When I was in third grade I got a pair of red high top chucks for my birthday. I was so over the top excited about those shoes. I had wanted them for weeks. I thought about how cool I was going to look in them. How they would declare red as my new favorite color. I thought about every stitch of my clothing that could be worn with them. So on the Monday after my birthday party, I walked head high, into my classroom. I showed them off to my teacher. I was so proud of those damn shoes.
Until another girl (I don't even remember her face) stopped me in the bathroom and observed, very loudly I might add,
"You have huge feet! Look at your shoes! You have clown feet!"
I never wanted to wear my beloved red chucks again.
I'm pretty sure I never did.
It funny that at 35 years old, I've been thinking a lot about that moment. What would have happened if she had never noticed my clown feet? Would I have gone years without noticing that for a 5 foot one inch person I have abnormally large sized eight feet? Would I have bought more pairs of high top chucks in every available color? I'll never know because I have spent the rest of my life worried about my clown feet.
It makes me wonder, who would we be if others had never pointed out our minor flaws? What if that person hadn't called you fat, or four eyes, or brace face? What if that guy had never said that your face was too chubby, or that your hair was too short? What if we could have lived our whole lives never knowing that someone had a negative opinion of us? Would we still be the same people we are today?
I don't think we would be. I think that our "flaws", whether they are actual flaws or not, really make us what we are. It's because of those flaws that we thrive. We are always on the path to be better and bigger than those things that make us feel insecure. We go to the gym to get rid of the fluff, we get our hair colored to get rid of the gray, we wear contacts instead of glasses, or whiten our teeth. But are any of these really flaws? No, not really. They are usually the things that other people point out. As if to remind us that we are not perfect, and certainly not like everyone else.
It shouldn't matter. Does it really matter that my feet are size eight? Does it really matter that I color my hair, or wear spanx on occasion? It doesn't matter, and then again it does.
I had a conversation yesterday with a friend who is currently wrestling over individuality. Not her own, but her child's. A few days ago her child asked her if she thought he was "weird", to which she confessed that she didn't know if she was going to throw up or cry. But like the good mother she is, she handled it with grace. Asking him what he meant by weird. What is weird anyway? She also pointed out the things that make her weird and dad weird, and sister weird. In the end though she knows that her child isn't weird, but that her child is an individual. And individual that tells his brother that he's not supposed to answer moms question because it's "hypothetical". At seven he doesn't care much for the cartoon network or the Hub, but he loves TLC and National Geographic. He likes to watch Star Trek, and I don't mean the Next Generation.
In my conversation with her, I reminded her that we couldn't have birthed children that were status quo. We will never be free of the "individuality" talk. That no matter how hard we battle through infancy, the toddler years, preschool, and grade school, our toughest battle will be the one waged against conformity. Let's face it, our children will never be the followers, they will be the innovators. They were individuals from the moment they were conceived. They were born to women who know a thing or two about being "weird".
Being an individual isn't weird. It's a gift. It's what makes us live and thrive. It took me a long time to learn that and accept it. I'm hoping as a mom, I can inspire the individuality of my children. That I can teach them what makes us different makes us great. It wasn't just my clown shoes that showed me I wasn't like everyone else. It was my taste in music, my clothing of choice, my circle of friends, my love of books. And so what if I didn't date the most popular guy, if I wasn't the belle of the ball, if I was never homecoming queen material. Sure it hurt then, but now? Now I see it was the greatest gift I could receive.