The first time I noticed I was smaller than everyone was when I was five years old in my kindergarten class. I felt terribly shy and unsure and, looking back, I guess I’ve always had trouble interacting with people. Like, I just didn’t get the point of it or how to really do it. I didn’t know how to be friends with other kids. I remember feeling like this out of place girl, scared to open my mouth, even at that age knowing I knew the answers but choosing to be quiet.
I don’t remember what made me keep quiet because, the truth is, many of those kids were kind to me. Not that we were overly close, but I remember getting on well with them in class. I wanted them to like me. I remember kneeling on the carpet, all of us gathered together to watch “Reading Rainbow” and someone said it: “the shrimp can sit in front,” followed by a few giggles from other kids. I remember asking my parents what it meant exactly when I got home and they told me that the kids were just jealous or something like that. But I remember my parents also becoming really encouraging about school at that time.
The name shrimp stuck pretty well after that, with both my friends, and the other kids in the class. The teacher started saying something about it and that’s when I noticed how it really made me feel. I can’t say it was bad at first, but I really noticed that OTHERS noticed I was different and that is when I felt different. The name stuck with me for years. I remember writing in my journal at eight years old that the other kids didn’t like me and were calling me shrimp. Eight years old and feeling completely isolated.
I adored my parents because through all of that they made sure I knew they loved me and they tried the parent tactic of telling me how jealous other kids were and that “good things come in small packages.” It really did help but it became a daily battle—it was always some new cruel thing that was said about me. I learned to shield myself from second grade on because, by that time, even some of the older kids I didn’t know were making fun of me. Now, I know some people say this is a normal part of life, but the extent of the bullying absolutely took a toll on me because I would learn to get through one person treating me that way and then another would be in their place—it was relentless and constant.
Looking back, I can see how clearly this defined my self-esteem and how much I tried to compensate for feeling like crap by being controlling and excelling in school. I used being right as a shield for being made fun of. I may not have been able to change my height, but I could take the time to learn everything I could and make sure I knew my stuff. I could always prove I was still something special if I was right.
I’m still little and it still bothers me. We are so trained to auto-judge people by what they look like that I’ve spent my life being dismissed and disregarded as a child even though I’m a grown woman. When I was pregnant, people would stare at me in disbelief because they thought I was too young. Performing in the professional world was just as challenging because most people, especially older men, have no problem disregarding people anyway, but seeing a woman who looks young doesn’t take any thought at all. I’ve heard people say horribly derogatory things about me to my husband—right in front of me. Things like, “You’re so lucky, she doesn’t even have to kneel to give you head.”
Logically I know I am SO much more than that. I have accomplished so much more than that. But all you see is a small woman and you don’t give a shit. I shouldn’t have to prove myself to you in any way to earn your respect. While these things still bother me, it has taught me a lot about what really matters. Other people’s opinions are so low on the list it is ridiculous. Human nature dictates that there will always be assholes around no matter what you do—and you have to keep going regardless. And I have learned to be a kinder more open person because I know first impressions mean nothing.
The last lesson I am trying to learn, or rather unlearn, is that the stories other people tell about me and their first impressions don’t mean a damn thing. That is a lot of work to do when you’ve heard the same story for over 30 years. That is where clearing away comes in. As I spoke about yesterday, I’ve been getting a lot of cards about clearing the past and letting it go—and this is one of the things I have to make peace with. Those events from so long ago (and not so long ago) have no bearing on where I’m going next. Those events are not an indicator of who I really am. Yes I’m short, but I am a damn force to be reckoned with. I am smart and capable and I have carried the weight of many worlds on my shoulders. I say what happens next. If you have nothing supportive to say, or nothing original to say, then there is no space for you here.