Would Your Childhood Self Be Proud of Who You Are Today?
Did you have heroes growing up? I remember always wanting someone to be my specific role model, someone I could truly emulate. The problem was, I could never choose between all the fantastic superheroes and masked vigilantes, modern day Olympians or the cowboys of the concrete jungle. Unlikely legends like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles captured my imagination—they were created totally by accident and still somehow found purpose and the drive to use they’re power to defend the innocent. And they represented, as a team, all the things I wanted to be.
Smart, funny, sometimes brooding, intelligent.
And yet, they were monstrous, abominations, living in the filthiest conditions, content with nothing but the love of each other and a piping hot delivery pizza.
Taoist heroes are often portrayed as physically ugly or deformed and, yet, find a way to become greatly loved instead of shunned for their differences. And somehow, these unlikely heroes are found to be very attractive (despite or perhaps in light of their aberrations). The Turtles, once frightening to April O'Neil, quickly became like a family. Think of Shrek as another example--he starts off as a filthy ogre in a swamp, but because of his inner goodness he attracts the love of princess Fiona and others who take the time to know him. Uncle Iroh in Avatar is similar--though he appears to be old and fat, he commands the respect and earns the love of all those who interact with him--and he's also deceptively powerful.
When I was younger, I wasn’t proud of my body, I was ashamed of it. I was told that I was overweight by every single source I was conditioned to trust—friends and family, medical professionals, every single second of television).
I wanted to be proud of my body. I wanted to exist daring anyone to find fault with me physically as a way to judge my character or my worth as a human being. I didn’t know I could do that as I was. I thought the only way to be proud of who I was, was to CHANGE who I was.
I should have paid more careful attention to the Ninja Turtles instead of Bruce Wayne.
Part of why I'm reflecting on heroes and what they teach us about our own self-worth/body image this week is because I'm starting to empathize with just how terrible it would it be to grow up in a world without such an exhaustive collection of possible role models to look up to. What if I wasn't white? What if I didn't grow up as a boy in America? What if I weren't traditionally able-bodied? Would I have such a stacked pantheon of hero figures at my disposal? Childhood and adolescence is hard enough as it is--I can't imagine how much harder it would be without the hope that things could get better, that I could one day become an amazing hero myself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about hero selection lately for a few reasons. One is the recent passing of Chadwick Boseman and the subsequent out pour of "Wakanda Forever" pictures featuring children posing as Black Panther.
These posts rip me apart. Black Panther was one of the most monumental, blockbuster movie success of my generation and Chadwick Boseman, once again, masterfully played the part of a hero for people of color as he'd done so many times in his career. For a child to finally have that feeling, that hope that comes with idolizing a seemingly unbeatable hero, and then have it stripped away from them...it hurts bad.
The second reason I was thinking about heroes today is the recent Michelle Waterson/Angela Hill UFC fight and the news hype around Hill being the first African American female on a UFC main card. I saw this clip of her below this morning and she said something that’s really stuck with me.
"If little Angela with no muscles saw big Angela saying that, would she be proud of her? The answer is always yes."
Sometimes it's easy for me to forget that other people didn't grow up with the same opportunities that I did. I'm teaching my Embodied Rhetorics course again this semester and it always helps me see that their are very different groups of people who make up my class of students who have all had very different lived experiences from me. Recently one of my students helped me better understand the difficulties of growing up under the pressure of female body politics in the age of the internet. Yes, I struggled with cultivating some sense of what I was taught to recognize as masculinity, I struggled with accepting my outward appearance, with bullying...but I NEVER had to deal with the kinds of trauma and predatory influences that many young girls go through on a daily basis. When I listen to Angela Hill speak about wanting to be a role model for girls and women that have had similar experiences to her, I realize that my worldview is limited.
This is a moment of realizing privilege, and contrary to what some people might have you believe, it doesn't have to be something shameful. I didn't ask for my white/male/heterosexual/cisgendred/able-bodies privilege, Angela Hill didn't ask to be a black woman, and my students didn't ask to struggle with their own identities in the ways that they have.
The thing I want to stress about privilege is this: recognizing it is one thing, but deciding what you do with it is another.
Hill says that she uses her platform as a way to model for others like her how they can succeed in martial arts or whatever field they may feel like outliers in. I recognize my childhood as privileged in so many ways--I was blessed and that’s wonderful. Now that I’m an adult, I strive to make sure that all children get the chance to experience that freedom of feeling like they can become whoever they want--or simply to grow to be confident and proud of themselves as they are.
I think little Spencer would be proud of me for that.
That said, we all have lazy days, and lately I've been feeling like I need to do more to focus my energy. Instead of trying to do many things well, I want to figure out how to do a few things exceptionally. But that's a different thought for a different day...
For now though, I want to make sure I share the most recent episodes of Good Black Friday in case you've missed them. Also, please remember that I am still raising money for Pil Seung Tae Kwon Do in Blacksburg, VA as they struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check out the Gofundme and even if you can't donate, share it on your social media.
That'll do it for this week I suppose. I hope you think hard about the question "would your childhood self be proud of who you are today?" If the answer is yes, then congratulations! Now you get to figure out how to do more of what your proud of. If you're not sure of the answer--then please, meditate on this a while longer. Sure, children are naive in many ways, but they are also pure-hearted in ways that adults tend to not be. Try to find a balance between those childhood dreams and your lived experience, try to find a way to be the kind of hero you wish you had.
Thanks for reading.