You may not think that a little thing such as having red hair could have much of an impact on someone’s life. But it has.
Looking back on photos of myself as a little-un, I’d say I was cheery and cute (if I do say so myself), what with my shock of red hair tumbling around my cheeky chops. As I grew older I rapidly retreated into my shell and became as ‘shy as a mouse’. Freckles and pimples developed all over my face on top of the already splotchy, easily blush-able and burnable skin, and my red hair became thick and unruly. I became awkward in my own skin, as most teenagers do.
The trouble is, I started hating myself. I don’t know why, I mean, I was in primary school – I should have been happy and carefree. I guess it all started when my family moved from the country to the city. I was not longer in my little safe community with my best friends. Everything was different – the kids were different. They were so outgoing, so sporty, so blonde. There were a lot of pretty girls who styled their hair and liked boys, and all of the kids swore! I so wasn’t in Kansas anymore, and there certainly was no Toto to cuddle.
What did I do?
I retreated into myself and began focussing on what I didn’t like about myself – my face, my hair, my skin, my body shape. The mandatory school uniform of short sports skirts and polo shirt wasn’t exactly flattering – the amount of times Mum found me in my bedroom in tears before school , well, too many to count.
The kids at school didn’t help matters as they started to tease me. The entire class discovered that I was the ‘heaviest’ in class after the teacher decided it would be a fun exercise to weigh the class and write their weights on the chalk board. Oh joy! And with the inability to hide my ‘big’ thighs beneath the sports skirt, it was on like donkey kong.
Oh and the popular girls took to educating my naive country self on the perils of red heads wearing colour – did you know that red hair clashes with everything? Uhuh. Yessiree. Don’t be caught dead in colour ESPECIALLY with my pale complexion, those freckles and that nose. I was also advised that no boy would ever want to go out with me, and they mostly didn’t.
I was whispered about on the school bus – just loud enough to be heard…’the ugly red-headed girl’ – the girls giggled, as did the boys. When the bus braked, and I fell on to the pile of school bags – well, there was more ammo. Yes, I was also a clutz – I still am.
Now I had proof I was ugly and fat and just genuinely hopeless, and at every chance I could I reminded myself of it. The self-loathing had commenced, and I retreated into books, music, moodiness and eventually depression.
A path to self-destruction
The teasing lasted into high school. The starving myself…that lasted for longer, and was later accompanied by excessive exercising, binge eating, and many more self-deprecating thoughts.
As I got older I felt like I had been born in the wrong country. I felt so ‘different’, especially in Australia – the home of the bronzed blonde beach babe. I was definitely not blonde, and I couldn’t bronze myself to save my life. Living in a state with beautiful beaches just seemed cruel, especially when one burned after just 10 minutes in the sun. I mean, I couldn’t even compare to the ‘alternative’ girls at uni. They were so cool and ‘alternative’ – whatever that meant. I was no one.
The black dog took hold, and he made sure he had me in a real good grip.
The black dog took hold, and he made sure he had me in a real good grip, and so I embarked on a period of even more self-destructive behaviour with my soul mate at the time – my crazy self-destructive best friend who felt just like me! The intake of booze (I had been drinking since I was 15) escalated, and I started binge drinking. THAT was when I felt alive, happy, attractive, vibrant…I would drink everything under the sun, I would own the dance floor, I would make out with random guys (to my credit I never slept with them), and then I would see the night out with a kebab, hot chips, and end up at home by 8.00am vomitting my guts up – sometimes before having to drag my hung over ass into work and then to uni.
This vicious circle continued into my late twenties, on and off. I was officially told that I might suffer from depression mid-way through my first year at uni. I’d broken down, struggling to get to any class. I ended up seeing the uni councillor who was the one to suggest it. We talked a bit about life, childhood trauma, my broken family, my dark thoughts. I couldn’t handle counselling at the time, but they helped me get 6 months off uni to pull myself back together.
Surprisingly I graduated from uni with a Bachelor in Communications. It was just an Arts degree – I still had no idea what I wanted to do, no direction, no real lust for life. But I HAD discovered something I loved. Travel. Thanks to a special soul I met at uni I had been given a glimpse of the world outside of Australia.
Singapore was my first trip overseas with my dear friend Charissa. It was eye-opening. I tried different foods, I experienced other cultures, I was introduced to new music and the drum and bass club scene, I shopped. I met DIFFERENT people from all walks of life, I loved them, I loved learning about them and hearing their storied. And they appreciated me for who I was. I even managed to stop traffic! Men and women found me interesting and attractive!? Say what!
Italy was my second trip overseas, this time with another dear friend, Karina. 2 Aussie girls backpacking around Italy for 6 weeks, whilst being sweet talked by Italian stallions, followed into the toilets by a seedy old man in Naples, driven into fits of laughter by a jock from the US, and charmed by a brooding American writer who was the first man I had ever experienced ‘electricity’ with. The trip ended in Paris, where I was made to feel ‘beautiful’ and where for the first time in my life I truly felt ‘alive’.
As the 6 weeks came to an end I returned home to my then boyfriend (I had one!) but it did not feel like one no matter how hard I tried. My boyfriend was a nice guy, safe, and sweet, but I wasn’t happy and I struggled with the increasing drug culture around me – to my credit I didn’t even try to fit in to that even though people were snorting speed around me and treating me like I was the weirdo for now…
To cut a long story short, I chucked in my job, left my boyfriend behind (we tried long-distance…bad move on my part), and set off overseas indefinitely. I got a lot of attention. I fell in lust and in love. I was charmed. I was broken and restored. You could say that I found my self, and 9 1/2 months later I returned home wiser, with confidence and a new lease on life.
The journey continues
The journey continues to this day, and yes, there have been ups and downs along the way, especially mentally. I’ve tried counselling on and off – and a few years ago finally found someone amazing who helped me so much! I went on anti-depressants, off them, and then on them again. I stopped drinking, started, stopped, started…and am now able to drink just 1 or 2 glasses and be satisfied with that. I definitely no longer NEED alcohol.
Most importantly though, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and work on myself. I’ve apologised to the child-Janine for the battering I gave her, and I am now comfortable in my skin. I love my hair. I realise that I was never fat and that I’m not ugly, and that I shouldn’t listen to the nay-sayers as most of the time they are just jealous. I now take better care of myself, and I try hard not to beat myself up mentally. Due to my perfectionist nature I can be my own worst critic, and this critic has learned to be kinder.
So, what am I trying to say?
It’s not that looks count for everything as looks fade. It’s not that loving someone will solve everything because it doesn’t. It could be that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Or that in order to love others, you must first love yourself. It is that childhood bullying scars, and that these scars can last a long time.
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