Written and Modeled by Rowan Van Lare
Photos by Anita Goharfar
I’ve always had a hard time figuring out if I should hide in the crowd or stand out brightly like I have a constant spotlight directly on my face. My natural instinct is to stand out - to speak so loud that everyone can hear me, see me, and know exactly where and who I am. But, at the same time, I’ve never loved myself enough to want to be seen or, especially, be photographed (which is why I asked to have myself photographed for this article). My conscience is my own personal critic and she wields a lot of power over me.
This inability to accept myself for who I am began in middle school, when I was still five or six years away from ever dreaming of getting out. I went to the same private school from preschool through 12th grade, with the same rather homogeneous people. They expected something, required it, and as one who always stood out — the curly, wacky piece of hair in the clump of silky, straight hair — I wasn’t able to provide it.
I was overweight in middle school. While I personally think I’m still overweight, I know it’s not to the same degree. My style was a desperate attempt to hide that fact; I would wear bell bottoms to make my legs look thinner and hide the fact that I had knock knees and scarves to hide my rolls. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a shirt that is tight on my stomach.
That style, my middle school aesthetic of trying to flatter my body type, was okay. In all honesty, I loved the bell bottoms. I hated the scarves though, and wanted looser tops. I had an hourglass figure, so I needed to figure out a way to show that off while not revealing a single roll of fat on my body. I slowly started to do that, and then I moved to high school and met the people I would call my friends for the next 4 years.
They were great friends. They didn’t let me stress out too much junior year; they supported my love for nachos and cheesecake but also were there for me when I wanted to go running. However, there were one or two girls who brought my self-esteem down lower than before. They would degrade my style, feeling comfortable enough around me that they didn’t realize it hurt. I learned that that was what friends did —knocked each other down for fun. I got really good at it; we all did.
The shift in my style was quick then. I gave away all the bell-bottoms, almost all of my high-waisted clothing. Skinny jeans were in, and that was what I wore. I got leggings — I loved leggings because everyone loved leggings. I still wore long shirts and cardigans to hide everything, but even those came off eventually because they weren’t “the normal style”. I can’t even say that they weren’t “in style” because they weren’t a style at all — it was part of the preppy culture. I lost my individuality.
The end of my senior year hit me like a truck. My friend group imploded, leaving me with only four friends out of the original group still talking to me. It was for the best, because the ones who were my worst critics were no longer my friends, and I saw a small change in myself.
I bought a really nice pair of mom jeans. Everyone hated them. They told me that I looked really ugly in them, fat even, but I didn’t care. I loved them. Then I bought a whole bunch of other high-waisted pants and my personal favorite, bell bottoms; fun bell bottoms, bell bottoms with embroidery or patches. I stopped going to H&M and Forever 21 and went to thrift stores to find what I wanted. Little elements that had always been a part of my style — bright colors and oversized statement pieces — now became my favorite things to wear, rather than the things I wore on the weekends when I wasn’t with my friends. I became myself again — the real me.
In college, my style has thrived. I rarely wear the clothes that make me fit in anymore; I only wear the clothes that I want to wear all the time. Occasionally, that’s a sporty t-shirt and a pair of leggings, a constant staple of my high school wardrobe, but also that’s bell bottoms and a bright tank top that came right out of the ‘70s or a floral skirt and a bralette with a netted shirt on top. I’m me now, and that’s what matters.
At Northeastern, I see so many people who accept themselves in the same way. There is a girl in a few of my classes who wears makeup not as a quick beauty routine but as art, with black lines of eyeliner in nontraditional places like her chin or her cheeks, or purple eyeshadow all around her eyes. There is a boy who I see on my commute to my first class who wears fun shorts with pineapples and other fruits on them. I see beauty in individuality here and encourage others to notice and compliment the people who are breaking the mold and the people who just love the way they look in what they wear. Support them, because loving yourself is hard when little things are constantly encouraging you not to. And do the same for yourself — wear colored contacts like the girl in one of my classes if that makes you happy. People will see you and be inspired to be themselves.