Funny, how you learn something and it kind of changes everything? A bit vague, yes, so I will happily elaborate (and you know I will).
This past weekend, my Mother and I discussed how there are a few things in life I simply cannot take, accept, or stand. One of those things is teasing. I don’t like to be teased. In any way. Tongue-in-cheek teasing, jokey jokey teasing, whatever–when it happens, my insides shrivel up and I am transported back to the nauseating days of my adolesence, when my peers had no problem choosing something they considered “odd” or “weird” about me and commenced with mercilessly teasing and mocking me about it. (Super sensitive? Why, yes, I am. But I still reserve the right to despise it, thankyouverymuch.) Out of all the humiliating, teasing moments I’ve experienced (and there have been so, so many; trust that I will be penning a book for adolescent/teen girls on how to just plain survive in the near future), Mom and I discussed a singular, significant moment in my past that always stands out. It stands out for various reasons, but following last weekend’s discussion, I look at that moment now from an entirely different and far more powerful perspective.
Picture it: Surburbia, Northern VA, 1989 (I love you, Sophia Petrillo): I was a new sixth-grader at a brand new elementary school; quiet, shy, terrified by my new surroundings. That day, we sat on the nubby, brown-carpeted floor in the chorus room waiting for our chorus teacher. I was sitting against the wall, next to the radiator, facing a group of my classmates. I remember one of them lifting up his finger to point (this culprit, the ringleader, would resurface time and time again in my young life) at me, after which he started chanting, “Fish lips, fish lips, look at her fish lips.” A gaggle of other kids followed suit, pointing, chanting, and laughing. I remember wondering–I suppose this was the first manifestation of my whole delayed reaction thing–who they were pointing, chanting, and laughing at. I looked around me. I even laughed a little. Then I noticed that the few kids who weren’t pointing, chanting, and laughing were looking at me with strange, sad faces. The others who couldn’t look just stared down at the ground. It became clear: I was the target of the pointing, chanting, and laughing. I blinked in surprise…in confusion…in embarassment…in pain. My stomach dropped. I remember feeling dizzy. Why were they doing this to me? It kept going until our chorus teacher entered the room, when everything became conveniently quiet and still again. How did I react later, you wonder? Did I cry? Hold a grudge against the mongrels? Tell my little sister (who would have figured out a way to pound each of their faces in), my parents? None of the above. I did nothing. After the shock and pain wore off, I stopped thinking about it. I even became friends with two of the girls that had been part of the mocking crew, both of whom later subjected me to daily doses of peer pressure and further humiliation. Maybe it’s the wiring of a child’s mind, to forget and forgive so easily. I digress. Recall my statement about delayed reaction? Well, I did react eventually…for the next several years:
- I started to cover my mouth when I smiled or laughed.
- I hated seeing my lips in photos.
- I would look in the mirror and stare at my lips in disdain.
- I became so sensitive about my lips that when someone would look in my direction, I wondered if they were gawking at them.
A subconscious, toxic imprint was created in me that day, a fact I didn’t realize until later. Nevertheless, this really isn’t about the damage that day did and my long journey in finally accepting these lips and by extension, this face, and even larger, who I am as a person. What I now find incredible about that terrible day goes back to last weekend, during the aforementioned discussion with my Mom. Last weekend was when I learned something I never knew before: Mom revealed that my late father was so teased about his lips that he grew a moustache to take the attention off them.
I was shocked. How could anyone tease my father, who was arguably the most handsome man I knew? And yes, I’m biased, but I happen to know that plenty of people share this opinion, ok? My Pops was a looker.
Even more incredulous: my Dad and I had shared the same struggle in trying to hide something that had no business being hidden.
But here comes the new perspective I mentioned earlier. Drumroll, please: finding out what my Dad went through with his self-image reminds me of how alike we really were. Good or bad, I love this. I love it times 100. Because knowing what he went through makes me identify with him even more, understand him even more, and appreciate the memory of him even more and more. Not only that, the revelation about my father strips away the power from the kids that chose to–for whatever psychological reason–target me. When I think about that day or speak of it now, I’ll only remember that my beloved dad went through it and he got throught it. Just like I did. You’re just like your father (heard it my whole life) has never meant more to me.
So these luscious lips of mine? They’re beautiful, plump, pronounced, and so liptastic. I stopped being ashamed of them a long time ago. And why not? I got them from my father.