I once had a boss describe me as "graceful."
It was meant to be a casual compliment, an observation more than flattery. In the moment, several major things went through my head, causing me to essentially short-circuit:
1. Is she screwing around with me the way Josh Franklin did in high school by saying something deadpan like, "I'm really into butter churning," expecting me to pick up on the joke, but because I take everything literally (and I'm a little tone-deaf), I politely played along and asked about the tools of his trade? Is it one of those situations?
2. Did she confuse me with another Asian?
3. Did she not understand the definition of "graceful"?
4. Was she talking to someone behind me?
5. OH GAWD DID SHE SEE ME "SASSY WALKING" THROUGH THE LOBBY AND FEELS SORRY FOR ME?
My face forgot how to work as I processed so many suspicions, and I just stared at my boss. "Hey..." I said and made us both uncomfortable. Then I almost cried.
Oh, yeah, and I was 28 at the time. I had an intern. Who I taught stuff to.
Look, this isn't some weird bid to get all my stalkers to come out of the woodwork to say, "But, Lou [all my stalkers call me Lou], you are graceful!" This is not that. I have my moments of grace; I know that. But since my spirit animal is a Clydesdale with the head of a badger, my moments of grace are evenly matched with my moments of CLOMP-CLOMP-CLOMP, I'M GONNA GRAB YER FOOD, PET ME?
You see, in my mind's eye, I am still this gal:
Or this gal:
That's middle school Louise and freshman year in college Louise. We're all our worst critics, but when I see myself in my head, I see one of those two Louises. Sometimes, I still feel like those Louises.
That Louise desperately wanted to be included, wanted, but not noticed. As much as she longed to be the "pretty girl" or the "popular girl" or the "cool girl," she really believed that her role in life was to be audience to other people's successes.
That Louise practically purred when the cool kids jokingly dubbed her the "token Asian."
That Louise was constantly fighting with her hair, her thighs, her skin, wrestling her body to be something it was not. And though she knew deep down that she should just BE LOUISE, she was terrified that she was fundamentally unlovable.
She was awkward, she mimicked others in an attempt to BECOME THEM, and she worried that people would smell her B.O. or know she was on her period. She used hair, "quirky" clothing choices, and a cultivated "weirdness" to both hide and control the attention she drew. (I still do this to an extent, if I'm to be totally honest.)
That was a Louise whose subtext was, "Can I play?"
I am not that Louise anymore. I am the person who wants to hug that Louise and cry with her. But catch me at the right moment and you'll see that girl staring back at you. More often than I want to admit, I have a split second of fear when I think, "Oh, shit, do you see me, I mean see me?"
In the right moment, I'll be worrying that you're judging the ghost of the bad perm I still think is on my head, smelling phantom B.O. from years gone by.
I am a pretty swell Adult Louise who I've grown to really like, but I know I share my core with Adolescent–I don't trust my body–"Can I play?"–Louise. I accept her, but she comes with baggage.
I think most of us still have our former selves lurking somewhere within us. I actually love it. Whenever I meet someone I'm intimidated by (so almost everyone), I like to wonder about their "mind's eye self." Is this ravishing pegasus of a person more like my badger-Clydesdale self than they'd care to admit?
Our inner selves can be great equalizers.
So who is the person you are in your mind's eye? Who is the person you still default to when you picture yourself in your head?
Tell us about that person! It might be the most awkward party ever.
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