My idea of beauty as I grew up was fair skin, straight blonde hair and green or blue eyes.
Why did I choose the opposite of my own curly dark hair, dark skin, and brown eyes?
Are we naturally inclined to opposites, or was I being shaped by the popular culture around me? I was given hand me down dolls when we were growing up in a housing commission area in Devonport, and they were always blonde with blue eyes.
When I first went to school I was often picked on for my dark olive skin, called names I don’t want to repeat beginning with N and A and B, and subjected to hearing jokes about dark skinned people. I was teased and taunted on the bus trip to school every day in my first year and began to walk to school to have some peace and quiet.
I had stones thrown at me in the street and names called out. ‘Go home, back where you came from’ the neighbours’ kids would say.
My Dad trying to make me feel better would say “white skinned people like me, we get sunburnt more easily, and why do you think people tan themselves, they like olive skin” but then he would always say “you’ll have to do twice as well to be treated equally.”
Mum and he later told me that they had been upset when one of my teachers had said “she is so smart despite her “background,” I have her help teach the others.” They didn’t tell me until I was much older, in case I stopped liking that teacher when in her class.
Later I went to a small school of rainbow coloured and cultured kids, where for the most part you were accepted regardless of your colour or age, although sooky spoiled kids weren’t well regarded. It was cooperative based and we weren’t graded but passed milestones we set in written contracts with our teacher. I went to the houses of the other children on visits and we were all like one big family.
We went on lots of interesting trips throughout Tasmania, and did art, music and movement. Once we went out to see mud brick house built. We kept journals and went on regular outings to the town library.
One day my parents could no longer afford to send me there, and put me back into the mainstream system.
Whilst I missed some of the freedom and acceptance of my old school mates, my new school had an inspiring footballer for a teacher. He encouraged me to excel at sport and told my parents to sign me up to athletics, swimming and netball. He was a true coach to the students, a former footballer, and strict but fair.
I began to feel hungry for excelling at things, as he encouraged healthy competition. Awards came my way and I liked the feeling receiving them gave me. It made up for standing in the free list line to obtain my free paper and being yelled at by the office lady.
‘How can you use so much paper?’ So her inquisition would begin
Undaunted I would say ‘I have a lot of assignments.’
Our football coach teacher was amazing. He gave me the courage to compete without making me feel it was just to fit in, like my Dad unwittingly had. He also made us run around the block of the school every morning so we could concentrate better in class.
Although I had loved my cooperative school there was a competitive streak within me that needed an outlet. Later I would learn the best person to compete against is yourself, and some of the cooperative learning from my small school would come back into my nature.
I would also come across a dark skinned barbie doll, with movable joints and buy it for my daughter. She was glamorous and fit, statuesque and I realised I no longer thought of myself as needing to have straight blonde hair and green or blue eyes. I still love the feeling doing my best gives me, and I know that knowledge and excellence do give you power.
Today I think fondly of that school where children cooperated, supported and could be like one family – and where I was always allowed to have as much paper as I wanted from the school supply cupboard.
Inspired by the Who Shaped Me project for ABC Open, this month’s Pearlz Dreaming blog theme will be about the people who inspire me and there are lots of them! Goal 19 pieces on Who Shaped Me.