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Honestly, I can’t really remember if I was 12, 13, or 14 years old. Regardless, these are words that can be hard on any teen girl… as it was for me. The words hit me like a ton of bricks–even though I knew it wasn’t intentional, they still made me think twice about who I was.
As the youngest of three girls, I always looked up to my sisters and wanted to be like them. Leia, named after the Skywalker princess, was the reader, she had the perfect shade of tan without needing to tan, and had the thick jet-black wavy hair. Jillia, named after mom’s best friend, had the long naturally straight hair, gorgeous eyes, and was so smart we often told her she was a sponge when it came to soaking up knowledge. And then, there was me. The little dramatic sister. Born with thin curly hair mainly un-tamable as a teen. Named after the first name glanced at in a book of baby girl names. I wasn’t really jealous of them… I wanted to be them…
Fast-forward to a few moments before this turning point of my life of self-worth.
All schools in Cayey had gathered their patrol students in an orientation meeting, a meeting all three of us attended. Probably the only educational gathering ever with both my sisters and I together. It was filled with students from all junior and high school. It was an exciting moment to be in such a large meeting. Is was one of those meetings in which you felt important, like you were going to be the change in your school. We were all gathered in the large community coliseum… El coliseo.
Before the meeting started, we were all mingling with each other, some visiting with kids from the other schools even. Then *Antonio came walking up to me. He had an interesting grin on his face. He was the kind of kid that made everyone laugh at the right time and was some-what cheerful all the time. As he approached he said: “Loraine, acabo de conocer a tus hermanas, ¡son bellas!” (Haha-let me translate) “Hey, Loraine! I just met your sisters, they are beautiful” he emphasized on the word “beautiful” the same way a chef show host would emphasize on the first taste of the most delicate meal just prepared. He’s right, they are beautiful. But he wasn’t done with his statement. His grin became somewhat sly as he cocked his head to the side and asked “Are you adopted?”.
I shrugged him off. I played it cool. But that was on the outside. On the inside there was a whole other story going on. The words “Your sisters are beautiful! Are you adopted?” swam around in my head echoing as to sinking into an eternal abyss. I didn’t have a crush on him or anything, but the drowning affect was just as real as my crushes on Jordan Knight and Jonathan Brandis. There was no surface. No rest. No land. No end to the thought. Somehow I equated Antonio’s comment as Leia & Jillia= beautiful = Loraine ≠ beautiful. Big misunderstanding. Although he probably did mean to make a quick laugh, for a young teenage girl, a comment like that can very well haunt them for a lifetime. So for me, it meant so much more.
I noticed myself trying to do everything my sisters did even more, from makeup to, using chemical hair straighteners (straightening irons weren’t invented yet and Yeah- BIG mistake!) Trying to become like my sisters didn’t help because they were good at being themselves- in fact they were great at being them. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t no matter how much makeup I put on; remember, Leia is a few shades darker than me? Her makeup suited her well, but for me I looked like a clown! And my hair became ever so tangled and adopted a whole new brittle texture to it. I kept experimenting on what I could do to be more like them, and in my eyes, I failed.
I don’t know exactly when I stopped trying to be like my sisters but it wasn’t until my first semester in Brigham Young University when I finally discovered my own natural beauty through an essay I had to write about on an experience I had as a teenager and I decided to write about this precise experience. As I examined my thought pattern as a teenager, I realized that I was SO focused on my outward looks as to define who I was. But I now know that I am not defined by my outward looks alone and that I do not need to be anyone but myself to be happy because most everyone else is already too busy comparing themselves to a fictional perfect someone they really do not have to feign to be. I still strive to be better, but now I strive to do that in my own skin (shade and all). I switched the equation to Leia=beautiful + Jillia=beautiful + Loraine=beautiful in her own ways. I still think my sisters have their own beauty and I love them for that beauty that extends far beyond their physical appearance.
Since I came to realize that I am better at being myself, I stopped looking at the things I didn’t have and started noticing what I do have. I learned to wear as much makeup that made me feel comfortable (usually just mascara) and I learned to love my dark brown curls (still thin- but thankfully not as brittle anymore). I also stopped just looking at myself outwardly and continue to develop who I am as a person. The result is that I am happier for it.
I’m glad I was able to look back at this moment in my life which enabled the echoing words to come back from the abyss and reach a surface and move forward with a new view from the exhausting struggle of keeping up as I did long ago. In fact I feel that looking back at it with new eyes helped me grow from it. Become stronger. Appreciate who I am.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering: no, I’m not adopted!
*of course this is NOT his real name! I’d hate for him to feel embarrassed about this. For all I know, he probably doesn’t even remember he ever said this since it was one of those life changing statements that brewed in my head over the years but for the other person it was just another “normal” day.