“tougher than she looks"
One of the compliments I have been given for as long as I can remember is that I am tougher than I look. When I was in the hospital as a child, a nurse would remind me to breathe, look away. Questioning the times I said “I’m fine” with a smile on my face when asked if I was in pain. And he or she would look back at my mom who would say, “she’s tougher than she looks.” An old photo of me getting my ears pierced also comes to mind- haha
“Tougher than you look.” It is a weird compliment because it is acknowledging the world will find my strength by surprise. Because I’m young. Because I’m kind. Because I’m sensitive? It’s saying “you are so strong, BUT you don’t look it” in a nonchalant way.
When I started this blog a few years ago most of the messages I received were people who knew me but now felt they knew me. They were surprised.
“You’re so strong.”
“You’ve been through so much.”
“It’s amazing at your age-”
I take those compliments, but sometimes it does feel weird that once I speak my truth I get praise for the depth of it all. And that can be taken wrongly.
I guess I have been used to surprising people.
Those who first see me as withdrawn or quiet.
Those who see my sensitivity as weakness.
Because though I write my truth, I often keep a lot hidden in my personal life. I don’t tell classmates or coworkers about my health issues. Maybe they would treat me differently if I take time off, if they knew why, but I don’t wear that label. Not that it’s wrong, I just don’t choose to.
When people get to know me and begin to really know me I always hear, “I would have never known.”
Part of me then feels I succeeded, haha.
I was recently told by a woman who is older than I am, that because of my age and my personality I can be perceived first as naive or an easy-target. This isn’t news to me. I was a childhood target of bullying because of this appearance. But this time, it wasn’t said like that. This was in regards to men. How [some] men see me.
And for the first time, “you’re stronger than you look” was not a compliment. How I look makes me a target? Defines my intelligence? As someone who has experienced sexual assault, and not too long ago, this shook me to the core. My stomach was in knots. The times I had to tell a man how I deserved to be treated in the workplace, yet to glancing eyes was seen as flirting. The times I had panic attacks at home, because I was told I had a “beautiful body” by a man much older. I went over these experiences in my head and felt incredibly stupid. Humiliated. I was thinking of how I can change things about myself while knowing there is no valid reason I should change any freaking bit of myself!
I need to learn to be OK with being tougher than I look.
When I meet a person, I don’t always recognize their strengths first.
I could. I could try. We all have them.
What is important is that I honor my own. As a woman, I must separate my experiences from my identity. The good and the bad.
Little Haley was a tough girl.
I don’t always feel it, but I still am.
I define my own strength, no one else.