One of the hallmarks of being a woman in Westernized society is the concept of perfection, of upholding the patriarchy. That was a lot of academic jargon, so give me a bit, and I’ll break it down for you.
In order to keep the male oriented, status quo of society going, women, starting as little girls, are often relegated to being as less threatening as possible. They’ve got to be thin, petite, quiet, with soft voices and light giggles. They are graceful and lithe. They never say what’s on their mind. And those girls that manage to do all of that? They’re rewarded by society. They’re popular, laureled, adored by adults and their peers when they’re young.
I remember being envious of these tiny, perfect girls when I was younger for many years, for multiple reasons. They had lots of cute little friends, fit quickly into the smallest pair of jeans at Abercrombie and Fitch, always had pitch perfect voices, never had to overthink or over analyze anything, were good at sports, and always had a muppet-looking boyfriend in a plaid shirt on their arm.
I knew, even at a young age, that couldn’t be me, and I knew my disability had something to do with it.
Oh, NVLD–I knew by missing social cues, being the most uncoordinated kid in gym class, and being interested in my own, weird little worlds, that I was setting myself up against society. Most girls didn’t want to be the giant, weird girl’s friend and most boys weren’t interested in her either. No high school boy wants to go out with a girl who just wants to yammer on about Age of Empires II or Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf*, especially if she towers above them.
You see, on top of having NVLD, by age 14, I was the same height and weight that I am now as a 30-something. I was 5’11 and 165 lbs–a giant by middle school standards, but considered normal, if not trim, but adult standards? SOCIETY WTF.
So, I’d walk into my classroom on the South Side of Chicago the way Godzilla usually stomped into Osaka–loud, gracelessly, and in clothes that were both too tight in some areas and too baggy in the others.
Okay, maybe Godzilla wasn’t destroying Japan in a giant Yale hoodie she got from her stepfather’s precious alma mater. Godzilla also wasn’t reading Tolkein under the desk in Mrs. Henderson’s English class, but you get the idea. Lacking spatial and social awareness is a hallmark of NVLD, and I had it, hard.
So, I was graceless, huge, and weird. Perfect? How could I be a perfect little girl when I wasn’t even normal? So, I tossed that concept of perfect out early in my teens, and accepted my weirdness with aplomb, even though peer rejection was horrid. I missed social cues and spoke too loud in class and shouted down the petite girls who seethed and snarled at me after class. But having NVLD meant that I often missed those social cues of severe dislike, and simply moved on, my headphones blasting some recently pirated Limewire garbage into my ears.
Now that sentence dated me in ways I never knew possible. Oh, 2002, I miss you.
The perfect, pretty teens hated me with every fiber of their petite beings. Years later, while reading their blog and social media accounts, I found deeper reasons why these girls disliked me, and something wild happened.
I empathize with them.
From an early age, I knew I had a diagnosis of a severe learning disability that affected interactions with peers and engagement. I knew I didn’t fit in with society’s deeming of a perfect teen girl. I knew I wasn’t going to be shorter or tinier than the average boy. I knew I couldn’t starve myself to 100 lbs at nearly six feet tall.
So, I accepted my weirdness, my tall, broad shouldered self, and NVLD allowed me to miss the social cues of society telling me to not do these things. Society screamed at me to do things, and I guess I missed the cues to listen.
I knew who I was, and NVLD went, ‘THAT’S RIGHT, GIRL. YOU WEIRD. NOW, IGNORE EVERYONE AND DRAW RECREATIONS OF JOHN WILLIAM WATERHORSE PAINTINGS FOR 4 HOURS WHILE LISTENING TO DEAD CAN DANCE. YOU KNOW YOU WANNA.’
And that’s the funny thing–as I grew up and moved out west for university, I ended up finding multiple tribes of ‘weirdos’ who weren’t perfect (I did go to a school notorious for weirdos, but that’s a story for another day). Those many, many weirdos, they laughed loud, had interesting, engaging thoughts, and often missed something I said and asked me to repeat it so they understood.
Heck, I even married one, and we have two wonderful kids now. Far from being alone with an army of cats, as I was often teased that I was going to end up like that, I’m living what society, ironically, considers perfect. I have a house in a nice suburbs, a new minivan, and a well paid job that is both stimulating and rewarding.
The field I work in is filled with offbeat, quirky people–but more importantly, it’s filled with a sense of upending the status quo. Of asking ‘why’, and digging into questions of how to understand society at a different epistemological level.
NVLD gave me something that, quite frankly, I wish most people had–a true sense of self, and a love of what I do.
Best of all, it allowed me to quietly rebel–take that, westernized patriarchy.
It’s so good not to be a perfect representation of a girl.
*= That was, until I went to college and most guys hit puberty by then. Suddenly, a giant blond chick who liked talking about terrible CD-ROM games was hot!
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