I was never popular in school but nor was I a pariah. In years seven and eight I was referred to as ‘the dictionary’ (How do you spell … ? Dunno, ask ‘the dictionary’!) but given this name usurped ‘Stiffy’* I was pretty pleased with the change. I managed to develop a pretty thick skin after a few years of unpleasant encounters in primary school, so by the time I was about fourteen I reached a point where I didn’t need to go to parties or wear short skirts just to feel socially accepted. Cool, for me, was being different. I had a ‘different’ crowd of friends and flitted about with the confidence (and, I daresay, arrogance) one exudes when one doesn’t care what other people think. This was especially difficult for my sister who had to deal with being related to a bit of a nut. It’s generally in our family, but she turned out fairly normal.
Cue *mumbletenmumble* years later and I am a bit calmer (sometimes) and slightly less obnoxious (sometimes). I care about looking nice and I follow fad diets fastidiously until I cave (and boy, do I cave) and, reflecting on it now, I realise that somewhere along the line I’ve forgotten how to be myself without worrying about acceptance.
A few years ago (quite a few) I auditioned for a place in a performance-based degree (several places at several institutions, actually). I failed. Not a single call back. Too young? Not talented? The wrong type? Whatever the reason, I didn’t make it. But I didn’t care. I was heart-broken, yes, but I picked myself up, brushed myself off, and waltzed (it might have been more like a macarena) to more literary pursuits. I had this amazing confidence and resilience which I look back upon and envy. Seventeen years old and I was traipsing around (where there was a performance-based degree, I was auditioning) attempting to be an actress, and I failed.
And I survived.
How? Why? What?! You survived failure? What’s your secret!
Which brings me to a recent experience with my hair. I do not have tattoos, I had to remove my nose stud (twice) because it just never healed, and I don’t wear outlandish clothing (anymore). Recently, however, I acquired blue hair.
A cloud of concerned ‘Will your boss mind?’ and critical ‘I could never go that colour – can you imagine? Me?’ and judgemental ‘You’re going to a job interview with that hair?’ and skeptical ‘Really? You’re sure?’ wafted around me as I sat in the salon, suddenly – and a tad abruptly – exposed to judgement.
I am accustomed to having my writing judged. I welcome it.
I am accustomed to having my lifestyle judged (it’s not an especially unique lifestyle, but there are regular questions as to why I am doing my MA, what my plans are for the future, and suggestions that I might want to do something in general). I’m the biggest judge of all in that regard.
I can even tolerate judgement about clothing and general presentation – being told if a skirt does or doesn’t suit me, or being gently told that – yes – perhaps you should get out more.
But I’m not accustomed to judgement about something as fickle as hair.
I thought about. Does having blue hair make me less capable to work? Less capable to study? Less capable to function in the world at large?
And then I think back to the first audition I went to when one of the judges addressed a group of eager-eyed wannabes.
“One or two of you from this group of forty might get a call back,” he said. My heart fluttered. Oh! to be one of those two! “And neither may get a second call back. All of you need to know that this industry is tough. You have to develop a ‘stuff* them all’ attitude. When you get rejected, you say ‘stuff them, I’m better than they think’ and you keep going. When you get told to give up, you turn up your nose and say ‘stuff them, they just don’t appreciate my talent’. When you get told, repeatedly, that you aren’t good enough, you say ‘stuff them’ and keep going. If you believe you’re good enough, then you are. Stuff them.”
I had forgotten about this little piece of advice. Perseverance. Resilience. Confidence in your abilities. It was the reason I survived my failure as an actress (an attempted actress, anyway) yet I had forgotten it. I have been caught up in anxiety over my dissertation (which remains incomplete and neglected of loving attention), depressed about my lack of direction, and completely distraught over my general state of ‘being’. I am the one putting pressure on myself – the perfectionist within has been quite dominant of late – and I need to have a chat with her and tell her to get stuffed. I need to reclaim some of that confidence so I can get back to writing, studying, and living. I need to work on my ‘stuff them all’ attitude.
Ah, but you’re curious about the blue hair …
So I am sitting in the salon being judged for getting blue hair. I considered what the other hairdressers and clients were saying to me (Did I detect a hint of envy for my brash choice of colour?). I considered how my life was going to change now my hair was blue (er, it wasn’t). I actually fought tears – briefly – as I wondered what I was doing. Red hair had some semblance of normality, and even dark purple could be accepted, but blue? Bright blue?!
It took me some time and quite a few more passing judgements before I (very politely) said: “If people wish to judge me based on the colour of my hair, I will take great pleasure in knowing that I have sufficient intelligence, experiences, and confidence to turn that judgement around.”
*It’s not what you think … or maybe it is? In year five we had a Japanese teacher who pronounced my name ‘Stiff-nee’. While it was a bit of a taunt back then it is now the affectionate name used by my closest of friends. It has many variations, but only my sister calls me ‘Stifballs’.
*He used a stronger word than that but swear words sound better than they look, so I won’t write it!