Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Comfortable in My Own Skin

When I made the transition from wigs to scarves, I remember being uncomfortable. I did not look people in the eye; I studied the floor, the ceiling, the space just beyond someone’s shoulder. I remember wishing I were invisible, that I could blend into the background, that the earth would swallow me up.

What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that everyone knew it.

I signed up for the Peace Corps knowing I would have to let go of my anonymity. I saw the video, the girl who says all the unwanted attention is a little much sometimes. I got it. I was okay with it. In my interview, I repeatedly said, “No problem” to everything they threw my way. Extra attention? No problem. Unwanted attention? No problem. I was going to stand out, and it wasn’t a problem.

And it wasn’t—eventually. I got used to being recognized, followed, stared at, and yes, even complimented. I even grew to like it, to need it, to crave it. I enjoyed being the It Girl in town. Sometimes I miss it, even now, seven years after my arrival in Honduras, five years since my return.

But those first few days, with my naked scalp wrapped in a scarf, just a scarf, only a scarf—I felt so exposed. I felt it, but I didn’t know that people could see it. I didn’t know how obvious it was, how visible, until a month ago, when I was tagged in a photo posted on Facebook, by a fellow volunteer, from the very first day in country.

And then I saw it, so clearly, a woman I didn't even recognize anymore, the me I used to be before I was comfortable in my own skin.

Day 1 in Honduras
The shift from wig to scarf, just a scarf, only a scarf

A bright swatch of fabric, announcing my entrance into a room
The scarf was looser, lower on my forehead
Perhaps I tie it tighter now
But that’s not why I look so different
I hold my arms close to my center
As if to protect myself
From what? I can’t recall
The girl in this photo looks both ways when she steps into a room
She doesn’t look people in the eye
She has erected walls
She is me, but she isn’t me
I don’t know this girl anymore


mojee said...

someday i want you to post the before and after photo. it's amazing the difference. it's a visual of your journey.

Joanne said...

I agree with mojee! Hardly recognized you in the photo -- has it really been 7 years since you left for Honduras?! Time flies. Gives me pause for thought as to how I've changed since then as well....