I have written before about being small, about feeling like I need or am expected to hide myself, make myself less, be less. However, I was hit with something several weeks ago as I again sat thinking about it. Being small is not as sudden a thing for me as I thought it was. As I sit and think and reflect, I can actually see the different lessons and admonitions towards being small that I have been given all throughout my life, not just in the past decade. It’s not as recent a thing as I thought it was. I’m looking back over my life and finding points along the way where I was taught to be small, to take the blame for others’ dislike. I learned that I needed to be small, that if I were too big, too bright, too…whatever, it was my fault if people got upset or didn’t like me. It’s kind of jarring to realize that it’s not as recent an emotional/behavioral habit as I thought it was.
I was taught to be small as a child. On school awards nights, I was taught by my peers to feel embarrassed by rather than proud of my achievements. My classmates would turn to me as I returned to my seat and tell me, “You should just stay up there [on the platform]. You’re gonna get everything anyway.” I felt the snide remarks all the way down to my bones, whether to be snide intended or not.
In middle school, I was taught to be small by the cute boy who pretended to like me and be my boyfriend for an entire week. Then, mercifully(?), a “friend” outed the joke. And it really was a joke because, seriously, who could ever like a nerd like me?
As a teenager, I was taught to be small because my fashion style was dressier than other girls in my social sphere and it might make them look bad. I was taught to be small when classmates rolled their eyes and made fun of the books I read, that I took solace in, and when they grumbled because I could play my part in concert band, even though their inability was a result of their lack of practice and nothing on my part.
In my twenties, late bloomer that I am, I was taught to be small when I perceived that I could not shine or revel in my own beauty because it would make others feel less happy about themselves, even though I had absolutely no control over that. If I could just step back upstage a little, not be quite so much in the light, that’s it…right there on the edge, that’s good. I can see it in photos now, recognize it for exactly what it is, and it hurts.
There are people in my life who have taught me to be small with the same breath that they used to admonish me for not “seeing how beautiful I am”. I’m sure they never realized or considered that that was what they were doing but it was. It’s sometimes hard, very hard, to hear “you’re beautiful” at the same time as being told that you make others jealous or unhappy. Suddenly, “beautiful” becomes not quite such a good thing; “beautiful” becomes something that brings pain to others, to ones you care about, so, obviously, “beautiful” is something that I should try to be less of. Me is something that I should try to be less of.
Though I have made progress (and I do mean quite a bit of it), I still battle the perception that I need to be small, less, duller. I question, I temper, I demure, I stick myself in a corner and keep quiet. Being small became a habit, born out of a desire to never hurt anyone, to be the cause of hurt, or a bone of contention. And so, sometimes, I still fall into its trap. If you have been taught to be small, believe me: you’re not alone. But you know what? We can “grow into our bigness”, as a dear friend once put it. I am growing into my bigness, into my role in my own life. I can stand. I can shine. I can strut. I can star. It is okay to be big in our own lives. It’s okay to be comfortable in our skin and unapologetic for it, to be unapologetic for our selves in our unique beauty and us-ness. Sure, we have our cracks, our flaws, our problems. But those do not negate us or our humanity or our worth. They do not make us monsters or beings who can be nothing but less-than. All that makes us is human. Humans, men, women, who do not have to be small. We are who we are, made as we were, and we do have something worth being, worth giving. Bigness doesn’t happen all at once; it’s a growing, like when we were children. It’s a process. But we can get there, you and I. God made us for big things; things that only we can do or be or create or give.
Even though you and I might have been taught to be small, we don’t have to stay there. We don’t have to believe that we have to be small or less. We can grow into ourselves, rise up into our bigness, and we need not fear it.