Don't Let the Haters Convince You It's Bad to Look Different
It was a rainy, dull and boring lunch break at school, and I was in a tutor room but not my usual tutor room. Rain meant we weren’t allowed to burn off energy outside (more than likely due to “health and safety”), so everyone had to remain inside within their tutor rooms. I don’t remember why I’d been moved, but it was more than likely due to attempting target practice with a paper airplane and a waste bin… as you do. Anyway, I was in a different tutor room… but I knew for sure these kids were not all in my year.
I didn’t know half of them, and they didn’t know me so I decided to keep my head down and instead, engross myself within a Jacqueline Wilson book at the back left hand corner of the classroom. A girl I didn’t know came and sat next to me, introduced herself and commented about how she enjoyed reading Jacqueline Wilson books… we got talking about all things Tracy Beaker and had found a connection within that. Deep in conversation, I one of the boys, who must have been watching us in conversation for whatever reason, suddenly shouted to me “Why are your teeth so yellow? Don’t you know what a toothbrush is?” The
classroom erupted with laughter. It was obvious he was the class clown, but he sure wasn’t making me laugh.
I sat there, frozen in my space. I remember scanning the room, people were staring at me, laughing with each other while this guy was getting high fives from his crew. The frozen feeling gradually turned into sheer anger and embarrassment. My new friend sat quietly, seemingly embarrassed too. I could feel my cheeks burning and my clammy fists tighten as I got more upset. The door seemed so far away, but I needed to get out of there before I did something I’d regret…
Head down, I pushed the chairs out of the way, even threw one across the classroom (into an empty space may I add), maneuvered my wheelchair into the right position, which allowed me to pull open the door and slam it shut. I could still hear the laughter from the corridor. Moving away from the situation was the best decision I could of made. Getting to the bathroom, I locked myself in a cubicle and sobbed and sobbed until there were no physical tears left. My fists were red from punching the wall in anger. “Do people really think my teeth are yellow? Why can’t I just be normal in some way, shape or form?” This incident wasn’t the first or the last.
I wasn’t a particularly naughty or violent child at school, but as a result of constant neuropathic pain, wheeling around and teenage hormones, I struggled to contain my anger. I already felt different because, at that time, I was the only wheelchair user within the mainstream establishment. Bullying was a regular occurrence inside and sometimes outside of school just for being supposedly “different.” Now, in addition to the chair, people were noticing my teeth. Again, the color of my teeth wasn’t and still isn’t something I have full control over. I had chemotherapy as a baby when I had cancer, and subsequently, the chemo stripped my teeth of the white enamel. As a result, the color of my teeth do not remain stereotypically white no matter how many times I brush them, what foods I eat and what toothpaste I use (if you don’t believe me, just ask your dentist!).
With this in mind, I started taking a toothbrush and toothpaste with me everywhere I went because I truly believed this was one possible way of getting the desired look of having white teeth. I had this element of control. No one would know I would be brushing my teeth maybe six or seven times a day because I’d be in a disabled cubicle while the helpers waited outside. Maybe, I thought, if I had white teeth the name calling, verbal abuse and anxiety would surely stop…
But as an adult, an incident like this gets you thinking. Why did that child even say that? We all know children are very honest, sometimes too honest. We also know mean streaks do ooze out of people, and bullies exist. But why should we have to attempt to conform to the norms and ideologies that society pushes us to strive towards? Why should we have to worry about pleasing other people and at the same time, displeasing ourselves and making ourselves sad? Why do we have to have the “whitest” teeth, “prettiest” face, and “hottest” body to be classed as beautiful and unique? Surely we are made this way for a reason? Whether we believe that reason is because there is a God that wants us to walk a certain path or whether we were made and placed on this earth to make a difference, we have to embrace what we’ve got, not what we haven’t got. You can’t always be wishing and wondering “what if I had this?” or “what if I had that?” (we all do it!) because you’ll never look forward and
always remain looking backwards.
Unless you can make a change and want to make a change for you and no one else, embrace yourself and love yourself. Don’t ever change yourself just to please another person.
Even as a 23-year-old, I still carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with me everywhere I go (even my friends don’t know this) so maybe that incident and others relating to it have actually affected me more than I realize, but at least I know that as long as I look after myself, keep as strong as possible and enjoy life, I can be the best version of me to please myself and myself only. You can’t always control what you’re given, but you can attempt to make the best of it. If someone can’t accept that, so what? There’s the door. Ba-bye.
*slowly wave as you leave so they know you aren’t bothered*
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Thinkstock photo by lisafx