Sofia Pezo, age 16
In my AP English Language class, I recently had an assignment to write a speech about something I believed and then read it to my whole class. This assignment was based on a project NPR did a few decades ago called “This I Believe,” where listeners wrote essays about things they believed, some of which were read on the air. I chose to write about a moment in my life when I felt so many complex and conflicting emotions that at eleven years old were foreign and confusing to me.
This I Believe
I have a secret.
It’s not exactly a secret anymore because I’ve told quite a few people and I don’t feel like I need to hide this from people anymore. But to eleven-year-old me on the first day of sixth grade in a new school, it was a big, fat secret.
I have scoliosis.
Scoliosis is a condition in which someone’s spine is not straight; it’s curvy, in an S-shape. That in itself wasn’t what I was worried about people knowing when I was younger. It was the fact that for two years I had to wear a back brace for an average of twenty hours a day.
For a long time, I felt really ashamed of having to wear a back brace every day to school, and I became very introverted and reserved. I refused to hug my friends because I didn’t want them to ask questions. I refused to put my hair in a ponytail for fear that people would see something and ask me about it. I refused to wear clothing that was a light color or that was tight, for fear that someone would see the outline of my brace or actually see it, because it was pink and hard to cover up sometimes. And I absolutely refused to tell anyone that I had a brace.
Now I’m not ashamed of it. I haven’t had to wear my back brace since the spring of seventh grade, but I still have it in my room. In fact, I have three, because I had to get a new one every year. Now, instead of being mortified that people would someday discover I had a back brace, I’ve told most of my friends and even shown a few of them my back braces. Now when I think about how I used to be scared they would judge or laugh at me, I know my friends will always support me.
Nonetheless, part of me has always worried about how people look at me and what they think of me. I think my brace was part of the reason why I’ve always been really self-conscious of myself and of my appearance. The reality is there are so many complex aspects of themselves that people like, but just as many that people judge or try to hide.
But if I could turn back time and talk to my eleven-year-old self, I would tell her, “You don’t have to love every part of yourself. It might take you a long time to accept or even like a specific part of yourself, but it will take longer and it will be harder if you constantly compare yourself to others. You are beautiful and brave, and you shouldn’t hide. Learn to not be scared of your imperfections, because they are a part of you, and no matter how much you wish you could get rid of them, someday you’ll understand how they make you stronger. You’ll meet new people and make friends who will support you and who will love your imperfections and curves, too. And someday, you’ll be able to look back on this period of your life and you’ll smile. You’ll feel proud of where you are now and how you have embraced yourself.”