invade your joyful heart.
This isn’t a contest where you’re being judged on whether you are getting it right or wrong.
It’s a playground for you to have fun.
Follow what feels good and true.
You have a unique soul, one that will guide you throughout life if you’ll listen. How do you know when it’s speaking?
Notice how you feel. What brings you joy? Makes your heart skip a beat? Feels like freedom and love? Follow that.
Everything else is simply a distraction from your own glorious path.
When your heart hurts (because trust me, it will), don’t be afraid to call someone.
In this lifetime, your heart will break into a million pieces. It’s part of what you signed up for as a human being. Allow it to shatter over and over again, knowing that no one can ever break your spirit. You are so much more than shattered bits. And, when your heart hurts, don’t ever feel too prideful or ashamed to pick up the phone and call your mom, friend, therapist, coach or whoever will hold space for you to heal.
Don’t think you have to put on a happy face and pretend that it’s all okay because we both know it’s not.
Your vulnerability is what makes you beautiful as a woman.
Face the hurt with people who can guide you through it so that you always come out wiser and stronger on the other side.
And, I think that outfit you wore today would have been a huge hit at Paris Fashion Week.
Keep being you, my sweet girl.
The world is waiting.
I love you!
JOIN THE CHIC CONVERSATION: Do you have a childhood memory that still haunts you? Picture yourself. Pretend she’s sitting in front of you. What would you want her to know?