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  • Tiffany Marlink

Is it time to remove the mask?

I will never forget the day I learned it was better to fit in than to be yourself. It was the first day of 7th grade and I was cautiously excited. I loved school but this new environment with new classmates was a bit intimidating.

As the day progressed, I began wondering when I would see my best friend. We didn’t have any classes together, but we had agreed to look for each other in the halls. I thought for sure I would have run into her by now and I was excited to show her my first day of school outfit.

I finally found her during a break between classes. She was sitting with a group of popular girls. As I approached, I could see that she was laughing with everyone and I was excited to think that this might be my opportunity to become a part of the group too.

When she noticed me, she scooted over so I could squeeze in to share her seat. I was so happy to be sitting next to her and these super cool girls. There was one girl in particular that seemed to capture everyone else’s attention. She was bubbly and engaging. I was enamored by her talent to command our little audience.

Realizing we only had a few minutes left before we had to leave, she pulled a pack of gum out of her back pack. She went around the circle asking each girl if she wanted a piece. I watched as each girl held out her hand, said yes, and was handed a stick of gum. When it came to my turn, I followed suit. Holding out my hand and saying, “yes please” with a big smile.

The girl scrunched her forehead with a “yeah right” kind of look. I watched as she looked me up and down and said “no” with a little laugh. It was like she was delivering the punch line except I was the joke.

She moved on to hand my best friend a piece of gum before I could even process what had just happened. I waited in the circle until the last girl was handed her piece of gum and we all stood up to leave together. It wasn’t until the group was standing that I was able to see what the girl handing out the gum had been looking at.

There I stood in my olive-green corduroy walking shorts, cream colored tights, floral turtleneck and a cream cardigan. I suddenly realized that I looked like I had raided my great grandmother’s closet that morning. Everyone else was wearing jeans and t-shirts (it was the early 90s).

I was mortified. My wire rimmed glasses were dripping with tears by the time I quietly closed myself into the last stall of the girl’s bathroom.

I didn’t realize the gravity of that moment for many years. It wasn’t a dramatic bullying story like you hear in the news. There was no physical violence or even a mean word said. It was a moment for a tender-hearted girl that was hard. The pain that I felt was real and the impact of that moment changed the way I presented myself from then on.

I stopped trusting myself and let go of my sense of style. I began wearing what everyone else was wearing, instead of wearing what I loved. Without knowing it at the time, I started putting on what I now call my mask. The disguise that I wore to fit in and belong. The one that I thought would make me feel accepted and welcome. The one that slowly took me further and further away from my true self.

It took me years to gather the courage to start removing the mask I had been wearing. There are still days where I put one on without even noticing it. However, I have learned that I do have a solid warning signal that lets me know when I’ve been unintentionally wearing a mask. Sometimes it’s that subtly feeling that says this isn’t me. Other times it comes in the form of anger and can be more explosive.

Every time it comes up, I know it’s time to check back in with myself. What would the little girl inside want to do, wear or be? What would make her happy? Then I give myself the permission to do what comes up.

I invite you to connect with your own inner child to discover what masks you might be wearing. Where are you hiding your true self from this world in order to fit in or belong?

If nothing comes up, I invite you to spend some time getting to know your anger. What is that feeling trying to tell you? What is your inner child trying to call your attention to that you perhaps are overlooking? Our feelings are a gift. They are powerful indicators that can help us uncover more information about who we truly are.

It’s time to stand and be seen. Join me in removing the mask and becoming unapologetically you.

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