Who I Was and Who I Am
I have always adopted varying roles that serve as defense mechanisms.
In middle school I was the “fat,” “funny” friend. I watched my shorter and thinner friends, looking how I wanted to look, taking up less space, picking up “boyfriends” over G-mail chat and dropping them the next week. I told myself I didn’t want that - I wanted to be silly, make people laugh, liking boys just wasn’t in the cards. At least, it was easier to tell myself that was what I wanted. It was easier to hide behind an identity that would protect me. I considered my middle school friends girls with the ability to attract boyfriends, so I figured that if I didn’t even try to be like them, I wouldn’t have to face the rejection and failure that goes along with being ‘that type of girl,’ a type that I secretly did wish to be. You can’t lose something if you never had it to begin with.
The year I turned fourteen, I dropped thirty pounds in a single summer. I told myself my weight loss was simply due to losing baby fat, rather than facing reality: I was exercising at a level disproportionate to the of calories I was consuming. I embraced my new body, deciding to adopt a new identity. The new me was a quiet, hard-working dancer at a New York performing arts high school. I suddenly hated that old middle school persona, and hated that I was ever funny or outgoing. I hated whenever I let that side of me slip, by making a joke in class or laughing hard with school-mates. I even tried to change my voice, to make it higher and softer. I eagerly showed new friends photos of me when I was “fat,” making fun of that version of myself. And I stuck to that character, never letting myself stray. If I got good grades, I told myself it was only because I organized my planner well and worked hard, not because I was smart. So, if I didn’t get into the Ivy where I was wait-listed, I told myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t even want it because I wasn’t smart in the first place. If people weren’t eager to be my friend, it was okay because I was quiet and didn’t put myself out there anyway. I became uncomfortable whenever I strayed away from this role. When I made friends or people liked me, I was suspicious, thinking to myself “No, I’m not a person to be liked.”
This desire to shape myself into someone I wasn’t, to prevent myself from getting hurt, continued into a toxic friendship at the start of college. I was lost, having quit ballet (what used to be my life) and desperate for a role, and thus completely vulnerable to being manipulated into any position. I allowed this friend to constantly position me next to her. I bought into the identity she had given me and even encouraged it. If I got all A’s, I was still the dumb one. If I started dating someone and they found me attractive, I was still the less skinny (a priority in her mind) and less pretty one. I had become an inferior mirror for her, what she could look at to feel better about herself. And I accepted it. Now, I accept that I accepted it, with full responsibility. She created these conditions, but I let her because I was terrified of being myself.
Somewhere I must have been taught that the way I was meant I would not succeed in school or find a partner or have friend. I learned that it was shameful to be me, so I felt like I had to change myself. When I succeeded at something, I determined it accidental, not even what I wanted for myself in the first place.
The idea of “identity” intrigues me - how do we slip and slide between beings to fit what we think is wanted from the rest of the world? I do not know how I grew out of this desire to alter my identity, I only know that writing this, wondering what my role is, I realized that I don’t have one other than being me. I do not place myself next to anyone to determine what exactly I am. I do not change who I am because of the fear that my true self will not succeed. There are
parts of myself I pick at and wish desperately to change - we all have those - but they don’t force me to be someone different from who I am. I don’t know if this will shift as I get older, or if I will discover hidden aspects of my identity, but right now, I am pleased with this me.