Recently, one of my best friends from college sent me a photograph, with the subject line, “At Least You’re Not That Girl (Anymore)”. It was a picture from 1992 – the two of us standing in front of Branner right before our end-of-the-year party. At the time, I thought I looked quite fetching. Newly permed and a vision in a black sheath dress, the image in my head of myself that night and the reality of this photograph were, dare I say, competitive. Let’s take a peek, shall we? (I’ve removed his face to save face.)
Now, in my defense, the wind was particularly strong behind me that day. Ahem. But, gust or no gust, that is one large head of hair, lady. Honestly, my first reaction was, well, sheer horror. Then I snorted, which I tend to do when I’m laughing uncontrollably. Then there was that brief moment of “Dear God, this photograph must be destroyed.” Which is a sentiment I usually feel when confronted with any photograph not to my liking. Like when my arm is flattened against my chest, making it look 2 and a half feet wide, or when I’m caught laughing and suddenly have quadruple chins. But then, I got to thinking what other photographs like this are there?
Luckily (and obsessively) I have all of my college photo albums in my closet. I promptly took them all down and scoured them for similarly cringe-worthy pictures. And, boy, are there a lot. Questionable wardrobe, hair, dance moves…all with memories attached that I wouldn’t destroy for anything. It got me thinking and the me of then and the me of now. And how I wouldn’t be who I am today without each and every one of those atrocious photographs that live in my history. And in a brave exercise, I’m letting them out of their albums into the blogosphere. In order to, if nothing else, lay claim to my missteps, share a few laughs at my expense, and, just maybe, inspire you to take a walk down a memory lane paved with your own foibles.
Thinking back, I think it all started with the perms. For years I lied about my perms. Everyone I knew, save my mother, my grandmother and my hairdresser, thought I had naturally curly hair. I’d go home secretly during college and come back to school with these tight, wet-looking curls and tell everyone it was just a bad hair day, or that I’d put too much gel in it. Hours in salon chairs with miniature curlers in my hair, chemicals pouring down my forehead and ears were one thing, but having anyone find out I did this was quite another. Years of keeping my curly little secret. But I’ve since let the perm out of the bag, so to speak and it’s been liberating. Not only is it a weight off my back (literally and figuratively), but I look better without the curls anyway – which I wish someone would have told me in 1991…when I combed out my perms into enormous freshman nests.
Stanford offered my first opportunity to really see who I was – to expose my true self after a somewhat difficult and anxiety-ridden high school experience. I was surrounded by people like me, people who understood me and I relished each and every moment of it. I lived out loud for the first time and, as one might do in such situations, opted for a variety of, perhaps, questionable fashion and beauty choices. But, hey, I’m willing to embrace them. I’m willing, as my friend put it, to not be that girl anymore, but also to respect her for the attempts she was making at the time to be someone, anyone, who was new and smart and willing to look utterly ridiculous. Case in point? The fact that, while at Stanford, I wore penny loafers to everything. Class. Frat parties. Dorm dances. I have countless photographs of myself wearing penny loafers and blazers, like some female version of Alex P. Keaton. The best, though, were the too small jeans, tucked in shirt, red socks and penny loafers that I offer here.
And I always put a penny from my birth year in my left loafer and a penny from the current year in my right (don’t ask…), so in the picture here I was walking around with a 1974-1991 shoe span.
I also went through a phase of trying to be bad ass. My sophomore roommate and I would listen to the Divinyls “I Touch Myself” at maximum volume and dance around our two-room suite in Kimball, hoping boys would hear us and swoon. This misguided siren song didn’t exactly work, but we didn’t care. We were young and etching out some form of rebellion for ourselves amidst the academic pressure and hormones. This was also the period in which I adopted the backwards baseball cap look. Which is not a mistake for everyone, just me. With my white tank top. And my vaguely transparent bad-ass sneer.
I’m not sure who I thought I was kidding with this, and luckily my foray into living on the edge never amounted to much more than a few too many shots standing atop a table at Miyake.
I also considered myself something of a dancer in college. Not a classically trained dancer. But a frat party dancer. One of those girls who, upon hearing the opening chords of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” would squeal and run into the center of the room, lip synching every word and shaking her penny loafers. I’ll admit. I did the Running Man. The Cabbage Patch. I was known to try The Sprinkler and The Lawn Mower. I even did the Janet Jackson routine from Rhythm Nation. And I know I wasn’t any good. I’m quite positive that when the circle formed around me at Kappa Sig it wasn’t necessarily because I was awesome. But I loved it. And, on rare occasions, I even pull these old moves out today. But only if you’re lucky. Here’s me, doing, what I believe, was a routine to Kid ‘n Play’s “Too Hype”…please note denim shirt.
As my final show and tell, I offer the following, horrifying piece of information. I inherited my father’s Italian eyebrows. And at no point in college did anyone tell me that I should try to tame said eyebrows for the good of humanity. My mother told me that I looked like Brooke Shields. Rather, I looked like Jimmy Durante. And now, as I sit on this side of eyebrow maintenance in which I deforest myself with regularity, I look back at myself in college and marvel at the fact that anyone would date me and the two large furry caterpillars living on my forehead.
Each of these photographs is of me. Me with perms. Unibrows. Enormous teeth. Pegged jeans. And while I still feel a twinge of embarrassment at them all, I also know that each and every one of these pictures is a moment in time. A feeling and a spirit of freedom and belonging and knowing that I was exactly where I was meant to be. Stanford offered me the irreplaceable opportunity to create myself anew and to try on different (backwards) hats and to carve out a sense of myself that was mine and mine alone. I may not have been the most glamorous person in college, but I lived it authentically. I wore the penny loafers with pride and fluffed up my perm. And while I may not be “that girl” anymore with 20 years between me and her, she’s still in here, dancing the Electric Slide at the Kappa Sig house with the sound of praise in her ears.
Originally published on the Stanford Alumni Blog – April 13, 2012.