Braver is Better

Mango coat // Uniqlo turtleneck bodysuit // WhoWhatWear skirt via Crossroads Trading // Asos beret // Chinese Laundry booties    Photography by    Kit Michele

Mango coat // Uniqlo turtleneck bodysuit // WhoWhatWear skirt via Crossroads Trading // Asos beret // Chinese Laundry booties

Photography by Kit Michele

In fourth grade, I had a teacher who picked on me profusely for my inability to speak up in class. I was overly shy and the thought of raising my hand in the air was as uncomfortable and daunting as the idea of exposing one leg outside the blanket when you’re sleeping, in fear of being snatched or pulled by that one daring limb (anyone else have that impending fear?). Displaying myself like that for the public, even if it was just in front of twenty 9-year-olds, felt awkwardly vulnerable and tortuously naked.

Since then, I refrained from putting myself out there, recalling all the times my teacher would call my name, even when my hand wasn’t raised, and it was followed by a painfully extended period of silence. That moment, and other moments—like this one time I was in a pageant and I blanked on my interview question on stage for 3 minutes—has forever been ingrained and bucketed in my brain as a “never in my life again.” I decided I was better off as a wallflower, observing and vanishing when it was most convenient and casually unnoticed.

But there was a part of me that was itching to speak out. The older I got and the more attuned I was to who I wanted to be, the more I wanted to express it as much as I could. I mean, who doesn’t want to be original and vocally express it? We all strive to distinguish ourselves from the next person, especially when social media makes it difficult not to compare ourselves to everyone around us. And I surely didn’t want to be hidden in the background when I finally learned that I was much more than what I passively gave off.

Don’t you feel that way sometimes? Like there’s a part of you that deserves to be spoken for and rightfully heard? You spend so much of your life trying to figure out who you are and the more you color those lines, the more you want it to manifest in the way they should. That’s how I felt the more I came to learn myself new each day. And as I did, I began expressing myself in as many creative ways as possible. (Hence, the start of Little Mai Sunshine).

The problem with speaking out is that you have to also be willing to be spoken against. Since we’re all fighting to fill the open space with our voices, criticism and conflicts will inevitably arise. Some amicably, some begrudgingly so, some annoyingly passive-aggressively, and others just downright blown out of necessary proportion. But that’s also the beauty of vocal freedom. We should be able to speak our minds, no matter the responses we may beckon. And we should meet each outspoken word with the same courage and bravery we had to even voice our language to begin with, whatever the acknowledgement. Yet, why do I still face an internal conflict of holding back in an effort to save my younger self’s reputation? I still think, maybe I’m better off being the wallflower.

Recently, I was met with a curt response to what I thought was a neutral post in advocating for mental illness. At first, I was frustratingly in shock because the last thing I meant to do was misinform or unintentionally offend anyone. I come from a place of mental struggle as well, and I was hoping to relay a sense of relate-ability. But when I saw that response, I couldn’t help but downward spiral into a series of negative thoughts about how I am so stupid to think I was helping when I don’t know anything myself. How I play this image of “hero” when I’m not helping anyone. How I fake my advocacy for things that come off like I’m just using an agenda to further my platform presence. Who am I to think I can inhibit change? Who do I think I am? I’m just another cliche influencer using the mental health trend as my niche.

It took an entire meltdown and several crying sessions to my sister, my best friend, and my therapist to realize that 1) I was being too hard on myself and 2) just because one person didn’t agree with me didn’t mean other people hadn’t found my insight helpful. One or two or a whole bunch of conflicting opinions doesn’t have to invalidate my own nor does it mean either one of us had to be right or wrong. Sure, my dignity was hurt because I was being called out for jumping the bandwagon of influencers who “blindly advocate mental illness”, but I had to remember that I’m entitled to my personal truth and how I speak to it, regardless of how others choose to interpret it and as similarly as how others choose to speak to that.

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“Other people might tell you that the world doesn’t need a savior, that there’s no single act so brave and heroic that it’ll turn all evil into ash. And this may be true, but don’t pay it too much attention. Reality doesn’t mean your bravery is worth nothing.” - Madame Clairvoyant

You can’t win them all, but you can listen to them all. And that’s the other half of the battle we tend to forget about. Our ears are just as powerful and effective as our mouths, and as we strive to be heard, we also need people to listen as much as we need to listen to others. And that, my friends, is how open and healthy conversations are bred.

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By speaking out, I’m not self-proclaiming that I am someone’s evident hero or savior because I’m still trying to be my own hero—my fourth grade self’s hero.

Mai Nguyenfashion, outfitComment