I admit it. I'm wrong! About a lot of things. But I'm tired of feeling ashamed because of it!
OK - hold the phone. Let's back this up a bit so you get an idea of where I'm coming from here.
I'm a pretty opinionated person...now. I wasn't always like this. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I haven't had much of an opinion at all. Or if I did, I was lead to believe that what I thought didn't really matter. No one ever said to me "your opinion doesn't matter" (in so many words) - but that is honestly what I believed.
I believed that if I didn't like NKOTB when I was in Grade 5 that the other kids would laugh at me. Sure I had a mad crush on Joey at the time, but I basically started liking their music because everyone else did too.
As I advanced to highschool and my peers became involved and opinionated about politics, pop culture, boy and drugs, I also stayed the course and followed step with what everyone else was doing and saying for fear of standing out or, in the worst possible case scenario, being asked to defend my position on something.
University was more of the same - I became an expert in writing the papers that the professor wanted to read, and giving the answers in class that my T.A.s wanted to hear. Socially I was no better - I went to raves because they were "cool" at the time, wore baggy pants and t-shirts and hung out with the wrong kinds of people - all because I lacked the ability to assert myself.
What I didn't realize about being a lemming, however, is that it had the opposite effect of what I wanted it to. Pretending to be the same as everyone else doesn't make people like you more (as I thought it would), in fact, it makes people like you less because you are no longer an interesting person with your own thoughts and opinions.
Now, those of you reading this are probably thinking that this behaviour is fairly classic. It's just bowing to peer pressure the same way all young people do. But in my case, this "lemming-ness", this desire to jump off a cliff because everyone else was doing it, went far deeper than the standard pressure from others to conform. I was so afraid of being shamed for my opinions, for being me, that I opted not to have any to avoid being chastised for my beliefs. I opted not to have a self because it was easier not to.
I wasn't born with this fear. In fact - if I look at my personality now as my "birthright" personality, I never should have had any problems with a fear of self-expression. I am loud and outspoken by nature. I am a proud person and I love being in the spotlight. I can be brash, but I am also humble and gentle when I need to be. And now I can honestly say that I am not ashamed of any of those traits. But I am still working on honing my abilities to be those things when I need to and want to because every so often the old feelings of fear and embarrassment will creep up on me.
So where did these feelings come from? Quite honestly, they came from being teased by my own parents as a child. I never felt comfortable at home talking about anything that was near and dear to my heart because of how it might be received. I remember my very first school-girl crushes - how tender and vulnerable a young girl's heart is at that point in her life. And how my mother used that for her own amusement with her friends who would then tease me about "being in love" and "who's the boy now?"...I was mortified. I remember shopping for my first bra - almost in a full B cup by the time it happened because I was chubby, and my mother telling me that we were going bra shopping because I was flopping around all over the place when I ran to the car after school. She then bought me 3 bras, wrapped them up like a birthday present and gave them to me to open in front of my family and younger brothers...I was horrified. When I first got my period I was at my babysitter's house for the day and had already endured her telling my younger brothers and her kids why I had opted not to go swimming that day. I had lived through her handing me a diaper-like pad while my brothers and their friends ran around the swimming pool singing "Jenn got her period, Jenn got her period". But the worst came when I finally got up the nerve to tell my mom. My grandmother was in town visiting, and though my mother didn't make the announcement at the dinner table, she may as well have as she hugged me and fussed around me about how I was now "a woman" in front of dad and grandma...I wanted to die.
After puberty, it became about my choices of friends. Always one to choose the outsiders (why not? I was one myself), my mother never approved of who I was hanging out with. They were always too loud, too silly, too immature, or not from the "right side of the tracks". Of course my opinions of my friends never mattered all that much. I was told who I was and wasn't allowed to fraternize with.
There was also my precociousness. My love of language and desire to try new words and phrases. I'm sure many people have experienced the embarrassment of saying the wrong word at the wrong time, or using it where it doesn't belong. But today that is still one of my biggest fears because of being laughed at mercilessly when I made a mistake. It's a wonder I wanted to learn anything at all.
Standard stuff? Maybe. All part of growing up? Sure. But I think it could have been handled differently. Because since all of these things were happening to ME, it would have been nice if I was actually involved in any of it. If my opinions and thoughts and feelings were ever cared about or taken into consideration. If I felt like maybe, just maybe, my life and my deeply personal experiences weren't being used as entertainment for someone else.
So I conformed. I became the same as everyone else. I used the same words, watched the same tv shows and lost my opinions. And I got fat because I also lost the ability to connect with myself. I no longer knew how. I ate in the closet to feel good about myself and because it was the one thing I could control that was my little secret. The one place I didn't have to conform. I didn't have to tell anyone and if I was careful, no one would ever know...except for my expanding waistline.
The only things I was fairly adamant about were:
1. I hated exercise and always would, and
2. I couldn't ever lose weight because I was destined to be fat
So here I sit today, a lot of personal work later, re-learning how to connect with myself, discovering who I really am and caring for that little girl who has been so ashamed and embarrassed in the past - adamant about many things, highly opinionated, blog-writing and bossy (sometimes), and this is what I think:
1. I LOVE exercise - and I will not be embarrassed about admitting that I was wrong about this in the past (even though I know my mother will call me out on my complete distaste of it before - because that is what she does).
2. I can and I will lose the weight. All of it. Because I don't need it anymore.
3. I am an interesting person BECAUSE I have opinions. Like them or lump them, my opinions are part of who I am and therefore they are VALID.
4. I am pro Obama, I like Lady-Gaga but I think she's nuts, and Real Simple is the best magazine on the shelf.
5. Raves are horrid and I never want to attend another one in my life - which is good cause I think that fad is finally over now.
6. Lemmings are cute, but dumb.
7. I will LISTEN to my children - their thoughts, their feelings, their opinions. And I will empathize with their hearts and minds before I make comments that could hurt or shame them.
8. I am still terrified about feeling like I don't know something in a crowd and my first instinct is to nod and say "oh yeah, I like that" or "oh yeah, I know what you're talking about" but I am consciously working on admitting when I don't know something or when I do have an opinion about something.
9. I will be friends with people I like and who like me - regardless of which side of the tracks they come from.
10. Joey is still the cutest New Kid