Tag Archives: sense of self

You are the same girl, with or without your wavy locks.

Three months ago, I made the kind of radical decision that doesn’t seemingly impede my health or my future, but somehow stays with me for life.

I took one too many looks at my long, flowing, wavy brown hair and decided it must go. All of it must go, like a final closeout sale of sorts.

At the time, it felt a lot better than that final sale. I didn’t feel like someone was pushing all my beloved belongings out the front door and loading them into the back of a U-Haul.

It felt good, more like a new beginning, a fresh start before my final year of undergraduate coursework began.

My mom said she was surprised. She loved the pixie cut, yes, but wasn’t expecting it. My aunt felt just the opposite. And she told my mom this.

“Kaleigh’s getting rid of everything she doesn’t need,” she said on the phone one evening. “Including her hair.”

I hadn’t thought of it like that, had only been sick of the flat curls and wisps that never tamed in that too-hot, too-humid summer air.

Perhaps if I had lived in Arizona, a state known for its arid deserts, I would not have done it at all. I would not be writing this at all, let alone with two feet of hair hanging down my back.

But that’s not the case, and as with most big changes, there is always the question of what succeeds them. This is a change with plenty of questions, most of them yet unanswered for me.

There is a moment of dread when I stand in line at a home football game entrance gate, student ID in the hands of a ticket staff member. I watch the one, two, three takes, the tilt of the head, narrowing of the eyebrows, scrunching of the lips, and then, only when I can no longer bear it, the screech of my own irritated voice above this sea of drunken noise.

“I got a haircut,” I tell him, as if this alone might convince him everything he needs to know about me as a human being.

For instance, I have never used a fake ID. I am not even sure where to go to get one. Now, at 21, it’s irrelevant.

The same thing happened at a bar three lights down from my best friend’s house.

There is always this question of what else I’ve lost, besides my hair, in this decision.

I wonder if I’ve lost that air of innocence that seems to float along next to me, clinging to the old me like lint on the black leggings I’m wearing today. Or that playful quality that magazine personality tests are quick to associate with wavy locks.

I am not a blonde, have never been, and perhaps I’m losing two battles at once: the curly-haired girls are more spontaneous, blondes have more fun battles.

Sometimes, I want to stand in front of a group of classmates who don’t know me, the Before me, and make sure they knew I still laugh like a thirteen year old at all the wrong moments and will never be able to use the phrase “stuck up” to describe myself in the About Me section of my Facebook account.

I still walk this world like the girl with long, wavy brown hair who trips over her own bright turquoise and lime green paisley rain boots. Trust me, she has gone nowhere.


All play and no work makes Kaleigh a dull girl.

We’re doing this huge Jobbin’ In July campaign at Uvisor where I intern, asking people to tell their story and why we should personally help them find a job.

It’s been less than 24 hours, and already the stories are breaking my heart. Lay offs, medical issues, and families to support. Unemployment for more than 10 years.

There’s this episode of The Office where Michael Scott shovels a take-out container’s worth of fettuccine alfredo into his mouth to carb load before a 5k race. The pasta sits in his stomach the whole time like a rock.

That’s the feeling I get when I think about long-term unemployment. Like I ate too much pasta before a race.

It makes me wonder how these capable, love-filled human beings wake up each morning and plug through the day not sure if they’ll come out on the other side a little stronger.

That’s what it is for me. I want to come out on the other side feeling like I didn’t twiddle my thumbs or waste a single second. Maybe it’s the young energy in me.

I used to be the girl who jumped up and down waiting for her turn on the cheese mat to do a backward roll, pizza hands up. I’d do cartwheel-a-thons until my head spun and I had trouble walking straight. I’d ride the ocean waves into shore until the salt in my mouth made me sick to my stomach.

There was beauty and freedom in letting out all that nervous energy. Then I grew up, held it all inside, and tried to blend into the walls so people would stop making fun of me. It wasn’t cool to be spastic.

Now, I’m finally in a place where I either don’t care what people think of me or I know they’ll love me anyway. And I decided, without really realizing it, that what was more important was doing what I loved and throwing every ounce of energy into that no matter what.

I think I could handle unemployment for a little while. Please, dear God, do not test me too much on that. I think I have enough projects to keep me busy for a lifetime, but I’d have to turn those projects into something.

There’s girls to inspire and letters to write and hearts to lift. Minds to ease and money to raise and a whole country’s worth of silenced voices.

That’s what this campaign feels like for me. I feel like we’re standing back and giving these people voices. Like we’re handing them a megaphone in the middle of the Financial District and begging them to shout their credentials for all of Wall Street to hear.

As long as I am doing that, as long as I am working towards something concrete and real and I am honest-to-God helping people, I’ll have no reason to complain.

But then again, isn’t work supposed to feel like play if you love it? So maybe all play doesn’t make Kaleigh a dull girl. Maybe all play makes Kaleigh a smart girl.

You define your rock bottom. (And other words of encouragement for my 16-year-old self.)

My sister’s best friend told me about this exercise. Write a letter to yourself 5 years ago, she said. At first, I thought she meant in 5 years but how could I possibly know what to tell my 26-year-old self? I can’t. If I knew that, my life would be boring.

Dear 16-year-old Kaleigh,

A lot will happen in five years. Plenty more than you will ever anticipate.

You’ll want to forget to be strong and beautiful. Don’t. You’ll want to take the phrase “spiraling out of control” and tuck it in your back pocket for easy access. Throw that phrase away. It’s too severe for your life. You’re better than it.

Don’t let the calluses you worked hard to build be erased under fresh patches of red-pink skin ready for the world to burn them.

You’ll fret over almost dates. Let me tell you: they weren’t real.

Just because a boy likes you doesn’t mean you have to like him. Figure out if it’s him or the idea of him and be honest. He deserves that.

Don’t dread first kisses. And don’t share them either. Let them happen in the moment. But if you must be direct, you better have a freaking amazing reason. He better be shipping off somewhere.

Learn something from every friendship. Any of your relationships, really. Take a small lesson from the way your best friend falls in love with a boy, giving over her whole heart, and don’t think she’s weak.

If you hate the whole traditional dating scene so much, find an alternative.

Don’t hate meeting people because some of them never become good friends. That’s how all relationships are: hard work. Figure out what you expect from a friend and find it. Don’t settle. Ever.

Don’t let anyone push you around or claim you’re less than capable. Listen with one ear and prove them wrong so you can hear their jaws drop with the other ear.

Stop being a martyr. You are a teenager, for God’s sake. If someone upsets you, tell them. You’re too afraid of being honest. It’s not a disease. You can’t always be the nice one anyway.

If you’re going to be in love, be in love. Don’t half-ass it.

That said, if you care about someone, they better know. You’re an excellent time waster.

Going to college 300 miles away is not an excuse for losing touch with people in your life. Even if there’s not yet an app for that.

Hold onto the friends who leave you voicemails that make you laugh on the way to the parking garage after a long day on campus.

Suck every second out of those long days. Going to bed at 9pm is for the sick and the elderly. You are neither.

Your life is not a Sorry! game board. Change doesn’t mean going back to start. It means potential. Try new things. You will have 14 beginnings in 5 years. Embrace them and throw yourself into each one. You didn’t do enough of that.

You define your rock bottom. Remember that always. Don’t fall into the Grand Canyon. Remember the parachute is strapped to your back. I know you tend to lose things. Car keys, shoes, yourself.

And above all, never lose sight of who you are. Who you always were. Today. Tomorrow. In ten years.

Love that girl forever.

21-year-old Kaleigh

We have become the best version of ourselves.

via weheartit.com

“I want to be sixteen.”

I can see myself at 12, 13, 14, squeezing my eyes and waiting to turn into a princess overnight. A girl the world might love a little bit more.

Other kids threw pennies into fountains. I thought there was something magical in birthdays. I thought I would wake up at 16 and my whole life would be better overnight.

No more awkward preteen with chalk-covered legs and untamed curly hair. I thought I’d wake up in a few years and be beautiful.

I guess I didn’t learn my lesson, because at 16 I wished to turn 18.

“Yes,” I thought. “I’ll have it all together by 18.”

18 came and went. I wasn’t best dressed and my hair never stayed straight in the summer heat. My skin revolted against my decision to bake in the sun until I was a shade of deep brown and I conquered a mess of acne from all that torture.

I still didn’t have it together.

It took me 21 years to figure out that some things change but some things stay the same.

Like the feel of an old trampoline under my feet on a humid summer night in my best friend’s backyard. Or the roads leading to the house in the middle of nowhere. Or the ache in my ankle when it twists the wrong way.

21 years to decipher that small fact: you are who you are and all that is imperfect and all that you remember and all that you love will not disappear in the seconds it takes to cross another birthday finish line.

I don’t know if any of us ever change or if we all just evolve into a more real version of our true self, the one we’ve been haggling with since we were 12. The one who wanted to be 16.

I can see myself now at 30, lying on my back, head-to-head with my best friends on that trampoline. Waiting for the stars in the sky to turn into a sign from above that we have made it. We have become the best version of ourselves.

I know it probably won’t happen, that life doesn’t work like that. I know we’ll split across two cities in two states separated by a three-hour time difference and I pray for the only thing I can: that the time zones won’t kill us.

And maybe that we’ll sleep as little as we do now and love as hard as we always have and that being knocked down one too many times will only make standing up easier.

I wonder if the world will try to win us over with structure and stability. If at 35, I’ll be praying to wake up at 16 again. That little girl with the wavy mess of hair and the skinny legs and the dry hands from all that chalk.

If you could go back to one birthday—just one—which would you choose?

We’ll teach a classroom full of girls how to re-image their hearts, minds, bodies as they really are.

Perhaps we should have young girls enroll in a mandatory class on self-worth.

via weheartit.com

We’ll spend days drawing our dreams and our nights making them happen.

We’ll fall asleep to the sound of restless chatter outside our bedroom door as our mothers and aunts and grandmothers sat around the kitchen table telling stories of a time when they were young and enthusiastic. The noise slipping underneath our door and climbing inside the covers with us to lull us to sleep on nights when tear-streaked pillowcases weren’t enough to make us feel better.

The anticipation of tomorrow—the day that never stops promising—would hang in the air. Our hearts would never break.

Once, maybe, but only so we knew how it felt. Only so we could pick ourselves and our best friends and our little sisters up off the floor when they needed an extra limb. When their knees buckled underneath them.

We’ll teach a classroom full of girls how to re-imagine their hearts, minds, bodies as they really are. Mirrors would be banned. And so would calorie counts and bathroom scales and the little voice inside our heads that screams “You can’t” every time we reach for the stars.

The only thing we’d base our lives on would be feeling good. Because a size two and size twelve don’t matter if we feel good. If we can breathe in and out and do amazing things with our minds and bodies.

I’m picturing a slew of young women in all sorts of clothes lined up in front of a rundown warehouse on an early Saturday morning. The 30-something mother with her double stroller in tow. The 16-year-old sucking down a Caramel Macchiato. The 65-year-old widow who can’t bare the thought of remarrying.

All of them from the same city, waiting for the doors to Tomorrow to open. Hoping things will improve overnight.

They might wait a lifetime and never see that standing outside that warehouse, waiting for someone else to open the door, will get them nothing but a chest cold and burned cheekbones.

We have got to stop waiting for affirmation from the media because it’s not going to happen. And we don’t really want it. That will be lesson number one. We don’t really want it. We want to love ourselves.

The thought alone is realistic and somehow, deep down, that frightens us. Isn’t that why we’re lined up, clogging up the sidewalks when the rest of the world is still asleep?

Maybe they’ll need a push that first time. Someone will have to reach for the door handle, yank it open, and step inside the warehouse. And begin.

Because the act of beginning is sometimes the hardest part of the journey. Beginning means we believe there can be an ending.

“Let’s begin, shall we?” I’ll look around the room at the sea of hopeful faces and know that that’s the winning phrase of the morning. That’s what they’ve all been hoping for: belief.

Begin to love. To live. To have and to hold yourself. And let that be enough for once.

And maybe after that first day, some will be happy to move on in the world and find their own endings. Some might return and wait and pray for the door to magically open again. Eventually, though, the beginning will be so far behind that the ending will be inevitable.

And there will be no turning back. No beauty magazines from the checkout aisle. No self-tanner in the grocery cart. No numbers games and stomach pinching and nose crinkling and plastic surgery.

It will end. And we’ll wonder how it even began. But we already know: the same way that this new beginning did. Someone took the first step.