An Unraveling.

The Dolls

Since I was little, I’ve had a collection of porcelain dolls and they would stand on top of my bookshelves, peering at me through yellowing lace and from under gaudy plumed hats.

I used to have nightmares about those dolls and their cold cheeks, their blank eyes framed by someone else’s lashes, their perfect curls and full pouting lips.

I would dream that I was trapped in porcelain, that I too was peering through glass eyeballs from the top of my bookcase.

I couldn’t move, or talk, or think – I could only exist, a fragile, hand-painted porcelain child frozen in perfection.

When I woke up, I would cry with relief at the blood pounding in my temples, my trembling fingers, and my own eyelashes.

Those nightmares have since given way to new ones, but I still have those dolls, and every time I see them I suppress a gasp and I wonder if there is someone in there, staring through glass pupils,

voiceless.

-“Alice J. Byrd,” 6S Volume 2 [2009]

This was my first published piece. At 15 years old, I thought I’d marry an Emo rock star and write under the same fanciful pseudonym forever.

Having my work featured in 6 Sentences was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Everything felt possible in a brand new way. This started a new life for me, where I could be whoever and whatever I wanted.

At the time, I wanted love. This required being noticed. I was determined to make it happen.

Here I was, at 15. I felt pretty, in this picture.

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And there I was, at 20. I felt fat, in this picture.

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In my quest to be worthy of love, something went very wrong.

I took my heart to Hollywood and put it up for sale. Admiration morphed into assimilation. Comparison was my life. I wasn’t a voice anymore, but a brand. I hadn’t known it then, but at 15 years old, I had written a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At 20, I looked back at my 15 year-old self and felt ashamed of her. So I kept her a secret. The world couldn’t know who I really was. I didn’t think they’d want her.

When people looked at me, they saw someone who was making her Hollywood dreams come true. This Rachel was ambitious, successful, photogenic.

She was someone else.

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“I suppress a gasp and I wonder if there is someone in there, staring through glass pupils…voiceless.”  Five years after I wrote those words, I found myself imprisoned within them. And if I trapped myself any longer, I knew I wouldn’t make it out. Something had to change.

The shift was gradual, painful and necessary. I chose to eat food again and focus on healing. I got into the habit of writing again, one agonizing word at a time.

Luckily, the truth wanted to be heard. My delicate, ‘professional’ persona wasn’t strong enough to contain her. Today, I thank my younger self for giving me another chance at the life she always wanted.

At the end of 2015, I stopped pursuing modeling jobs…but the universe had a sense of humor.

The second I said “I quit,” all the good stuff started happening. A few months after my decision, PinupGirl Clothing reached out to me and asked if I wanted to shoot. This was my favorite brand, asking out of nowhere. WHAT? Working with this body-positive, female-driven company was something my younger self would have been proud to see me do. So I said yes.

I wanted to be the woman that 15 year-old Rachel would have looked up to.

Healthy. Genuine. Fun. Happy. Intelligent. Classy. Smart. Courageous. Whimsical.

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These photos were also taken five years apart, and I love them. (Left: 2011. Right: 2016.)

I love them because both are genuine. Both of them are beautiful. Both of them are smart. And both of them are writers. The girl on the left just didn’t know it, yet.

Vulnerability is strength. When I accepted and embraced the ordinary, I finally felt extraordinary.

A lot of us don’t feel empowered. We struggle with competition and comparison, no matter how successful we are. But beneath every airbrushed fashion model is a girl who wanted love. Behind every jaded actress is a child who craved acceptance.

Within every ordinary human is an extraordinary being.

Can you see yourself? Because you’re pretty damn wonderful. How you look does not define you. Neither does social media, who you know, or what you do for money. What defines you is a fragile link between who you really are and what you choose to show people. It’s a personal choice.

I’ve tried to remodel my old website and public Facebook page to reflect who I am now. But I can’t bring myself to delete all the old stuff. Yeah, I went through a million phases and made a lot of mistakes, but they made me better.

I’m grateful to have met some important milestones in the last few years, but what makes me truly proud are my failures. They’ve taught me more than all the good stuff combined. I am grateful for every little step, every first time, and every do-over. Those things were what led me here. 

Today, I look back at the little piece I wrote at 15 and can’t help but marvel at it. I don’t care if it’s good or bad, or how it compares with what I’ve done since. Those six sentences meant a lot to me when I wrote them – and they’ve come to mean even more, now.

I loved to write, until I convinced myself I couldn’t. I loved myself, until I decided that I shouldn’t. This year has been an unraveling.

Now, we’re here. It’s your turn.

What’s something wonderful you did, before you taught yourself to hide? 

The world and I would love to know.

x

 

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