My first steps on this road began when I began to explore my identity. This project has taken me down a road that I have been longing to travel, yet have been afraid to explore. During these past few months, I realize that I have been running away from myself. For nine years, I have been avoiding the recognition of my own identity. I have been searching and striving to find the perfect version of myself, the ideal representation of self, the one that will be best accepted by society, and even, by the ones I love. Blonde to brunette, side swept to full bangs, unmarked skin to a tattoo, shy to comfortable, afraid to peace—so many changes are taking place since the decision to return to me.
Who have I been trying to be—what identities have I been adopting; what have I been hiding behind?
I realize I have been living in fear. I have been harboring a deep fear that came as a result of my fragile existence behind the facades I created. I was constantly afraid they were transparent, so I kept running, striving, pretending, out of fear that if I paused too long, people might actually see me, or if someone came too close they would see behind that which I used to hide. I was a scared soul, afraid of myself, trying to fool the outside world. And all the while, deceiving myself.
Where did this come from? For nine years, I have been here, or I have been there, successfully hiding from myself, existing, camouflaged in the world. I am beginning to experience freedom and peace as I slowly return to myself. "Love your neighbor as yourself," I realize I need to love myself as neighbor, as I have been under the influence, and unable to see, me as I am, fearing that others will judge me just as harshly as I judge myself.
How did this all begin—why did I start hiding? I initiated the fabrication of this facade in junior high. This was the time when I became self aware, and it was the time that held the initial creation of the internal image I have been comparing myself to. Like most American junior-high-age girls, I developed an image that defined beauty. Beauty to me looked like my friend—Lauren R; the tall, skinny, blonde, outgoing, athletic, cheerleader, who captured the hearts of every boy in our class. I can now admit, I wanted to be her—or at least look just like her. But I did not. I was short, not incredibly thin, brunette, with bangs, and shy. I was the opposite of her, yet we shared the same name. She, in my mind, was the beautiful Lauren, and I was the other.
Validating this perspective of what I was beginning to believe was the idealization of beauty, were the fashion magazines that I allowed to saturate my life. Recognizing a consistent definition of beauty that surfaced amongst the various publications, I adopted the belief that the social ideal was one that aligned with the characteristics of my friend. I did not possess anything that remotely aligned with this definition of beauty, and therefore, grew to despise my appearance, and slowly, my entire self.
The transformation began. My mission to achieve beauty began the summer before I began sixth grade. I was determined to be beautiful, and this meant that much needed to change. I was going to be attractive, and therefore, I was going to be blonde, I was going to be tan, I was going to be thin—I was going to become the beautiful Lauren.
Nine years I have been working to maintain this identity, fooling the world and disguising myself. For nine years I have been striving to uphold this image of beauty, until I realized what I had been struggling to uphold, and upon deciding to let go, I am watching it shatter.
Recently, I made the decision to begin the long walk home. I have awoken to the realization that I had been running away from myself, avoiding the recognition of who I am. I feel as though I had been held in captivity, under the intoxicating influence of the fashion industry, and the definition of beauty that is communicated. This definition was one that I did not naturally fit, and therefore felt irrelevant, and which led to a deteriorated sense of self. This project, and the research I have been conducting for the past six months has been a restorative journey for my soul.
I am once again brunette. I once again have bangs. I am not struggling to be this person I am not—I am no longer being crushed by the weight of the false definition I have been trying to live into. I am defining my own.
It is easier now, to get dressed each morning, as I am not trying to pick the perfect costume to hide behind, I am simply dressing for the role of myself. I ask myself who I am, and wait for the answer. The voices are beginning to quiet, and I am listening to my heart—to the definition of beauty in which God has created me.
I had the realization this past week, that my capstone project will not change the world. I can not break the entire system of monarchy we live within; I can not liberate our nation from the control. But, I can choose to be free. I can step into anarchy and choose to fight against the dictatorial control that I have allowed the fashion industry to have upon my life.
I may not be able to change the world with this project, but it has changed mine.