As women, we aren’t born feeling the same pressures that often plague our young adult and adult lives. We didn’t inherently feel guilty for ordering cheese fries over a side-salad or for being ruthlessly stubborn about what we want and believe in. We wore our tangly hair proudly down our backs and knees skinned up from way too many adventures. We yelled, played and didn’t have a single thought about being less than anyone else. We had no sense of comparison or judgements, just the senses that lit a fire in our bursting hearts and curious minds. Somewhere along the way, that always changes. That realization is something I have only recently uncovered inside of myself. This is for that little girl living inside of each of you too. It’s to help you remember her.
A few months ago, I saw this video on HuffPost Rise and was instantly inspired. Two years ago, photographer Kate T. Parker made it her mission to create a photo series, “Strong is the New Pretty”, that captured the raw beauty of girls and women, and empowered them to be their true selves. She said something that has stuck with me personally like an aching memory I can’t let go of. “So many girls are so confident until they reach puberty. They’re fearless. They’re such little badasses. Then they reach puberty and some of that just gets lost.”
Can you remember a time when the sheer thought of self-doubt and criticism was a distant, unfathomably concept to you? When I watched the video, I remembered myself. I remembered slip and sliding into mud puddles with the neighbor girls and eating entire batches of raw cookie dough with my friends when we were twelve. I remembered sneaking into the bathtub at night to stay up reading Harry Potter books and digging for worms with my sister when my mom gardened. I remembered days where I would play soccer with the boys, write a poem in my journal and make up games with my own rules all in the same day. I could be and like anything that I wanted without feeling the need to fit a framework. I never thought about if my friends were prettier, smarter or better than me. I never thought about what I was supposed to be, because I thought I was just supposed to be me. And then eventually, like all of you reflecting on your young, quirky personalities, things changed.
It’s when people slowly make you feel ugly for the way you are. It’s those nasty years of breakdown. It’s when you start to question everything. “Am I too weird, loud or bossy?” “What am I supposed to act like?” “Is that not what girls do?” “What is my body supposed to look like?” “It’s changed a lot, and there are a million images of women around me that don’t really look like me at all.” “Should I look like that?”
Then it’s people letting you down. “Why don’t those girls like me?” “Why did they say that about me?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why did that boy say he loved me and then say I wasn’t good enough?” “Why would someone hurt me if I’m perfect the way I am?”
After you get called both a slut and prude, a know-it-all and an idiot, an attention seeker and a nobody, an anorexic and a fat girl, a party slob and nerd at some point in your life, you let your inner bad ass wash away with the tide of adolescent torture.
We all end up falling into a mold in certain ways. The sticky clay of pressure and growing up as a girl pulls us into a twisted sense of normality. We sort of accept it for the time being. We retain pieces of who we are, but let the other ones fall away somewhere in the mix. This brings me to the other part of myself I saw in that video, and one you can see too, as it’s the woman we can each become.
After you break free from the poison of being surrounded by insecurities and stereotypes, you get a chance to find yourself again. When you let go of the experiences that brought you down and immerse yourself in positivity and support, you feel the power to be whoever you want. When you gain much needed confidence in your passion and direction in life, that real light inside of you starts to shine again, even if you didn’t quite realize it was gone. You naturally stop caring as much what people think of you, and more about what you think of yourself. I have started to accept my body, personality and flaws for what they are, instead of endlessly fight them, and that’s how 10-year-old Lexi would feel. She’s starting to resurface more than ever.
When I moved to a city and job that allowed me to be surrounded with people just as quirky, passionate and opinionated as I was, I found parts of myself I had long lost. Some days I think I even dress more like my twelve-year-old self than ever, with lace-up little skater shoes and comfy jeans being my typical attire at work. When I found a genuine, encouraging boyfriend and a healthy relationship, I started to forget about all the hurtful experiences with men that weighed so deeply on my self-worth. When I kept certain friendships and met new ones that only sought to bring me up in life, I found that initial motivation to compare, compete and condemn so often forced upon women, ceased to exist.
Growing into a new stage in life can often actually bring you back to who you really are. It can allow you to root your self-confidence in passionate mediums not affected by physical appearance or the judgements of others. It can set you free. You have to embrace that. Being a woman and being yourself isn’t what you find behind a filtered Instagram image you critiqued a million times to ensure it meets every standard society has instilled in your brain like electroshock. There is no right or wrong kind of woman, just a bunch of bad ass little girls layered with varying experiences. Our dirty knees have turned into the moments that made us stronger. Our once tangly hair has now seen years of exhausting messy-bun-all-nighters, sandy beaches, broken hair ties, sweaty workouts, poorly chosen hair dye and unexpected rainstorms. Instead of sliding into mud puddles, we now slide into the impossible.
I urge you to look inside of yourself and rejoice at the genuine perfection of your own uniqueness. Share this with your sisters, friends, cousins and daughters. Empower them to be whoever they want to be, and find that unwavering strength we all have as children. Let’s be free again. Let’s be courageous, silly, impassioned and daring again. Let’s be different again. Let’s be real again.