When I was in elementary school, I would drag my unsuspecting mom to suburban retail boutiques. The sales girls sported high-waisted jeans and even higher bangs and studiously ignored us while I ran my fingers across all the clothes with the bold-faced names that I recognized from my glossy magazines at home. Guess. Esprit. The United Colors of Benetton. Club Monaco. Calvin Klein. The one thing they all had in common – they were all basic cotton but because of the name stitched in the tag or the triangle affixed to the right butt cheek they all cost about 65% more than they should.
I wanted all of them. I yearned to be a walking billboard for them. They represented success and popularity and perfect style and elite aloofness – ALL my life goals at the age of 12.
My mom would try and reason with me. Try to appeal to my rational mind. Tell me flat out: “that’s ugly and we can’t afford it.” In true pre-teen fashion I would declare, “I guess you don’t want me to ever be happy” and go pout in the backseat of the car.
What she couldn’t possibly understand was my status at school was wholly determined by the name brands on my chest and book bag and butt. As long as I avoided the social kisses of death (visibly eating my boogers or throwing up during an oral presentation), if I was a Guess girl I was IN. I was cool. Behind those name brands I was able to hide my crushing insecurity and lifetime of shyness and stand with the popular kids long enough that their reputation rubbed off on me and I became second in command of the cool girls. (Just typing that makes me laugh, but it was the highest honour I could have ever imagined achieving at that age. Well, that or becoming Candace Cameron’s bestie).
What I wish I could have whispered in my mom’s ear back then was – don’t worry. You will not go bankrupt keeping your daughter in designer denim overalls. Behold the winds – they are a changing.
For when I entered high school the grunge movement swept over me like a terrific tsunami of music and style and attitude and I relegated all my designer clothes to the back of my closet with a sneer.
Fitting in? Death to that. Now I wanted to step away from the sheep who all looked the same and scoff at their lemming-like behaviour.
Hair shaved short and dyed. Check.
Time between classes spent clomping down hallways in army boots, head down, earbuds jammed in ears, listening to beloved punk rock anthems. Check.
Complete wardrobe purchased from the men’s section at Value Village. Check!
My 5 years of high school clothing budget was about $200. Period. My mom and her poor wallet were so relieved.
Not so good was that after doing a 180 with my attitude towards fitting in I ended up abandoning a lot of valuable female friendships. Cutting loose kind girls who had been kind to me and helped me with impossible math projects all because they weren’t exactly like me.
Looking back I’m so angry at how I misunderstood what being cool really meant. Cool is being kind. Cool is not separating people into sub-groups and determining you or you or you aren’t worth my time. Cool is being inclusive and open to new ideas and loving people for how they are exactly like you or exactly the opposite of you. Cool is loving others and being loved in return. Since there weren’t any riot girrrl songs preaching just that, I learned too late.
Due to my stubborn snobbiness, I graduated high school with just one close friend. What a waste.
Now that my daughter has entered school I am so curious to see how and where she will find her place in the urban playground of her screaming school yard’s social setting. I worry about her being bullied or being the bully. I worry about her being branded a cry baby or a tattle tale. I worry she won’t fit in and I worry she will bite her tongue so she does fit in.
I know that all my worrying won’t change a thing. She’s been shaped by our family and friends who became our village over the last 5 years. Now that she has stepped outside of our arms, the influences are out of my hands and I have to make peace with that.
I also have to make peace with the fact that I didn’t save my white Guess overalls because they are so back in style. I could have made a killing on eBay.
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