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.