You cannot wear that.
Your legs are disgusting.
What were you thinking, going out in public dressed like this.
These weren’t things that bullies said to me, growing up. These were the voices in my head, day in, day out, until I was about 16 years of age. You’d think I was running around in shorts and deep-necked tops, but the truth is, I was one of the most frumpiest, tomboyish girls you could find. In fact, the times when the whisperings were the most poisonous were when I tried to make a change in my look that would make me appear more… well, girlish.
The only thing I did in primary and middle school that would make me more in line with my gender was grow out my hair. That was it. I wore sweats to school. I didn’t own any shoes with a heel until I was about 17, when I got my first ever pair of Clarks sandals (I held onto them for the next five years). I didn’t wear a skirt to school until I was in the 10th grade.
“Girls can only be pretty or smart” – I know now that this is total bull, but there was a time I believed this wholeheartedly. I figured I wasn’t pretty or athletic, not compared to other people in my class, so there was no point in trying. (I’m sure some of the pretty ones thought the same when considering their academic performances.) So I neglected my appearance, sneered at make-up and high heels, and refused to believe that I might just be attractive as well as a Straight-A student. I didn’t know there was more to intelligence than passing a test, just like I didn’t know there was more to beauty than what you look like.
I saw in black and white.
I can’t pinpoint when the shift happened. Looking back, it seems like one day, I just changed from an ugly duckling to a slightly less ugly one, although I know there must have been a transitioning period. I remember going to Italy for a holiday with my family and enjoying shopping for the first time. I remember wearing my new shoes to school. I remember cutting my hair, getting a fringe for the first time since I was a child, and loving my new look.
But before that, there was the skirt.
It wasn’t anything scandalous. I would wear these long, bohemian-type things with bells and mirrors on them during the holidays, when I was spending time with my grandparents and nobody I knew from school could see me. I loved the feel of them, but I was too afraid to wear one to school. Even if nobody had picked on me in two years, I refused to expose myself to ridicule in any way. It took something sturdier to help me work up the courage – made of denim and almost ankle length, with a clinched waist that rode up my middle, the skirt was about as fashionable as a nun’s habit, and it was definitely not the best thing to wear on a hot spring day. But! It also didn’t budge, and at the time, flashing someone my underwear as well as my leg were my worst nightmares (I was very sheltered, obviously.)
I went to school… and only my best friend noticed. If I recall correctly, everyone was far more excited about the cute French exchange student who kissed people on the cheeks and thus flustered us upon the first meeting. Nobody cared for what I was wearing. Nobody even noticed.
Over the years, I would experiment with my denim skirts, going for shorter hems, even changing up the fabrics. All my fears were in my head. I was fine. I was more than fine. Nobody cared, nobody even noticed. It was as though I’d gotten a piece of the devil’s mirror stuck in my eye, and only I saw the world full of ugliness. It wasn’t until I did things in spite of my fear that I could blink my eyes clear.