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Tuesday, June 21, 2005 

Be Your Own Kind Of Beautiful

I grew up in a small town, small ward, small life. In that kind of setting, different on any scale stood out like a neon sign at a church. During my youth, the only thing I wanted was to NOT be different, but to be delightfully the same as those who surrounded me and who I judged myself against without any mercy whatsoever. I grew up brown in a white school, ward, etc. and even worse than that, I was severely over weight and my parents did a pretty poor job teaching me what I like to call "normal social behavior." I was loud, brazen and obnoxious. Needless to stay, I was the neon sign at church in my neighborhood. I hated every moment of my pre and early teen years because of this. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to be thin, and pretty, and happy. I didn't want to have the home life I had, the family I had, the life that was mine but not at all what I wanted. I wanted two actively Mormon parents who loved and encouraged me, I wanted to not shop at the "old lady" stores for clothing that fit, I wanted to have boys like me instead of be scared and disgusted by me. But those things that I wanted didn't come until much after my adolescence had passed me by.

I had a few people in my life who loved me just as I was. Who were able to look past the abrasive behavior, the extra flesh, the sad faces and angry outbursts to see the person who lived underneath it all. There was the occasional friend or teacher or church leader who championed my individuality, who believed in me and looked past the things I found so hideous, so un-normal, and loved me very much in spite of me. It wasn't until I was in my 20's that I realized my situation was anything but unique. I was not the only one who felt painfully different from others growing up. I was not alone in the desire to be made invisible by normalcy. I spoke with people who had been popular, people who seemed so pulled together, so perfect in every way, and discovered they harbored the same fears I had growing up. I realized I wasn't so different after all. John Irving wrote that adolescence is when we believe we have have a secret we must hide so people will love us. I was shocked to discover my secret was just the same as everyone else's.

I believe in individuality, but I also know that we are all more the same than we can even fathom. I honestly believe that the advasary uses the feelings of "I'm the only one who has ever felt like this" or "No one else has ever had this experience" to isolate us from those who can draw our beauty out and put us in our best light, so the things that make us different become the things that make us beautiful instead of ugly and ashamed. I have been profoundly blessed to have people in my life who were willing to look past the things I was so ashamed of, and find beauty in things I wanted so much to hide. I have had a "mirror" held up to me, I have been shown that what I see is often so wrong, and what others see of me is much kinder, much more loving than what I see in myself. It's why Heavenly Father gave us families, and friends, and internet buddies. So we could be beautiful, a beautiful of our very own.

What a great post!

This is why I LOVE participating in this discussion. We come from such interesting backgrounds: your screaming for normalcy and my screaming for individuality. And somehow we manage to end up somewhere close to each other in understanding. The Gospel is the great equalizer.

And I am glad that you have such a healthy perspective. You have a huge capacity for compassion and forgiveness. Thank you for sharing your perspective. We are blessed with a new understanding and a new compassion for knowing it.

I was the only active Mormon in my class in high school (and one of about 7-10 in the whole school). My Mormonhood made me stand out (for not drinking, being committed to not having sex, etc.) amongst my peers. Everyone who knew me, knew that I was Mormon. I remember Julie, of "Real World", fame talking about how she couldn't drink, sleep around, etc. on the show because it would be broadcast around the world. That was how I felt. If I fell, it would be a shot heard around the world. All of this is a way of saying that I was very aware of being Mormon in a mostly non-member area and it made me stand out. I desperately wanted people to think that I wasn't Amish or a cultist, so I quickly developed a sense of humor, a sorry collection of Mormon jokes, and a deep engagement in pop culture. I had to make the Mormons seem normal in me.

In my first physics class in my junior year, our teacher asked us to all say something unique about ourselves. I said that I was Mormon (my standard answer to this sort of thing at this point). He looked at me and said, "Does that make you unique?" "Not among Mormons," I replied. He demanded something else from me (I can't remember what I finally wound up saying now). I will always remember that he was the first person I encountered who thought that being a Mormon wasn't enough to make me different (including most of the people at church). I liked it then; I like it now.

As a teenager, I was such the wannabe. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I wanted to be different, to be an individual. What a big fat lie! I couldn't stand to be different.

I wanted more brand-name clothes (hello, Guessica), I wanted to have less responsibilities at home, and I wanted parents who weren't so strict. Obviously, I turned out okay, and I eventually realized how short those teenage years, and have learned to truly appreciate standing out because of what I believe in.

What is captured in Sarah's post (so wonderfully) is the struggle of trying to fit in (and being accepted) while figuring out just who we are and why. It is amazing what each of us "brings to the table" in life...

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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