I remember the first time where I realized I was tall. Like, when I knew I was tall. Oddly, I was never thee tallest girl in my class! The most uncomfortable thing about being tall was that people were always looking at me. Being soft spoken on top that? I was a magnet for bullying when I got to middle school and high school.
I was more awkward than the Awkward Black Girl the brilliant Issa Rae says she was! I mean I stuck out everywhere! Being a tall girl, with unmanagable hair and glasses didn’t make me forgettable from 6th through 8th grade. I had bigger things to worry about (back then) than fashion and hair! The fact is, I was over or about 5 feet tall in 5th grade. By the time I graduated high school, I was 5’10”.
The other thing that made me so much more self-conscious was the fact I had excema. This means I have sensitive skin, and it is prone to rashes. What I learned later in my teenage years was the condition is aggravated by heat and stress. I had rashes on my body in some form or another on my body from the time I was 5 or 6.
I never felt totally comfortable in my skin. I never felt good enough to truly only my body as it was–flaws and all. And when I began to? I was told the good and better thing to do would be to cover up. I was told that showing off my body (at the time mid-drift shirts had come back into fashion), was not the thing to do. Ergo, ‘only fast girls where things like that.’ Even when I began to go out clubbing and dating, I didn’t wear a lot of revealing clothes! Not that I was a prude with no fashion sense, I wasn’t comfortable–in my own skin, or showing it another.
In being a mother now, I have had to subdue that fear. I had to be able to be confident in myself in order to give the same confidence to my children–namely daughters. I had to realize the mean comments told to me by meaner children, and uglier boys was had to be uprooted. I had to remember that children are children, and children are mean in certain contexts or situations. I remember there was a boy named, Jarron, during my Junior year of high school that called me ugly in the hallway. I remembered this other boy named Tony that called the ‘fashion police’ on me because of an outfit I wore and followed me up the breezeway, pretending to be a siren behind me.
Looking back at this through the vantage point of over 20 years, I can see how dumb these little dusty boys were! I can see how people whom have nothing else to do or which will await them in life, will try to hurt everyone else around them. As they do so, they will think nothing of it. Yet, these are the same people whom will try and friend you on Facebook, or see you at the high school reunion and think nothing of speaking to you. Why? They will claim “That was so long ago! I don’t even think about it!”
Must be nice, I suppose. What you did to someone being ‘funny’ causes someone to kill themselves or withdraw, and then you think nothing about it? It is those experiences also which allowed to keep my friendship circle small, and enjoy my own company.
What being tall, being a target and being awkward taught me radical empathy. It taught me to be patient, and value real friendship. It taught me to stop slouching, especially when it came to my Senior year. It allowed me to think beyond the ‘4 best years of my life.’ This situation, in this body, allowed me to stand up for myself as well–and making my space hard to get into.