Who is the Real Me?

I am ten years old.

I love to read books. I love to hang out with my friends. I’m one of the smartest students in my class.

I’m also painfully shy. In class, I raise my hand when the teacher calls my name, but it’s like my insides betray me. My mouth stammers out an answer, and it feels like all the knowing within me has been replaced with unknowing. My cheeks and my ears and my neck all betray me; they turn a crimson shade of red before I’m done uttering my first sentence.

I look down at my lap. My eyes survey my body, squinting hatred toward the parts of me that feel too big, one size bigger than most of the girls in my class. I push my glasses up to the crown of my nose.

A kid once called me Four Eyes, and it felt like a gut-punch to my stomach. I didn’t choose these eyes! Earlier this year, another group of boys chased me around the playground, singing, “Old MacDonald had a farm,” over and over again. They said they wanted to make me laugh, but I didn’t laugh along with them. They were the only ones smiling.

It’s silly, really: I thought I’d hit the jackpot at the local consignment store when I saw those Guess overalls sitting on the rack. We couldn’t afford real Guess jeans, like the popular and rich girls wore, but we could afford a used pair. I didn’t know it might give kids a reason to make fun of me, because when the nicest of overalls is paired alongside my last name – which happens to be the same as that famous farmer – I’m never going to hear the end of it.

I never wore the overalls again.

The truth is, I just want to be skinny. I just want to be pretty, so the boys will have a crush on me for a change. I don’t want to be called Four Eyes and I don’t want to have songs sung about me.

I just want to be like everybody else.

Two years later, it’s the summer between the sixth and seventh grades. My body awakens to puberty. My hips and my breasts expand, and the rest of me shoots upward, growing several inches over the course of a couple of months. I swim at the neighborhood pool most every day, and my body takes on a newer, more toned version of itself. I get my first pair of contacts, and as if pulled up by an invisible string, I hold my head high.

I am confident and I am fearless. In fact, I might even be what some call beautiful.

Twenty years later, I sit across from my therapist. I ask her to help me find the real me, my true self that feels buried beneath too many layers. Who is the real me? I ask her. I tell her the story of being painfully shy, and I tell her the story of getting contacts and growing taller and losing some of my baby fat.

Is she the shy little girl? Is she the fearless young woman?

I want the black and white answer. I don’t want there to be any gray, not anywhere in my life – not as I piece together parts of my childhood, and not as I try and sift together the faith I wrestle with in adulthood. I want her to make it easy and tell me what to believe, so I can pack my things and go, so I can get on with the more important things of life.

But she doesn’t, of course.

“Well,” she replies, because she knows I’m begging for some kind of answer, “maybe it’s a little bit of both. Maybe you hold within you all the different parts of you, and that’s who you’ve been all along.”

This isn’t what I want to hear, but I sit with her words. I embrace the parts of me that have felt ugly and fat, suffocated by the fear of saying the wrong thing. And I embrace the parts of me that have felt shiny and new, beautiful and clean, bold and brass.

I hold them all in the palm of my hands.

And I let the memory be what it is: a distant musing of my past, a reminder of life once lived.

Then I release them. I hold the stories in my heart, but I don’t let them define me. I don’t let them dictate who I am and who I am not, but I lean into who I am today: a messy, cleaned-up, full-of-fear, fearless, gorgeous woman who chases after Life with her arms wide open.

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10 thoughts on “Who is the Real Me?

  1. I agree that it is both, then and now. As we learn, and try different things, doing things even when afraid, we change. Our experiences are our experiences, but we can branch, and I can say because I have parented grown kids, and now littles again, some things I thought were a parent’s worst nightmare, I’ve lived through, or lived through and am still standing by life’s experiences. We if we are teachable, learn new thriving skills and thinking skills we didn’t have as a child. We do the best we know how as a child, and if we are mindful and willing to take risks, and learn from our mistakes, we do the best we know how as an adult. I like your post, and I like the acceptance you came to as an adult. It represented to me all of the things I felt as a child, and the fear and the awkwardness, and yearning to be accepted and loved for who I was. But also the fear to reveal who I was at the time. I like to say it’s an evolution of who I am becoming, and who I am.

    • Joanne, here’s a hearty YES to the evolution we humans find ourselves on, embracing and accepting who we’ve been, who we are, and who we’re becoming!

  2. Yes, I always want to shave myself down to the parts of me that feel comfortable. But I’m me that screamed at my child and me that holds her compassionately; me that ignored others’ pain and me that does something about it, me that procrastinates and me that takes brave risks. All mixed together.
    I’m glad you’re you–awkward and beautiful all together.

    • And I always want to avoid and erase the pain – but it’s so, so good to embrace the beautiful and awkward parts of who we are. It’s good to grow up, even if it’s hard. 🙂

  3. Embracing the messy-cleaned-up version is hard! Love who you are embracing – that fearless yet relatable chaser of life!

  4. One of my favorites of yours Cara. 🙂 You go after the world, dear one. Yes, I can be the woman who loves talking about lipstick and deals and the one who loves PhD level discussion. The one happy to be with friends and banter and the one who only craves soul conversation. The one who hates to workout and the one who needs it. The one who loves motherhood and the one who screams to run away.

  5. I’ve been reflecting on the dichotomy of my character over the last few weeks. Defining ourselves is rooted in Christ, yet figuring out who we are as these earthen vessels is a process. I’m not sure there is an official moment our identity is revealed. God calls us to so many places and seasons in life that we develop different shapes to be most accessible for our purpose.

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