Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Girl Who Couldn't Take a Compliment


September 1975, Lewis, Indiana.  I just turned 14, had arrived from Korea where my parents worked as missionaries, just one month before.  It had been five years since I had last been to the US, and though it was my home country it didn't feel anything like home to me. I was starting 9th grade knowing absolutely no one and I was terrified.

Day one, my dad drives me to Craig Jr. High, a modern (for that time) building all shiny and new.  I walked into my home room class filled with beautiful, fashionably dressed white kids with blond hair and smooth complexions.  I was the little half-Filipino girl with weird clothes that had been bought at the Korean market, with a hair-cut done by her mom, no make-up, no jewelry, no friends.  People stared, but worse that anything were the monstrous thoughts that filled my head.  I was certain that everyone hated me, that every laugh or muffled conversation was about me, that I was a freak.  I sank into my seat not wanting to be seen,  not knowing that my paranoid behavior made me look even stranger to their curious eyes.

I prayed that I would die right then and there.  I prayed that Jesus would return, that the earth would be destroyed and I would be spared this unbearable misery.  It didn't help that when I went home and cried my eyes out to my mom in shame that she just told me what she always said since I was little "But you're such a pretty girl!"  I knew that I was anything but.  The thought of fitting in and looking like the rest of them just wasn't possible. Make-up was forbidden and my mom was convinced that the price of American clothes was ridiculously high, that pierced ears were for "barbarians" and that I was just fine the way I was.  I cried after school every single day for the first five months, much to the distress of my mother who couldn't console me.

The trauma of that year marked with self-hatred and humiliating experiences stuck with me for decades, literally.  Moving back to my old school and being with old friends in Korea didn't make those negative spirits vanish, they just hovered, whispering in my ears, smothering my sense of self-worth.  And so I did what I now know has become the most common and safest defense mechanism of all self-conscious girls.  It's the "I'm-too-intelligent-to-care-about-looks-you-superficial-egotistical-jerks Syndrome."

I decided that I liked just wearing plain jeans and my brother's hand-me-down clothes, that pretty girls were probably brainless snobs, and that wanting to be feminine was an insult to my intelligence.  People would have to like me for who I was, not what I looked like, and I wasn't about to bow to the dictates of the fashion world.  I would dress the way I felt.  Sloppy, unfeminine, bland.

I convinced myself that I wore what I liked, but it didn't stop me from hating what I saw in the mirror.  I secretly envied girls who looked better than myself and wished I could have their figures/wardrobe/skin/hair/make-up/sense of style/confidence. But if anyone would try to offer help or a suggestion that I should change my appearance, I was up in arms, offended that they would dare imply that I was not happy with the way I was.  My superior intellect transcended the shallowness of society's obsession with physical beauty - so I thought.  If anyone tried to compliment me and tell me I was pretty, I was also insulted. They were being condescending and implying that I needed some lame encouragement to feel better about myself.  I felt just fine, thank you, how dare you treat me like I need your compliments!  How I could be so insecure and so arrogant at the same time, I have no idea.

How I became totally secure in my sense of self-worth and beauty and lost all traces of arrogance, is a chapter that will never be written.  Overcoming all of this is still a work in progress and I have to admit those thoughts still attack me, sometimes daily.  But things most definitely have changed.  But I have written too much for one post, stay tuned for part II....

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always read your blog because I can see a beauty in your words. That beauty that let us see what you really mean and for that you don't need my compliment. As young girls we see ourselves different from your mama's eyes, but I believe that God's eyes see us as beautiful as we are. And that make us worthy of all the compliments. Thanks for sharing.

Janet said...

It seems that in early adolescence most girls struggled with being accepted. We tried to be the perfect girl, the one everyone wanted to be with. We believed that being perfect would make us worthy to be included. We cared so much about love and acceptance that we sacrificed our voices, our selves, saying and doing (or not doing) what we thought others wanted. Somehow we got the idea that being perfect would make us lovable.

Most of us found out that the image of the perfect girl is an unattainable ideal. Some of us have learned that not being authentic, being artificial, is a trap the devil wants us in. He wants us to bow down to the image others have made for us, instead of reflecting His image that is on the inside of us.

Lily Torneros said...

Wow, when I first moved to texas I felt all awkward aswell. It somewhat tweeked my personality not having any friends and starting off somewhere new. I can really relate to this story, please share part two with us soon!!!

Evelyn Higginbotham said...

Janet, the perfect girl is the girl who honors God above all, is aware of and fights against the negative attitudes that attack her from all sides, and allows herself to enjoy the blessings of being a female as God made her, with no apologies.

I truly believe that we can enjoy and take the best from what we see in our culture to become feminine, while not "bowing down" to it. Part of being a woman is naturally enjoying beauty and having fun in the attempt to make ourselves beautiful.

One of the devil's lies is that beauty and fashion are diametrically opposed to being godly. You're right, the beauty starts from within, but having fun with developing our outer beauty shouldn't be stifled either.

di_verma said...

I can relate to you experience since many times throughout my childhood I had to move from one country to another. I would have to learn a new language, make new friends, which I did, but I always felt out of place. As a result, I felt the great need to be accepted, to fit in, to please those around me even if being agreeable to them meant going against who I really was. I would go the extra mile to be just like them, speak like them, and dress like them. It was like I had to earn their friendship and respect. Needless to say, it was easy to be taken advantage of, since I was scared of being rejected.

I will certainly read part two and learn more about how experiences like these can affect us, and how to overcome the negative residues that stay inside of us.

Debora Anjos said...

eagerly waiting ;)

Marcia Pires said...

Hi Evelyn, your account is an encouragement to so many who have been slaves of similar complexes or feelings or life situations and they are not able to overcome it because maybe they do not feel they can. Through your post, you show that it is a work on the make not a shelf ready New Year's Resolution but the most beautiful part of it is your determination in changing it around. We might have had different backgrounds, experiences, traumas but all of us in some way have been hostage of past situations and you are just showing others that they can break through it. Loved your post and will be watching for the continuation of it.

Leeanne said...

Oh Gosh..I thought I left a comment but i guess i didnt send it correctly..

But i will add that i am surely waiting for part 2 ..

You'r blogs are so intresting, I felt like I was standing right beside you while I read this blog very very intresting ....

Debora Anjos said...

we need part II :)

Leeanne said...

and sorry to bug but we need part 2...soon plz..=) LIke I was all stuck on mrs.cris blog I feel just the same about part 2 here...
"m hanging of th cliff" lol.jk

Lily Torneros said...

Ah, I agree! I've been checking in to see a part two, but none yet!
I'll keep waiting :)

Sylvia said...

Dear Eve,

I had to smile, reading your post. For many years I felt completely unfit as well. I would look to the other wives and feel so inferior. "If only I had a blazer..." For months I nursed the idea that wearing a blazer I would be as smart as them.

Many years have past and I have many blazers. I've come to terms with myself and have created my own style. Sometimes I am caught unprepared to be somewhere (Tv, for example) and there is no time even for make up. In my heart I pray: "Lord, may they see You in me!"
Love you!

Alicia said...

strong. this is quite common in girls

Izamar Romero said...

You talk about things that point to me

Sabrina Durant said...

I remember when I was unable to accept any compliment, because what I saw in the mirror everyday was something completely different. I always looked at the negatives things in myself and never the positives. Even when I tried to accept a compliment in the back of my mind i thought they were just trying to be funny.
For me I believe it started off with just one word that rolled out into many and every negative word stuck in my mind. I refused to believe I was pretty.
Now I no longer look at myself in a negative way, though the thoughts try to attack me. I look through different eyes, in a positive way.

Triana ! said...

Thats how i used to feel when i was a part of this world.. i moved to Manor starting 6 grade and i felt like an out cast, I came from a very bad neighborhood but my mom would always keep us away.
I never knew the world, boys, dating, "friends". Wheni moved here i stared dressing like they dressed and did what they did ...
It was Horrible but if it gave me friends .. I might as well...
But thank God i have changed and found my true Identity
Much Love tri

Va'Nessah said...

Thanks for sharing your life with us Mrs Evelyn, it just shows us that the same thing that may have happened to us also happened to someone else and they broke free from it so we definately can also !
Im still trying to overcome my insecurities once and for all.