My sister sent me this picture last night. She found it in a box of things cleaned out from my grandfather’s house, and naturally, she felt it was important to show it to me as soon as possible, just in case I’d forgotten that I once looked like this.
First, I showed it to my husband, who said, “Wow. And then that happened,” and we laughed for a few minutes. I texted it to a few of my best friends, who all had the wiseass responses I love them for. Then I started brewing up the perfect pithy caption to accompany the pic on social media, one that would guarantee me temporary internet fame.
But then I stopped myself.
My code as a writer and social media presence is to avoid humor at other people’s expense. It’s easy to throw someone else under the bus to get a laugh; it’s a lot harder to dig around for one elsewhere. If I posted this picture as a joke, I would indeed be making fun of someone: Me.
The little girl in the picture knew all about jokes at her expense – it’s inevitable when you’re a fat kid – and she would hear plenty more in the years to come. The last thing she needed was her grown-up self to make a punchline out of her, too.
For so long, this little girl represented everything I didn’t want to be: someone who tried too hard but could never hit the mark. Someone who needed too much, who was nowhere near enough as she was. Someone who wore her pain for the world to see. She was the part of me – the human part – that I was terrified other people would see and reject me for. I tried to hide her away, to snuff her out, to cultivate a persona that was her opposite. But I could never fully shake this little girl. She was as much a part of me as my heart.
She still is.
Today, I feel no need to hide this little girl. I love her, because she qualifies me as a member of the human race. We all have that dark, doubtful place where we question if we’re good enough. My experience has shown that it’s by sharing that part of myself with the world, by telling the truth about it, that other people are freed to do the same.
Instead of making a joke of this picture, I’ve decided to do something different, and regard the little girl in it with kindness and compassion. I mean, she’s pretty adorable. Look at that smile, those shiny eyes, her palpable excitement in wearing sequins, fringe, and grown-up, shiny panty hose! All she wants is to count, to be loved, to be seen, just like everyone else.
Well, I see her.
And she is lovely.