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An Ode to Tina Fey’s memoir “Bossypants”: the moment I knew I was never going to be cool…

I just finished reading Tina Fey’s, Bossypants. The book is amazing. I laughed so much the whole way through, and it made me love Tina Fey that little bit more. Her book not only has reflections about her career in comedy and her show 30 Rock, but it also has stories and moments in her life that were pinnacle to her life story. It made me think about some of my own growing up life experiences and I thought I would share some funny and awkward moments that now help define the person I am today.

The moment I knew I was never going to be cool

It was 1999 and I was in the 7th grade. Our class was told that we were going to have an excursion to the local swimming pool where we would have our swimming skills tested for our first high school swimming carnival. Now, a swimming carnival in Australia has nothing to do with the Brazilian concept of a carnival. It does not mean that Shakira shows up with her perpetually honest hips… Oh no. The teachers will tell you that a swimming carnival is a day set aside for children to swim and compete in sporting events. Although, the reality of the event is something else. For cool guys, it means that they get to wear tiny speedos and work on their thigh tans whilst they try to impress the other cool girls and intimidate the uncool guys. For girls, it means that you get to show up in a super cool tiny bikini that isn’t actually any good for swimming in. You are to stand around looking coy until some dickhead cool guy decides to throw you in the water and you’re all like ‘Save me, save me’. The only thing is… I didn’t get this memo. My memo was more like, show up in a fluorescent one-piece that looks like a hippie vomited a bunch of glow sticks all over it.

There have only ever been two times in my life where I felt like I was looking through the world in slow motion. The first time was when I was about to be hit in the face with tennis ball and the second time was coming out of the change rooms in my one-piece. I looked around at my fellow class mates and wondered why they began to snigger and laugh. One girl said, ‘Nice swim suit’, which if you translate that from girl, it basically means, ‘You look like crap. I can’t believe you wore that outside of your own bedroom. You will never be accepted as one of us.’ I was so ashamed of my outfit that I told the teachers I couldn’t swim so I didn’t have to go in the water, and could sit with a towel wrapped around me trying to sink into the ground.

That was when I knew things in school were going to go downhill.

A conversation about beauty and cows

As you may have conceded from my first story, I was not a very popular kid. Sure, I wasn’t completely rejected by my class, but I was not the prettiest, or the cutest, or the blondest. Which basically made me feel like a sometimes tolerable Quasimodo. One day, after school, I went home and decided to ask my father about beauty. Was I pretty?  What made someone pretty? He would know the answer. It was all very Beauty and the Beast. And this is roughly how the conversation went:

Me: “Dad, am I pretty?”

Dad: “Hope, if you were going to buy a cow, what kind of a cow would you buy?”

Me: “Sorry what? What does this have to do with being pretty?”

Dad: “Just hear me out. What kind of a cow would you buy?”

Me: “I dunno…”

Dad: “Would you buy a skinny cow? Or, would you buy a big fat juicy cow with strong bones and a wide girth.”

Me: “I guess I’d buy the big fat cow.”

Dad: “Exactly!”

And that has been the basis of my definition of beauty. Whatever that might mean.

Amazon, lumberjack, man, four-eyes and other fond names

If you have ever been a child (which is everyone) you know that you only need to be slightly different to be picked on. Some people had braces, some people were overweight, other kids had really curly hair or a monobrow, or both! I was tall. Really tall. And I had glasses. This basically meant that I was like a human Bat signal for bullies.

I did ballet for around 17 years. I loved dancing and still do. Although, I noticed that after the age of 9, I started to grow more than the other girls. In fact, by the time I was 11 I was already 5ft 7 inches. And it didn’t get better. By the time I was 16 I was already 6ft (183cm). I wanted to be small and gracious and petite and all the other things my fellow ballet dancers were. Instead, I got the body type of a Nordic lumberjack.

And that’s exactly what they called me. It was either that or: Giant, Amazon, Man, Four-eyes, and other bold and interesting combinations. Now you would think that being tall would make me less of a bullying target. I’m big right, people don’t want to pick on someone that could just sit on them and crush them right? But the tiny people are always the scariest. Most of us tall people, we’re gentle giants. The Amazon and Lumberjack comments mixed in with my Father’s cow metaphor/fable/whatever had me pretty confused.

When I look back on these days I remember the heartache of a teenage girl who desperately wanted to fit in. I hated those people for tormenting me and making me question my existence. But, thankfully, I can also look back at those times with a different perspective. I wasn’t cool. I didn’t fit it. I wasn’t the small petite barbie… But I was myself. I was funny, weird, and loyal.

I remember saying to myself when I was around 13, ‘Well Hope, if you can’t be pretty and cool, you may as well be smart.’ And that is what I focused on. Knowledge was power and it gave me the strength to let go. Now when someone yells at me, ‘Get out of the way you stupid Amazon!’ (Or behemoth, or Giant, take your pick really)… I correct them and say, ‘I’m a actually a Glamazon, and it’s not my fault you’re short and impatient.’

Do you have some funny quirky experiences from growing up? I would love to hear them! And if you haven’t read Tina Fey’s Bossypants you really should! As always, share the reading love.

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