Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reviving Bridget

Have you ever had the feeling that if you sat down and thought hard enough about it, you'd be able to pinpoint the exact moment you lost your childhood sense of confidence at just being you? Every once in a while when I'm doing some mindless task, my brain gets to wandering and it digs up some old memory that seems so strange when seen through the filter of time. And I wonder if things could possibly be as I remember them, because there is such a disconnect between who I am and who I was.

I'm talking about this like this: when I was 12 years old, I decided I wanted to play basketball on my church's team for girls. I was short, I wasn't terribly interested in basketball for its own sake, and I wasn't any good at it, at all, and I knew it. But I wanted to play, so I did. If anyone laughed at me for my terrible skills, I don't remember it.

I recall that for most of my growing up years, I wore hand-me-downs. Not from an older sister, mind you, because I didn't have one, but from my two older brothers. If my shirts weren't hand-me-downs, they were freebies from events or races or school functions. As for pants, well, it's bad enough wearing twice-trashed boys' jeans. It's worse having to wear them with patches on the knees, and not the cute flower or heart kind, either - the plain, off-shade of blue, heavy, functional kind.

But you know what? I don't remember feeling bad about any of my clothes. I only complain now, looking back, foisting the opinions and feelings of my current self on the younger version of me.

Perhaps the greatest evidence that I was once much more insouciantly at home in my own skin is a fake commercial I made with my younger sister, advertising a made-up product called Fartsy Barbie. Remember this from a Flashback Friday a while back? I watch that video and it's like watching a stranger. Where did I get that enthusiasm, that complete lack of guile and shame, that confidence and sense that if people didn't like me, it was their fault, not mine?

And where did it go?

I can't figure out if the great dividing line was starting high school, or being 14, or somewhere in between, but at some point, I finally hit whatever wall there is that rendered making a Fartsy Barbie commercial something I just. didn't. do. And I couldn't wear my brothers' jeans anymore, and not those oversized t-shirts either. And I wouldn't join any sports team just for fun. Oh no. I had to have a reasonable expectation of being mildly to moderately good at said sport. No more basketball for me.

It wasn't that those rules had never existed. Of course they existed. But they had always been for other people, not me. All of a sudden, though, I was excruciatingly aware of what was and wasn't done, and if a part of myself didn't fit in, that part of myself had to be suppressed or let go.

Just as I'm not sure when I lost my sense of self, I'm not entirely sure when I gained it back. My freshman year of college, maybe? I had singularly amazing roommates who seemed pretty dang comfortable with themselves, embarrassing imperfections and all. Or, if they did have sides of themselves that they generally kept hidden from view, in months and months of living together it eventually came out that in our unrestrained moments, we were all more alike in our nerdiness than unalike.

Of course, I don't actually think I've ever gained my sense of self entirely back. I'm still embarrassed for myself every time I watch that Fartsy Barbie video, after all. But I'd like to think I care less these days about what others think of me, at least when it comes the attitudes and behaviors that make me, me.

Still, I wish I had the absolute bravery of my 0- to 13-year-old self to go and do whatever I wished to, with no regard for trifles such as acceptable social norms or my inadequate abilities. And I hope I can instill a sense of perfect confidence in my own daughters that will be strong enough to withstand the havoc of adolescence, however far away that remains.


Liz Johnson said...

Have you ever read "Reviving Ophelia?" I'm just curious.

I think I became self-conscious embarrassingly late... because I think I was the last girl to figure out that I wasn't as cool as I thought I was (ha). That said, living abroad helped with that a lot... when I came back to the US, I had something weird/different about me, so I didn't need to try to impress or fit in or have any reason to doubt my awesomeness. So I'm going to go ahead and say that Miriam/Majd already have a leg up. :)

Jen said...

Perhaps it's an evolution of self-consciousness. When I was in elementary school, everyone was equally cool. There was no self-consciousness because there was no judgement. That was the best age.

In middle school, I realized there were differences between clusters of peer groups, and that I was just one of the normal (nerd) kids, and I was happy to be friends with the normal (nerd) kids. I tried my hand at doing what the more hip/fashionable kids did, but it didn't come easy so I didn't worry about it.

By high school, I realized that I didn't fit with any of the groups and started being me (or some version thereof that I thought would be widely appealing), with only moderate concern for the judgements that would result.

While I wouldn't want to apply some of my old dorkiness (that I have overcome?) to my current personality, I'm not embarrassed that I passed through that era either, because everyone did it too... just not everyone has it recorded on video!

Jen said...

Ahem, Jen was not a dork. That is my comment, that is, JOE. :)

Katie said...

I was just thinking about this yesterday. I was watching "Stand by Me" and heard this quote (talking about how great it is to 12) "Vern didn't just mean being off limits inside the junkyard, or fudging on our folks, or going on a hike up the railroad to Harlow. He meant those things, but it seems to me now it was more and that we all knew it. Everything was there and around us. We knew exactly who we were and exactly where we were going. It was grand." I was awesome at 12 and I knew who I was. I was so much fun. I wish I could feel that was again, or at least find more things in life that made me feel that way.

Kathy Haynie said...

I was lonely and unsure of myself as a little kid. I finally gained some confidence when I hit junior high, and high school was better still. Now (middle age) I'm kind of a mix of both. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I could probably pinpoint the exact moment, because i moved around the time that it happened, and it seemed like everyone I met after I moved--at school, church, sports, just didn't like me. I just could not make friends in that environment. So I became extremely self-conscious.

And now I'm getting my confidence back--but I think it's a process, getting it back, not a moment.

Bridget said...

Liz, I read Reviving Ophelia a few years back. I should re-read sometime before my girls hit adolescence. You reminded me that some of the better adjusted young adults I've ever met lived unusually transient lives overseas. I include you in that group.

Hahahahaha, Joe, reading you as Jen was confusing me :). I'm impressed with your confidence even during those difficult middle- and high-school years.

Kathy, I'm intrigued that it was elementary school that was the hardest for you. That seems unusual to me.

Katie, that quote reminds me of one of my favorites from TDHOFLB: "They did not need to impress anyone and were therefore remarkably free from snarkiness, anxiety, and irksome aspirational behaviors, such as competition over grades and evaluation of one another's clothing...They were free. They were silly. They were secure."

Onebravenewworld, interesting that you are able to make that distinction and what is the deal with people putting the new girl on edge, anyway??

Mikael said...

I think middle school ruins everyone. However, I do have to say that me being so involved in ballet I always felt like I was confident in my own skin, and I had that to fall back on. It is now that I am a mom and have no real life for myself I am lost. My kids have ruined me!!!...


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