When I was thirteen years old, my very favorite counselor at theater camp plucked my eyebrows for the first time. Fond of half tops and jean cut offs- Barry was flamboyantly gay and so much fun. He instilled in me an affinity for lip gloss and glitter that I embraced well into my last year of high school. I laid down on the floor that day and as he pulled the stray hairs off my face; I thought: now I am a grownup. Each pluck made my eyes water but damn if I wasn't going to be beautiful.
Barry left my life after that summer but a few years later, as I was flipping channels, I saw him dancing on an episode of a Spring Break show on MTV that was loosely themed around karaoke. I was struck by how self assured he was. How free. How much I wanted to be that way.
The one thing Barry made me promise after he plucked my eyebrows was that I would never ever under any circumstances pluck the hair above my eyebrows. Those, he said, were meant to be left untouched. Mess with those and things could get dangerous.
Every morning before school I would shower, blow dry my hair, straighten it with a flatiron that I bought for 14 dollars at Walmart that was only partially effective, and then sit on my bed - tiny mirror in hand and stare at my brows. Any stray hair was a casualty of my laser like focus. As the years went on, my eyebrows grew smaller and smaller. My junior year of high school I woke up one day and looked in the mirror and realized they were one third of the size they once were. I had taken to plucking the middle of my brows so they started growing away from each other. Each subsequent morning the gap between my eyes widening.
I don't know what exactly made me stop- maybe I opened up a fashion magazine and saw that pencil thin brows were on their way out- maybe I was just sick of the upkeep- or maybe just maybe, and I really hope it was this one, I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized myself.
And so began the super elegant journey of growing out my brows. Months of not plucking, a five o'clock shadow appearing like a halo around two thin dark lines.
I've been thinking about that version of myself lately and how that physical change was just a manifestation of a deeper issue.The same issue that caused me to pretend I was dumb at math in the seventh grade, that through most of my adolescence and teenage years drew me to befriending people who weren't nice to me, caused me to subsist on a diet that consisted mainly of V8 juice, that said to me you're only worth what you look like, that made me try to be a Christian in college and when I couldn't - when it didn't feel right- made me look in the mirror and say you're not worthy. It's the problem that made me shun all other forms of creative expression; that said follow the well worn path. Just say the words and show up and look good and everything else will fall in line.
All of these things whittled away at the person I was when I came into this world. They made me smaller and smaller until I was more of the idea of a person rather than a person in total. As I scaled down, so did my dreams. So did my creativity. So did the depths of my performances.
It's my inner monologue whose number one job is telling me that I'm not enough. The part that when presented with a new idea is matched with a new insecurity. That leads with fear. The part of my gut that feeds on doubt and that believes other people's opinions are more valid than my own. All of these parts equal up to a sum that we can call a lack of confidence. That emptiness festering and taking over the rest of my body- sucking life from my spirit until it became my spirit. My guiding force.
In life it can be scary to make waves. Will something you set in motion pull you under or knock you down? It may seem easier to make yourself quiet and small. To be like everyone else. To be "normal". To not make a fuss. To not want to raise your hand - because what if your answer is wrong? Or what if you have no answer? Is there anything worse than silence? But ultimately that fear of the unknown, of not having the answer, the ultimate fear of speechlessness- it's the reality you'd have if you didn't step out of your comfort zone. If you chose to not strive for better, for different, if you chose to live within the walls of your own making, if you didn't speak up. At least when you take the risk there's the chance you'll succeed and if you don't- if you fail, at least you're out there in the world- not confined to a prison of your own making.
I decided last year to start making the brave choices. It was harder than expected- I held each choice in my hand and felt the weight of it- the breadth of it in my palm; deciding how to move forward. I felt clumsy in my progress and mostly I felt like - what progress? - but it's become easier over time- I find myself having to will myself into things less. There's a freedom that comes when you're not analyzing every encounter. When you believe in yourself enough to say, unapologetically, I'm enough. Life gets more fun when you release expectations and in order to do that- you have to have the confidence to take a deep breath and let go of the reins.