Getting dressed in the dark

Well…I’ve made it through all of the blog posts by my students.  So far, they have had three assigned posts:  the first was about three goals for the upcoming semester (these can be academic, personal, social…whatever), the second was about a favorite quote, and the third was a response to a Myers-Briggs like personality test.

They are welcome to write whenever and whatever they want.  Some students are actually doing this.  I’m a bit stunned by this becaaauuusseee…the very students that are writing more, are the ones who normally do ‘less’. What a conundrum for another post!

Here is the thing that I’ve learned.  They all admit that they are ‘nerdy’ or ‘weird.’  But they are all nerdy and weird in much the same way.  It makes me think about the fear of being who they really are.  Who gets to make the decision about who it’s ‘okay to be’?

A strange dichotomy; in the quest to be like everyone else, they hide who they really are…but who they really are is like everyone else.  What a tangled web of self-concept!

I started really thinking about this.  My ‘bonus kid’ (he’s not mine by birth, but by remarriage) just turned 16.  A few weeks ago he had several friends over.  I LOVE kids, the more the better – so I’m never opposed to feeding and housing more kiddos. That’s not really the point though (again another blog post topic).  As the girls stood in the kitchen poring over the freshly made cupcakes, a thought struck me.

Am I living in the Twilight Zone?  All of these young women look the same.  They all have the same hairstyle, the same make-up, the same clothes (or at least style).   Maybe not so much the Twilight Zone…but the Danger Zone.

The highway to the Danger Zone, as far as I am concerned, begins with the lack of individuality that our students come to college with.  I guess it’s good, because I get to see them blossom and grow into amazing young men and women.  Regardless of my own ‘I get to’s’ it worries me…worries me A LOT.

So, I brought it up in class.  I told them I read their posts and gave them reassurance that it’s okay to be who they are.  They looked around as I told them they had many of the same fears.  They smiled at each other.  I asked them to tell me about why they felt afraid to share their ‘true, authentic’ selves. They opened up…it was one of those moments as a teacher when you realize what you WERE going to teach is not nearly as important as what you are ABOUT to teach.

Nearly all of them expressed their relief at coming to college.  They finally felt comfortable to be who they ‘really are.’  I asked what had stopped them.  They really didn’t have an answer…and then, one student piped up.

“Although I don’t really know, I know I didn’t want to be made fun of.  So I just did what they people who made fun of people expected me to do. I became who they wanted me to be.  But the whole time I was really miserable.”

I responded, “Okay.  So, these ‘bullies’…tell me…how many were there?  How many of the students dictated who it was ‘okay’ to be?”

“I don’t know…two…maybe three.”

‘How many students were in your class?”

“85”

“So…let me get this straight.  82 of you pretended to be something you were not to please 3 of your peers.”

They nodded.  Let me tell you.  ALL of them nodded…and it opened the floodgate.  It opened the gate to talk about mean people.  Why is it that mean people win?  I’m so sad when I can’t answer their questions.  So…it’s one of those moments that you have to talk about grace, forgiveness, kindness, and compassion.  It’s the same discussion I have with my 8 and 10 year old.  It’s the same discussion I have with my husband – and the meanness that we encounter as adults.  I have no time for it and I certainly don’t waste much of my positive life and energy focused on those who choose to be mean.  Truly – and I told my students…

Don’t hold on to hate.  Allow yourself to forgive.  Never allow your words to be full of vitriol.  Think about your own suffering when people are hateful towards you, don’t put it out there in the universe. You get what you give.  Give hate and anger; receive hate and anger.  Give love and forgiveness, kindness, and compassion; receive love and forgiveness, kindness, and compassion.  It’s okay to be who YOU are…you are special and unique.  You have your own story, we all have a story.  Truly it’s the only thing that is your own.  Your story is what makes you unique, so share it with the world.

Smiles.  There were smiles all over. BIG smiles…healing types of smiles.  Then several students in the corner began to giggle.  I asked what’s up.

A young man said, “It’s you Nikki.  You make it okay to be who we are…because you are never afraid to be and share who you are.”

I said, “Well, I’m glad I could impart my wisdom.”

“It’s not your wisdom.  It’s your style.”

“My what?!?!”

“We think that somedays you get dressed in the dark.  Last week you wore an orange dress and red shoes with a great scarf.  Two weeks ago you wore tights that made your legs look like they were dipped in silver.  You wear cowboy boots with dresses and red  sweaters over black and white dresses.”

By this point they are all giggling and I’m not sure how to respond.  Then one of my more demure students pipes up, “And we love that about you…you are never afraid to wear whatever you want because it makes you feel good.  You are happy every day and I love coming to this class because I know you will be happy.  So, if you do get dressed in the dark…please don’t stop.”

I told my husband this story because I thought it was strange that they put so much stock in what I wear.  He responded with such wisdom (as he normally does).  “It’s a larger societal issue…people are beginning to wear what they want to wear, wear what makes them feel comfortable.  We no longer live in a society that you wear clothes that are predetermined by your career or socioeconomic status.  They recognize that you recognize the importance of being an individual.”

Hmmmm…okay.

In that case, ‘getting dressed in the dark’ has become my new metaphor for ‘be who you are.’

So….when I go back to school on Monday I’m going to tell everyone…

“Hey, just get dressed in the dark…and everything will be okay.”

Oh yeah…and Happy Birthday to my mom today – she’s always made it okay for me to get dressed in the dark.

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2 Responses to Getting dressed in the dark

  1. Jamie Johnston says:

    Love this! I look back on some of the CRAZY clothes I wore in middle school but feel proud knowing that I chose to do that even when it wasn’t what was “popular” and even recall some of my friends saying how much they liked my style. I am always up for being who you are and not letting mean kids push others around. This was a very enjoyable read! 🙂

    • nicholekea says:

      Right on Jamie!!! My daughter and I talk about ‘dressing to express’ rather than ‘dressing to impress’ – expressing is much more important. Stay true to you…it works every time 😀

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