When I was young, I had a horrible time sharing myself with the world.
I was awkward, nervous, hormonal, uncertain.
I felt different and I had no idea how to articulate my quirkiness, nor any idea how to celebrate it.
So I did what every other teenage girl in the history of the world has done.
I hid myself because life was hard and hiding was easier.
I put on the mask.
You know the mask. The one that tells the world that you are perfect and nice. The one that says don’t rock the boat or raise your hand and get noticed. Don’t let your light shine too brightly and don’t laugh too loudly or too much. Don’t be fearless and don’t cry. Don’t continue to be a square peg while everyone else is a round hole.
I promised I would just wear the mask for school in order to help me fit in. Then, I would only wear it at certain family functions. I would most definitely wear it to church, so as not to make the pastor angry. And I soon decided I should put it on when I talked to boys, because no one wants to see the real me, right?
The real me is a mess of emotions and pain. Unloveable. And if I wanted to be loved, I believed I needed to be perfect.
The mask I believed was my salvation, was actually a prison of my own making. I had worn this mask for so long, I had no idea who I really was.
The masked face I had always worn to impress others had only diminished the real me. My true self had lived in the shadows for so long, could I ever grow and bloom? Was I even loveable?
At first, the light felt harsh. I could see all my flaws and cracks in the sunlight.
Still, I had to take off that mask.
My marriage ended when I removed the mask. Friends became angry when I removed it. Members of my family were confused and sometimes hostile.
But for the first time ever, I could see my true beauty.
A new idea began to take root, deep in the heart of me: I did not have to be perfect.
My imperfections were just as inspirational and important to my community as any outdated perception of me.
When I finally chose to remove my mask I finally heard the beat of my own heart.
And it was beautiful.
There comes a point when we all must take off the mask. Maybe not today… but someday we must.
Leading difficult conversations on race, class + gender. Building resilient organizations at The Adaway Group. Writer. Speaker. Coach.