I like to stand out. I like to be different.
Writing the buzz cut piece reminded me.
Well, getting the buzz cut reminded me. And then writing about it. For me, everything is two-pronged: the doing and the writing.
As a little kid, I was shy, but I liked to stand out. People don’t think those things go together. They think when you’re shy you want to disappear. But I was just particular about the ways that I wanted to stand out.
I hear that kids are supposed to be afraid of being different from other kids. And I’ve definitely had those moments, of course. But for some reason, there weren’t many of them. Instead, there was this fierce pride. Like a little unquenchable flame, just inside my belly, a tiny eternal light like the one that hung over the ark where the Torahs are kept on the bima. But mine didn’t have cobwebs like the one at temple.
“Why doesn’t the school bus pick you up in the morning?” my neighbor, Benny, asked me when I was ten. He sounded a little accusing.
“Because my mom doesn’t let it,” I said.
“My mom says you probably go to school at a special school. At your Jewish church.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t go to any school. And it’s not a church, it’s called Temple Har Zion.” I felt important.
Benny made a face at me that said, “you aren’t saying real words.” “That’s weird,” he said.
“Do you want to learn a prayer in Hebrew?” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
So I taught him the Sh’ma, the central prayer. Sh’ma yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad. I sang it. I convinced him to sing it, too.
I was the weirdest kid on our street, of course. Jewish AND homeschooled, in a town where no one was either. In a town where once the boys down the street cut a swastika in a nearby cornfield. So I don’t know why I liked to stand out. Maybe because I was always with my mom, and she was always comfortable standing out.
She was always fighting for something. She was boycotting Nestle, because they made the baby formula that was being given to new mothers in the hospital, before they even asked for it. They should at least know their options, she said. So we couldn’t eat Nestle chocolate. Which was sort of a joke, because we never ate candy anyway. She felt strongly about lots of stuff, even when everyone else didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. I didn’t have to think about it—she had to be right.
It was a good thing that I liked being different, because there was a lot of it waiting for me. In fact, it wasn’t until I was much older, maybe even halfway through college, that I started to notice how normal I actually was. It was disappointing.
Yesterday, Bear called me brilliant, and I laughed. “I’m not brilliant,” I said. “Obviously.”
He tried to protest.
“I’m smart,” I said, “And I’m good at some stuff. But I know enough to know I’m not a genius. And it’s totally fine.”
“Well, you’re perfect to me,” he conceded. I accepted that.
I am totally fine with not being brilliant. It’s less pressure. When I started college, and I wanted so badly to be the smartest one, it was a lot of effort, all the time. I had to watch my vocabulary, in case I slipped back into normal words. I had to be careful not to mispronounce “hegemony,” which quickly became my favorite word. I was always trying frantically to remember a quote from something I’d just read.
In college, I realized that I was not stand-out beautiful. So it was even more important that I stood out in other ways.
As a little kid, I just assumed I was. The way I assumed my mom was always right. The way I assumed I understood the world. I thought I was unusually beautiful because I was unusual. It seemed self-explanatory. Obvious.
Now, more than a decade later, it occurs to me that I still love to stand out. That I want to be anything but ordinary. Anything but unseen, unremarkable. That despite the strings of aching minutes standing in front of my narrow dorm room mirror, silently, viciously disassembling my own worth feature by feature, I still tumble backwards into my own odd self-confidence.
After years of hunching forward. Of turning automatically frontward so that no one would have to see my damning profile. So they wouldn’t know the sad truth about my face. Of laughing with a hand over my nose, because I hated the way it looked even bigger when I laughed. Of never figuring out how to be around a camera. Of covering up my arms. Of trying to cover up all of my supposed flaws, so that the world would be spared. Of watching myself gain weight and wondering if a face like mine would make a body like mine was becoming impossible. Unallowable. Wrong. Of calculating measurements and rules and wild guesses and colors and sizes and carbs and proportions. Of giving up in a heap of self-loathing. Of going out with my gaze on the ground. Of wondering what he’d really meant when he’d said I was sexy. No, that couldn’t be right. Of wondering if it was time for another nose job. When was the right time? Of suspecting that no matter what, I was probably never going to be really beautiful. Not for real. Not the way really beautiful women are beautiful. So it’s a lost cause. So why do you even care? Of wondering then if it meant I should be smarter. As though there is this cosmic scale with beauty on one end and your brain on the other.
After all that– there is still a willingness to catch eyes in a crowd. To say something stupid or say something strange. To speak without thinking. To admit how weird I am. And now, to admit how normal I am.
To admit that I still feel beautiful when I stand out. In a long bright skirt with no hair and huge earrings. With a big nose and full lips and rounded hips. In a tight dress that shows off my cheerful belly and my only-slightly-larger-than-before breasts. Looking like no one except myself. Looking exactly like me.
It comes in bursts. It sneaks up. It’s there.
I feel beautiful for being unusual, sometimes.
It’s that flame. It won’t go out.
(source. the other pics here are also of eternal lights, of the sort that hang in synagogues. they’re really cool-looking. and the light always has to stay on. that’s the rule.)
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Do you feel comfortable standing out?
Unroast: Today I love my white nail polish. It’s chipping, of course. When is it not chipping?
A reader sent me this picture of her awesome new hair. She wrote: I was inspired by your post that mentioned something saying that you had an interesting face and could pull off short hair. I’ve always admired short hair but have been scared to try it. Since all the fous is now on my face, would it hold up to scrutiny? But shifting the idea from focusing on beautiful to interesting made it easier. Oh course I have an interesting face! Everyone does- They’re all different, how could you ever be bored?
God, yes. Thank you so much for this message and the picture! You’re interesting and beautiful at the same time
She also included an unroast: Today I love how I look in a super bright, super long skirt.
Which is funny, because I was just talking about that in this post! Perfect!
Please send me your own pictures and unroasts, if you’d like me to post them!