17 May

beyourself

I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for the conveyor belt full of groceries to open up enough space to begin unloading my cart, when a flash of moving color caught my eye. Looking down, I saw a young girl, three or four years old. She was wearing what looked to be a recital costume with a red-sequined bodice and a full tulle skirt with a red satin overlay and stripes of red and silver sequins. Over the gown she wore a navy blue sweater. Her socks were a chaotic blend of neon green and pink, tucked into light blue slippers with a picture of Cinderella on the side. In her hair was a large Minnie Mouse barrette. She explored her fort-like surroundings with a confident curiosity, walled in between my shopping cart, her mother’s body, and the two checkout counters on either side, one of which opened to the empty cashier station for the lane to our right. She spied a store phone hanging below the cash register at a height perfect for her pre-school stature, and with a quick, stealth glance to her mother, delicately reached out her hand to lift the phone from its cradle. In just that instant, the mother, who had eyes in the back of her head like all moms do, turned to her daughter, cautioned her with merely a “look” and the girl abandoned her notions of playing with the phone.

The mother noticed me smiling at her daughter and, as if by way of explanation said, “She dressed herself today.” Her apologetic tone burst the bubble of wonderment I was so immersed in. I wanted to rewind that moment and give the mother a second chance to say that sentence, “She dressed herself today,” but with the same sense of pride and confidence that her daughter was emanating.

 I think of all the people I know, struggling to figure out who they are and where they fit, trying to be accepted, to be liked, to be cool, to be noticed, to be…someone. It seems as though it is a lifelong struggle, but in that moment I found myself questioning when this struggle begins. The little girl reminded me that we are not born caring what other people think about us. She didn’t get dressed contemplating how other people would feel about her outfit. She chose her items of clothing because she liked them, because she felt good wearing them, because she connected them to something or someone special.

But, somewhere along the way, something shifts, and it begins in moments like the one above. The moment the mother apologized for her daughter’s attire, a seed was planted.  It is as though a poison is released and begins to slowly take root. The mother transferred her own self-consciousness to her daughter. The girl will arrive at kindergarten one day, amongst a bunch of other girls whose mothers have also instilled their own fear of acceptance.  And then the girls will begin to perpetuate and expand the poisonous thoughts within their own peer group. The “in” group will form – those girls who successfully subscribe to the code of attire and behavior – leaving the individualists on the periphery. Conformity is rewarded; Individuality is punished. Internal conflict grows.  

The consequences of this insidious mindset are vast. Feelings of shame and disconnection result in a variety of self-destructive behaviors, excessive and unreasonable relationship demands, and chronic self-doubt. Many adults walk through the doors of mental health professionals to discuss the internal struggles that come with caring too much about what other people think. There is an intellectual war that takes place, as they try to get to a place where other people’s opinions of them no longer matter.

But looking at the little girl, I realize that place is not somewhere out in front of us, waiting to be reached. Rather, that confidence in self is behind us, waiting to be recaptured. That little girl possessed the very attitude so many of us strive for. We had it too. And it can be ours again.

Blaire Sharpe is the Author of  “Not Really Gone.” 


2 Responses to Embracing the Confidence to Be Yourself

  1. Harmony Kent

    May 25, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    This is a wonderful post, Blaire. Thanks for sharing your insight. For certain, inadequacy is learnt behaviour. I want to be that little girl every day for the rest of my life! 😃

  2. Natalie Ducey

    May 26, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Such a beautiful post, Blaire! And so very true. Bless her heart. Thanks for sharing. :)

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