I’ve come to learn that people can take on different personalities when they are operating in another language. This is true for many bilingual people I’ve met, and very true for myself. I’ve spent the last eight years either living in France, or on French compounds in various continents. The story below isn’t written about that girl. This story is written about English-speaking Lisa…or possibly French-speaking Lisa, after a couple glasses of wine.
My husband calls me the “Alpha Female”. I get my hair highlighted every 6 weeks, no matter where in the world I am, I’m rarely seen without lipstick, and I like having my nails painted. I enjoy getting dressed up to go out; with my uniform of choice being a short skirt and the higher the heels the better. Generally speaking, I’m not exactly what you’d call shy. ‘Drink Champagne and dance on the table’ isn’t just a picture hanging in my hallway, it’s a way of life.
Have you stereotyped me yet?
If you didn’t know me, I might sound superficial. Yes, it makes me feel good to look nice on the outside. But I also pride myself on my inside! I’m highly educated, with three university degrees and I’m well travelled; just opening my passport will give you jet lag. I’ve successfully rebuilt my life, changed careers, countries, and languages.
I’m at a point in my life where I genuinely like who I am. I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments.
I was on the phone last weekend with my best friend in Canada who has known me since we were kids and she said, “I can’t wait for you to come home. I really miss how refreshing your sense of self is.”
I thought about that after we got off the phone. Confidence comes easy to me now, but it hasn’t always been that way. Adolescence didn’t exempt me from being an awkward teenager. As a matter of fact, I can rewind this a little further.
My Mom always talks about how as a kid, she wouldn’t let people tell me I was cute or pretty because she didn’t want it going to my head. I get that. She didn’t want me to be conceited. So my looks just weren’t spoken of. Puberty turned up and in walked acne, braces, and bad hair. What a nightmare that was. I remember being so paralyzed with a lack of confidence that being called on to read in school would cause so much anxiety that I would no longer remember how to read. It was awful.
Then one day the braces came off, the acne slowly went away and the bad perm grew out(…adolescence is the absolute worst). My friend’s mom submitted a candid photo of me into a local model search. One thing led to another and my sixteen-year-old-self was on a plane and strutting down a runway in Canada’s largest city. I remember thinking, ‘How can I be modelling? I didn’t even know I was pretty.”
Parents shelter their kids with the absolute best intentions.
Perhaps the modelling stint is what sparked my first realization that I had a reason to be confident. I’d love to tell you that it’s because I realized how smart I was back then, but if we’re being honest, my brains didn’t kick in until I was about twenty-one. Late bloomer, I know. In order to truly stand confidently in my own skin, I needed to find out who I was, and that wasn’t easy.
I had to gain weight in my twenties to realize I felt better in my own skin when I was fit.
I had to cut my hair short to know I preferred it long, and I dyed it dark brown to figure out I’m meant to be a blonde.
I had to work at a job I hated to help me find a career I loved.
I had to date someone unhinged to know I wanted a stable man.
Slowly but surely I kept learning things about myself.
Even though my parents had to force me to go to university; once my slow-starting brain kicked in, I figured out that I wanted a good job, so I kept going back for more degrees. I also wanted to know more about the world, so I kept buying plane tickets and gaining global experiences.
With each stumble, or in my case; with each pair of oversized jeans, bad haircut and inappropriate boyfriend; I found my way to exactly where I wanted to be. And thankfully, I married a man who keeps gently pushing me out of my comfort zone to further my self-growth.
Although frustrating in the moment, my husband nudges me forward, by doing crazy things like having us live in foreign countries where I need to adjust, adapt, and learn about different cultures and customs. He encouraged me to learn French so I wouldn’t feel isolated in my own (now mostly Francophone) family. When we moved to Europe he bought me a manual-drive car, even though I only drove automatic; assuring me it was a skill I should have if we were going to live outside of North America. I’ll never forget phoning him, crying, and saying I was going to abandon the car because I was stuck in an intersection. But I persisted, and now, I can drive wherever we are in the world without getting stranded. Even though my interest might be lacking at times, he continues to fill me in on politics, world history, and current events. I may roll my eyes, but I admit that I’ve found myself in social settings where I’m glad my husband is as smart as he is and shares a fraction of what he knows with me.
Whether my experiences were things I personally chose to add to my tool kit, or things that I’ve been encouraged to do by others, the best parts of me are all things that didn’t come easily. The more things I do for myself, the better I feel in my own skin. These hurdles, although small, have made me smarter, stronger, and shaped me into the person I am today. Plus, when I arm myself with knowledge and experience, it makes the world, and the people in it, a far less scary place. The sense of self my experiences have created, has given me the confidence to feel like I can dance on the table(often literally), no matter where I am. Now, as always, my thoughts circle back to my daughters. They are unbelievably cute and I am so damn scared to screw them up. Do I tell them they’re pretty? Or only that they’re smart? Or maybe both? I know that one day they’ll probably make a habit of eating McDonald’s at 2am after the bar, and they’ll need to date the wrong guy in order to find out that those aren’t the best choices. But how will I possibly sit back and watch that happen?
For now I’m trying to lead by example; taking care of myself, both inside and out. I’m being kind to myself and those around me. And I’m trying to forgive myself, and others, when things aren’t perfect. Because no one is.
Unfortunately people often judge a book by its cover and the world can be a tough place sometimes because of it. People tend to reach for the best covers no matter what’s inside. If you don’t care and want to walk around with a disheveled cover, then more power to you; you might just have to work a little harder to prove yourself. But, if you want to splash your cover in sparkles, Chanel, and stiletto heels, go for it girls. Just make sure that when someone opens your book, you’ve filled it with the best damn pages they’ve ever seen.