One day she approached me and told me she really liked my clothes. I said thank you, and she asked me where I got them. “The mall,” I answered, confused. Where else would you get clothes? She told me she got her new clothes from garage sales. “Those aren’t new then,” I informed her. “Those are used.”
I am not lying when I tell you I can still feel exactly what I felt in my gut the second after I said that to her. Her face instantly fell and she turned and walked away. All I remember feeling was bad. I didn’t know why until I told my mom about it after school. I think my mom probably wanted to slap me, but instead she explained some things to me. And told me tomorrow at school I needed to go find Vanessa and apologize. That I should compliment something about Vanessa that I liked and make sure she knew it.
Well, Vanessa never came back to school. Honestly, I don’t even know why. In my dreams of Vanessa’s life, she is rich and beautiful and kind and forgives me for being hurtful at the age of six. But I will never really know. All I do know, without a doubt, is that I hurt her sweet little six-year-old heart with my words about her clothes.
I signed up for basketball camp when I was 12 years old. I had no experience in team sports, as my previous athletic pursuits included mostly gymnastics, along with dance, summer swimming lessons and a few weeks of karate. I had no idea what to expect. When I showed up, all the girls were in long, mesh basketball shorts and big, baggy t-shirts with sports bras. I was in short jean shorts and a fitted t-shirt. I was mortified. I had violated the unspoken dress code and was clearly an “outsider” to this whole basketball/sports/being cool in middle school business. All I wanted was to fit in, and I was clearly not doing that, based on my attire. I felt insecure and stupid. It was right then and there I decided I wasn’t athletic. That I didn’t “fit in” in that crowd.
This past week I have had several conversations with friends who have semi-recently had babies. We broached the subject of bikinis post baby. I assumed that they were in the same boat as me – bikinis will probably have to sit this summer out. Well, I was wrong, and least for everyone but me. This is what I heard underlying the “yes, I will be in a bikini this summer” conversation – I failed. I didn’t do the right thing of not gaining too much weight with my pregnancy. I didn’t do the right thing by not making exercise a priority after my baby was born. Now I am an outsider to the mom bikini club. I am one of those women who let themselves go, who didn’t get it together fast enough.
Then the other day, I read a piece by comedian Sarah Millican, on her experience at the Bafta awards where she was later ridiculed for her appearance on Twitter. She wrote about how carefully she chose a dress she felt good in, that she could afford. That her friends “oohed” over. She wrote about how the experience of seeing all of this criticism on Twitter “was like a pin to my excitable red balloon”.
She didn’t get it “right” with her dress choice. Just like Vanessa didn’t get it right by not shopping at the mall and I didn’t get it right for knowing what to wear to basketball camp and how I didn’t get it right for being in shape “enough” to wear a bikini this summer.
But instead of walking away (like sweet Vanessa), deciding that the crowd was “not for her” (like I did with basketball) or shaming herself (like I did with bikinis), Sarah decided to be honest. To say what she really felt – that the experience hurt. She didn’t use the age-old celebrity brush off by saying “Oh, I could care less what anybody thinks” or “I don’t give a damn”. “I don’t give a damn about what other people think” attitude= just great (most of the time). Except for when on the outside its “I don’t give a damn” but on the inside we are there, ruminating. Giving a damn.
I think most of the time, “I don’t care what everyone else thinks” is an easy scapegoat. It is easier to brush pain away by saying you don’t even notice it. If we are responding to hurtful events and comments with things like “I don’t give a damn”, we are robbing the people who are doing the hurting from experiencing the person they hurt as human.
I wish I would have had the chance to un-say what I said to Vanessa. I wish I would just magically care less about the way I look and the clothes I wear so I could say “I don’t give a damn” and really mean it. Sarah Millican taught me a valuable lesson – the value in being honest with an experience that hurt her instead of running to the “DON’T CARE, DON’T CARE, DON’T CARE” staple of our society.
Maybe we can become confident only after we let ourselves first feel pain. Acknowledge that it fucking hurt. And then move on.