“True confidence doesn’t come from your not having any fear. It comes from trusting yourself to act in spite of your fear.” ~Unknown
#ItGetsBetter couldn’t be a more appropriate intro to the following piece written by a remarkable young woman I connected with on Facebook. Caitlin Hernandez is such a charming storyteller and I so enjoy reading her commentary. She is hilarious when she takes on family member personas, complete with accents. In today’s post, she speaks to something deeply personal to her and how she chose to embrace self-confidence.
#ItGetsBetter: Embracing Self-Made Confidence
I’m hesitating a bit to share this, but I’m going to because I can, and in case it helps someone.
So one of the boss fifth-grade teachers I share students with offered to be my “blind date” for our school’s fundraising auction (I won’t out her YET, but I’m sure there’ll be pictures!). I was so stoked because, frankly, I don’t ever go to (boring and awkward) “adult functions” like this on my own unless (a) I’m coerced and/or (b) I know I’ll have someone to hang with who won’t middle-school-friend dance-ditch me. But then I remembered that I’d have to dress up … nooo! And I also remembered that y’know, everyone at school thinks I look like an eighth-grader. So then I started getting a little excited about dressing up and maybe actually stunning people by proving that I can look my age. I don’t know why that matters to me–it probably shouldn’t–but it does.
Hunting For the Perfect Dress
Anyway … my mom, as she so often is, was delighted when I semi-grumpily told her that I was sick of wearing my sole “little black dress” whenever I have to dress up, especially because the lacy material snags on everything, and that I guessed the time had come to go on another dress hunt. We went to Macy’s and had a shockingly easy time finding not one, not two, but THREE very different dresses which (a) fit me and (b) were on super-sale. (I told her gleefully that, now, I won’t have to go shopping for years. She just grumbled.)
The deep part: I realize that I’m honing in on the ten-year anniversary of starting college … also the ten-year anniversary of being assaulted … also the ten-year anniversary of feeling incredibly vulnerable and miserable in any outfit that wasn’t jeans and a baggy hoodie zipped to my chin. Struggling to feel safe in your own skin gets compounded so, so much when you don’t know when or how someone is looking at you … and when friends, in trying to be supportive, sometimes compliment you in ways that only confirm to you that you shouldn’t draw attention to your appearance, because that’s just asking for trouble.
Self-Made Confidence By Choice
I’m not going to say it’s taken ten years for me to heal and to feel better. Parts of me felt better a long time ago, and parts of me probably never will feel completely better. BUT I honestly haven’t WANTED to be seen–haven’t wanted to dress up and look good–since I was in high school. I’ve felt hints of it–getting my rainbow dress for Caro’s wedding and having my three, straight-guy aca-besties (straight, best male friends from collegiate a capella) take it in turns to dance with me; wearing my “little black dress” to Choral Institute and standing onstage to read my poem; not being afraid to wear a dress to a karaoke bar in L.A. because I knew Bry and Colin would never let anything happen–but last night was the first time I didn’t just slump on the sidelines while Debbie (my mom) eagerly picked out dresses. I was right in there with her, the way I was for homecoming and junior prom and senior ball in high school: pawing eagerly and shamelessly through the racks of dresses and asking her about the styles that *I* liked by touch and wanted to try on. I really felt like I WANTED to be pretty like I wanted to own that choice.
This isn’t just about dresses. You don’t need dresses or pretty clothes to be beautiful, or to feel strong and safe and confident, or to look your age; I know that. This is about self-made confidence and safety in my own mind and skin … which, for me, right now, feels like it’s about dresses, which I’d almost forgotten I used to like.
I’ll never be that girl who wears anything flashy or scandalous because that’s just not me. But I didn’t feel vulnerable in any of the dresses we tried … not one. And that was HUGE.
It’s hard to explain. But it’s been so long, and this newfound comfortableness crept up on me entirely unexpectedly, and it made me so happy, even though it’s hard for me to articulate or even understand precisely what it is, or how and why it came about.
Oh, I also got ballet slippers–I can never find shoes!–and a little purse, because Debbie sniped that I’d better not bring my BrailleNote and “wreck the outfit.” Sighties don’t understand anything. And Conrad and Barney (two of my oldest girlfriends) are coming over the day of to help me. I’m still not a makeup girl–I never will be … I hereby decree that here, in writing–but I might consent to a little, just cuz I kinda want to shock people by looking like a real adult, and that seems to work well on sighties. I want my rainbow nails (Alison’s specialty), but that’d probably age me down a few years. I also want my face glitter. Hopefully, that will be approved by the fashionistas.
I don’t even really know why I’m putting this out into the universe, except, I guess, to say that in many ways #ItGetsBetter.
And … thank you to all the people who listened to and loved me enough to help me get here. Even when I was the only girl dressed in a button-down in the a cappella line-up, or wearing hoodies in the summer, or attaching to you like a barnacle in a crowd, or doing any number of the things I did to cope. Y’all know who you are.
#ItGetsBetter Image Description:
Caitlin stands in the corner of the room in front of a gray pillar and a window to her left. She is wearing a fancy, solid-black dress that ends just above the knees with a floral-looking, lace pattern along her arms and down her sides to her hips. She’s grinning and holding the back of her hands out towards the camera, showing off her dark colored nail polish. A small black purse hangs by her right hip.