On occasion as a kid, I’d walk through the doors of Falmouth High School for my day’s journey in learning wearing bright blue corduroy overalls and Velcro sneakers. That outfit wasn’t necessary hip. Other days, I’d don a full tuxedo, replete with a bright red cumberbund and bow tie. My brother would loudly protest to my mother. “He can’t dress like that,” he’d announce. My mom would smile a wry and knowing smile and remind my brother that I was “unique,” and just being me. My perplexed but protective older (and bigger and stronger) brother would then protect me from those kids in school who didn’t understand my mother’s assessment that I was simply, “unique.”
Despite my brother’s unyielding love, support and protection, he couldn’t be by my side every minute. The taunts and jeers inevitably came. Those words stung like an angry hornet on a hot summer afternoon. They were balanced, though, with complements and meaningful glances of support and admiration, mostly from those kids who felt the need to conform to the style and fashion of the day, kids who perhaps didn’t have a Mom who encouraged them to simply be themselves. I came to relish my ability to make a statement by what I wore; it grew into an ability to speak out and take a position on issues that were important to me.
Back in those days, a poster hung proudly on my side of the bedroom I shared with my brother. The poster was a gift from my mom. On it was a poem entitled, “I am me.” It is an ode to self-esteem by Virginia Satir, an author and psychotherapist who aptly opens the door to all of us being the unique person that Mom encouraged me to be.
The poem begins:
“I am me.
In all the world, there is no one exactly like me. “ It continues,
“Therefore, everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I alone choose it.”
It finishes with the simple and powerful declaration,
“I am me and I am okay.”
These words carried me through some difficult times as a youth, when kids who didn’t understand or appreciate a classmate wearing a tuxedo made their displeasure known loudly, and sometimes unkindly and viciously. Today, I, along with my Mom, and yes, my proud and still loving and supportive brother, continue to enjoy my uniqueness. These days, I still don a bow tie now and then, and although I’ve shed my Velcro sneakers, I have grown into a man who not only appreciates being a little different, I’ve learned to appreciate and celebrate that in others. I relish the mosaic of humanity that makes up our community, our Commonwealth, and our country.
As I contemplated the recent publicity over the short-sighted, callous, and just plain mean comments made by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, where he openly admitted that his company targets “cool” and “skinny” kids for their clothing line, I harkened back to my days at FHS, where I most certainly would not have been one of the kids targeted had Jeffries’ myopic marketing been around. In fact, if Mike Jeffries had been at Falmouth High in the mid-80’s he probably would have been beaten up by my brother for picking on the unique kids like me.
So, if you wear things just a little different than the other kids, it’s just fine with me. If you like to sing in the hallway, are proud to be in the Marching Band, or simply relish your own identity, then good for you. Pay no attention to Mike Jeffries or others like him. In fact, have empathy for the fact that his mom probably didn’t appreciate his uniqueness.
On my bedroom wall today, I have a poster hanging proudly. It was a gift to me from me, inspired by the love and confidence shown to me by my Mom. At the top, it simply says, “I am me.” It contains the same anthem to self-belief that I had on my wall as a kid. At the bottom, it says, “I am me, and I am okay.”
I read it every morning. I agree. I am me. I am okay. I think Mike Jeffries should come on over to my place. I’ll don my plus-sized tuxedo and read him the poem.