By Brianna Willis, Assistant Features Editor
My mom bought me a bag that says, “Always be yourself. Unless you can be a mermaid. Then always be a mermaid.” I laughed so hard my eyes watered when she presented it to me, and I hugged her tight.
It sits next to me on my desk here in the newsroom, as a constant reminder of where I have been, and how far I still have to go. “Always be yourself,” is good in theory, but in my experience that hasn’t always been received well. Sure, we put cute slogans on bags and coffee mugs, selling the notion that being you is always valuable. Is that so true though?
Growing up I had my fair share of moments in which I was probably being dramatic. Not everything said to me was intended to be hurtful. Not every friendship lost was worth crying myself to sleep over. That doesn’t change the fact that words said were still hurtful. That losing friends because I wasn’t “cool enough” (whatever that meant in eighth grade) felt like a deep betrayal.
Sometimes, being authentic meant losing popularity points. It meant being made fun, even by friends, or even worse family. Hearing “You’re too goofy,” and “You talk too loud,” from people in your own family who talk louder than you always felt like a back-handed slap. So they get to be “authentic” and when they like certain shows or act a certain way it’s “cute” or “quirky,” but when I do it, I’m reprimanded by the same people who raised me to be “myself.” That was painful, but I made it out.
I had boys date my friends when boy and friend knew I liked boy. I had friends say awful hurtful things because they thought they could, not knowing the deep insecurities I harbored. Everything hurt and I internalized every negative comment, every negative interaction I had with someone. From meaningless encounters to racist people yelling at me in the street offensive things no six-year-old should have to hear. Not even a 14-year-old me should have to hear.
One day I woke up and I said, enough. I won’t let things bring me down. I won’t hate myself simply because someone said I should, rather I will remain loud. I will remain unapologetically kind, sarcastic, over-emotional, sensitive and everything in between. I will laugh too loud, I will not calm down and I will be happy. I learned that day that someone somewhere will always have a problem with you being you. For no other reason than you exist as the wild, crazy, diverse person you are.
Embracing the fact that people will always judge others was a sort of cathartic realization. It allowed me to release feelings and pain that I had held onto for years. The people who judged me, as cliché as it might sound, were also being judged by someone somewhere.
It allowed me to move on in my life.
That being said, “Unless you can be a mermaid,” is important to remember. I always joke with my students or coworkers that I am secretly a mermaid on the side. No one should be comfortable being stagnant. Personal growth should be embraced and encouraged. I am a mere mortal now, but someday I hope to be a mermaid. A “final form” so to speak.
Practice the skills you thought weren’t worth developing. If it makes you happy and keeps you growing, invest in yourself. Try new recipes, take classes in your interests not just your field, whatever makes you happy and keeps you growing? Do it.
I want to look back on my life and remember how happy I was, accepting myself and loving myself. How much I grew as a better person, a healthier person, from a small child to the end of my life. Don’t be afraid to be unique, to be yourself and to grow every day. Take the small moments, the words that hurt, the friends who left you in the dust and grow from it. Be that mermaid I know you can be.