I was going through some of my photos today…  and I came across a special photo that brought a smile to my face.

The photo was of me… at my tramp-themed birthday party.  I’m grinning manically in front of my tramp cake (that my aunt baked for me)… wearing my tattered, dirty tramp clothes… a pair of old knickers on my head… surrounded by my friends and family.

And I thought…  “That’s a ME photo.  That’s Me’ish“.

Here it is:

tramp party

I have quite a few Me’ish photos in my collection.

There’s this one (below)… doing what I have always loved… making art…

Scan 5

… and there’s this one (below)… swimming in a rock pool… somewhere in the Drakensberg mountain range (I have always loved exploring new places… and secret waterfalls and rock pools… and, of course, swimming….)

tomboy

And then… there’s this photo (below)… taken a couple of years later when I was 17 or 18… before I embarked upon my Great Betrayal (of self) and tried to morph myself in to somebody I’m not (mostly because I felt that the Real Me was too weird… and not normal-enough… and I felt I needed to fit in in order to be happy).

creative hat

I often look back at this photo of me… with a bit of a wry smile.

It was taken in my aunt’s art studio.  She was paying me to pose for her art students.  The clothes that I’m wearing are… well… pretty much what I used to wear back then.  I would shop at flea markets, second-hand stores and the Oriental Plaza.  I had amassed a wide range of colourful outfits with accessories… scarves… hats of all shapes and sizes… and, even a peacock feather that I’d regularly stick in my hair.

My nickname – Hat – came during this season of my life… because I’d always be wearing hats (or scarves… or peacock feathers).

That photo offered one of the last glimpses of the Real Hat… before I got married at the age of 19… and lost myself for a LONG, long time.

And – indeed – this is what happens when you try to change and edit yourself in order to please others… you slowly whittle yourself away until one day, you ask yourself:  “Where did I go?  What happened?”.  

There’s a great quote by Raymond Hull that says:  “He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away”.

And I whittled myself away.

For years!

Of course… in my photo archives, I have many photos (sadly)… of the Not-Me.  Many, many photos of the sad… people-pleasing… self-shaming… trying-desperately-to-fit-in… version of me.

Here’s some NOT-Me photos:

hampton court1992

It began with this (photo above).  I was 19 and very newly married.  This was my first kitchen.  I had decided that it was time to “grow up” and to stop-being-so-weird.  My arty scarves, dresses, hats and accessories had all been turfed in favour of a husband-approved wardrobe (including short skirts, tight tops – and even suspender belts).

I don’t blame my ex for this.

I blame myself for for being so nauseatingly spineless that I willingly abandoned my authenticity and uniqueness in exchange for… what I hoped would be… my husband and my in-laws’ acceptance of me.  I deeply wanted to be accepted… and I wanted to fit-in… and I wanted people to like me.  And – if it meant that I needed to kill off every ounce of creative Hat’niss… then so be it!

(That damned people-pleasing disease… ugh! … I’m still fighting it!….)

Here’s another NOT-Me photo:

not me

This photo (above) was taken a couple of month’s after I’d been married.

We were visiting the Knysna Heads, and I remember feeling so miserable on that holiday.

Marriage was not the happily-ever-after-cure-all that I had imagined it to be.  I was starting to take solace in food… and starting to wear long dresses in dark prints to cover what (I believed) were “fat” legs.

And here’s another Not-Me photo:

marketing shop days

This photo (above) was taken after about 2 or 3 years of being married.  Creative Hat had diminished herself so drastically – there was barely nothing left.

This was a company photograph – taken when I worked for the Marketing Shop as Junior Graphic Designer (this was the last corporate job I had before I started my own business).  I had put on weight (mostly due to self-medicating with food) – and so, I no longer wore the short dresses or tight tops.  Instead, my wardrobe had become… “sensible”.  A sensible wardrobe – suitable for the office.  Jackets, pencil skirts… and everything in neutral colours.  Even my earrings were downgraded to either studs or hoops (in gold or silver).

And that smile?  That’s Heather’s very best fake, everything-is-okay smile.

cringe!

Here’s another NOT-Me photo:

sad heather5

This one (above) was taken a number of years later.  I was divorced from the first husband (and filled with shame, because of that)… and trying my best to be a Good Christian… and – again – to fit-in… and be acceptable… and be liked.

When this photo was taken, my wardrobe consisted mostly of black, body-hiding outfits.

I was terribly ashamed of my body and did everything in my power to disguise it.  I call this phase my “Hiding Phase” or my “Diminishing Phase”.   Look at me, sitting in that corner…  shrinking self-consciously back in to my seat with my arms trying to cover my tummy fat.  That’s not Heather!  That’s not me!  Who is that sad, embarrassed person?

This is a bittersweet post that I write to you today.

The great news – actually – it’s fabulous news, come to think of it…  is that I’m well on my way to reclaiming my HAT’ness and allowing myself just to BE the person that I was designed to be…  EVEN IF… it’s a bit unorthodox…  EVEN IF… it’s a bit odd…  EVEN IF… my relatives don’t approve…. EVEN IF I don’t fit in with The Norm.

And I am so much happier as a result (and that’s also why I’ve been writing and illustrating the little book about “How Heather Got Her Hat’ness Back”).

hat1

The bitter part… of this post… is the fact that it took me SO MANY YEARS… to figure out that it’s OKAY to just be ME.  Why did it take me so LONG???

If you – the person reading this post – have been squashing your authentic YOU’ness down… in order to meet the expectations of others… in order to please others… I really urge you:  Don’t do it!  It will suck the life out of you!  Be yourself!  Just BE!  Don’t dilute yourself in order to “fit-in”… people-pleasing is poison!  Take it from somebody who knows!

In the words of the Mad Hatter who remarked to Alice:  

“You used to be much more muchier.  You’ve lost your muchness!”

I eventually got to the point where I said to myself:  “You’ve lost your muchness, Heather.  You’ve lost your HAT’ness.  And it’s time to get it back!”.

And I’ve been working at reclaiming that HAT’ness… and that MUCH’ness… ever since.

Chat later… X

One of my favourite ways of just… being *ME'ish*… @ The Mad Hatster's Coffee Cabaret (photo taken by Lauren Kim).

One of my favourite ways of just… being *ME’ish*… @ The Mad Hatster’s Coffee Cabaret (photo taken by Lauren Kim).