Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stand Up and Stand Out

I once had a saleswoman try to help me pick out earrings that would fit with my personal style. I’ve never thought of myself as having a particular style but she was quick to disabuse me of that notion. Apparently everyone has a personal style whether they realize it or not. There are those whose style is “classic” while others could be labeled “flamboyant”. Some might be termed “dramatic” and some simply “eclectic”. It didn’t take her long to come to the conclusion that my style was what she termed as “natural”. Perhaps the fact that I rarely bother to wear make-up was a dead give-away. In any case, she was probably right in her assessment. No one would ever liken me to a bird of paradise. I like to keep things simple and my preference has always been to avoid a lot of attention….no wild and crazy hairstyles, chunky jewelry, or multi-colored nails for me.

My aversion to standing out in a crowd stems back to my early teens and those years when I first began to be conscious of what other people thought of me. Some people might glory in being different from the majority of their peers but I wasn’t one of them. I just wanted to blend in. There is something to be said for the advocates of school uniforms. We didn’t have uniforms in my High School but there was a dress code back when I started into Grade 9. Pants were not allowed except on rare designated “Wear What You Want Days”. I remember pulling a pair of pants on under my skirt to keep from freezing as we waited for the bus in the sub-zero temperatures of midwinter in Northern Ontario. I could slip them off once I reached my locker. Eventually the intrepid members of our student counsel lobbied successfully to have the outdated dress code rescinded and every day became a Wear What You Want Day. Of course in order to wear what I wanted I had to get it past my parents and that was a problem of a different sort.

My parents had very definite opinions about clothes. They wanted me to wear a dress to the very first High School dance I ever attended. It took me forever to convince them that if I did I would most certainly be the only girl there wearing one. Jeans, which would have been the garment of choice for the youth of that day, were absolutely out of the question. As far as my parents were concerned, jeans were what you wore to work in the garden. They believed absolutely that I would be laughed at if I showed up at the dance wearing jeans. My mother went out and bought me a brand new outfit….a white blouse with ruffles at collar and cuffs and a pair of corduroy pants in a lovely gold color. Horrors! I wanted to go badly enough that I actually wore the outfit and prayed no one would really notice it in the darkened gymnasium. I’m thankful to say that once my parents heard that everyone else had indeed been wearing jeans, they shook their heads in baffled incomprehension, conceded that I might have been right after all and agreed to let me make my own choices from that point on.

That didn’t mean I would never again be the focus of all eyes. Sometimes stuff just happens. We still wore dresses or skirts to school from time to time. I was wearing a navy blue skirt on the day I was asked to come up to the front of the room to write on the blackboard during French class. As soon as I stood up and began to make my way forward I noticed a few muffled giggles behind me. I immediately checked to make sure that my slip hadn’t somehow migrated downward to dangle below my hemline. It was a wardrobe malfunction not unheard of in those days. Everything seemed in order so I proceeded to the front and began the task assigned to me. It wasn’t easy because what had begun as one or two giggles was fast escalating to become the chuckles and snorts of an entire roomful of people trying desperately to restrain their laughter. I was mortified. I couldn’t imagine what on earth they were laughing at. I scrambled to finish the sentence I was supposed to write so that I could hurry back to the comparative safety of my desk, my chin up and my entire face burning with embarrassment. My friend, Annie, who was seated in the desk directly behind mine was laughing so hard there were tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.

“What’s so funny?” I demanded in a furious undertone.

She leaned forward to whisper haltingly in my ear. Apparently she had been resting her foot against the back of my chair earlier. There was a space between the chair back and the seat…just enough that when I rose to walk to the front of the class my navy blue skirt was no longer plain and simple. It was adorned with a perfect and very distinct footprint positioned exactly in the middle of my butt. I couldn’t have stood out more if I’d tried.

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