For those of you who didn’t know me when I was 12, let me paint the picture. I’ll need to start by doing a quick rewind to when I was 11. I had knocked out my front tooth when I slipped at a water park and the dentist tried shoving the tooth back into the empty gap in my gums to see if the root would reattach. By sixth grade the tooth in question turned gray and died despite having nine root canals. I had to have the tooth pulled. So in an attempt to avoid a bridge and keep real teeth my orthodontist decided to shift all my teeth forward with braces and then do bonding on the original teeth instead of having a bridge. By the time yearbook photos came around I was a 12-year-old without a front tooth and braces. Take a moment to envision this…
In addition to this lovely image, I had decided the evening before picture day to cut myself some bangs. My friend and I stood in front of her bathroom mirror, wet our hair and proceeded to give ourselves a trim. Did you know that if your hair is wet and you pull it down to your eyebrows, when it dries it’ll be shorter than what is considered to be okay for bangs, and then if you add curly hair into that mix-you’ve got a front fringe of hair that looks slightly like a mullet but not quite as cool?
To top it off, oh yes, there’s more, I decided to wear a yellow V-neck sweater with a black dickie for pictures. If you can not recall what a dickie is it’s because you were born too late to enjoy this fashion trend of the 90’s. It’s a fake turtleneck. Not to be confused with a mock, or shorter turtleneck, it’s fake in the way that it doesn’t have what would it require to have to be considered clothing. It doesn’t have sleeves or even sides to go under your arms. It’s simply a square piece of material with a hole cut in the middle to squeeze your fuzzy newly cut bangs through. It is only enough material to cover a bust. Go ahead and google it if you need to. It is an amusing thing to discover that they are still sold. Now I should reiterate here that I was wearing a black dickie under a yellow sweater. You could see this anomaly of a black shadow outlining my bust clearly.
This photo is classic. I love it. It’s so horrendous. I was the ugliest person in the history of ever that year. But I didn’t care.
Life in sixth grade was a continuous disaster. I cut my middle finger off when it was slammed in the gym door at school. They stitched it back on with fingers crossed (pun intended) that it wouldn’t die like my tooth. I had to learn to write left-handed and keep my middle finger, in a splint, raised above my heart for six weeks to help circulation. This gave me permission to set my elbow on my desk and flip the bird in class for 7 hours a day. I didn’t have any classes with one of my best friends. My mother was dating a creep and eventually married him. We had new step-siblings. We moved ….again. My brother stole my bike for drug money. My father was basically absent and that year he sent me the exact same thing for Christmas as he did for my birthday.
When you’re 12, these are defining moments in your life.
Life was crazy. But I loved it. And this is the part I can’t figure out: I was confident and had no reason to be. Isn’t that the coolest? A slightly mulleted, toothless, dickey wearing, bird flipping 12 year old with family issues was generally happy. I was lucky. I had self-esteem. I look back and wonder why it was possible. Massive dorkiness combined with the outside appearance of a mutant.
So why am I writing this post? To embarrass myself? That hardly needs to be done in a written statement. I happily oblige to do that at any point in time. The reason is because I have spent a lot of time in my adult years with middle school girls from having my own daughters and their friends to coaching different things. I see my own girls accept the pressures that they have to be perfect from social media. High self-esteem is something that has been taken away from the youth who now not only feel they have to compete with those they know in real life but with their social media icons. The standard of normal jumped into hyper mode and is now an edited perfection that is impossible to reach. The pressure is mounting that to be special you have to be someone you’re not. To be special, girls need to know that they need to be themselves. Average should be the new special.
I wish I could have that kind of inner love for myself now that I did when I was in middle school and stop letting other people’s opinions of me effect my self-confidence. I wish my kids had my 12 year old kind of self-esteem. I wish all middle school girls could love themselves like that. And especially all those darling girls I know from coaching.
So why did I manage to survive middle school without suffering? I said it before-I didn’t care. I didn’t care about what people thought of me. I did what I wanted, when I wanted. I cussed a lot, had spitting contests with the boys during lunch, played bloody-Mary, ate so many cherries I was sick for days. We went toilet papering 14 days in a row (but often went back the next day to help them clean it up as this was my strategy to see the boy as often as possible. (It worked)). We played night games late into the night and took over entire neighborhoods. I wore clothes that didn’t match and shoes with holes. I made weekly long-distance prank phone calls to Tucker T. Fuddrucker. I cut my own hair and flipped the bird for 6 solid weeks with a smile on my face. I told my friends if they had stuff in their teeth, if they smelled bad, or if their hair looked funny. I was blatant and direct with everybody. (Luckily, my parents had instilled in me some sense of respect for adults because I could mind my manners when needed). I could speak my mind or hold my tongue but the choice was mine. In my own little world-I ruled.
I wish everyone would stop caring so much about things that don’t matter and choose the things that are important to give their time and energy. I wish they would embrace their curly hair, love their crooked teeth, wear their favorite shoes until they fall off, join coding club if they want to even if their friends say it’s nerdy. I wish they’d stop caring what their friends think and instead do what they love because they love it. I wish they’d start thinking for themselves and outside of what social media tells them to think. There’s love and freedom in being yourself. It’s the only true way to develop your self-esteem.