Obstinacy Has a Positive Side

I am (pick your favorite) determined, obstinate, persistent, or stubborn. I come by it honestly through the genetics of my maternal line. While I know it is a trait that drives those around me out of their minds, it is probably the one thing most responsible for who I am today.

I was born in rural Upstate New York with a collection of midline facial birth defects resulting in no nose, nasal airway, and eye structure abnormalities. Five hundred years ago, I would have been left in the woods to die in one of many not so pleasant ways. Even a hundred years ago I would have been institutionalized. Though I have never asked, I suspect somebody in my parent’s lives suggested exactly that when I came along. Instead, after a month in the hospital, I went home to parents and an older sister. Perhaps that choice was influenced by my mother’s obstinate streak.

By their nature, babies are determined creatures doing the same thing over and over until they master walking, speaking, putting a square peg in the square hole, and other tasks. Perhaps my persistence is more a result of conditioning for when I kept trying I did succeed. With most children the determination fades as less repetition is required to achieve goals – addition does not take as much trial and error as walking. Maybe mine simply never faded because it was still needed in order for me to successfully function.

Whether nature or nurture, stubbornness has paid off in my life. A few examples to convince you.

At age eleven, I had a skin graft leaving a large scar on the inside of my left arm. Everyone noticed it, asked questions, and thought it was unsightly. I stopped wearing sleeveless shirts and often chose those that went to my elbows. When I became a camp counselor, I realized tank tops were a pragmatic necessity, so I wore them. I felt hideous, but did it anyway. The campers often asked questions, but I kept wearing my tanks. Nothing, not even my own feelings of hideousness would keep me from doing the eminently reasonable.

In high school, my physics teacher made it clear he thought I should drop the course because I could not see the board. All the other smart kids took the class, so I refused. At the end of the year, I received the highest grade on the state-wide test and my teacher apologized.

The most profound positive impact of obstinacy relates to my body image. From the moment I was born, people around me said and did things letting me know my appearance was not acceptable. By the time I was eighteen, I knew the world was very messed up when it came to people like me. I also knew I was hideous. It impacted every aspect of my life –avoiding being photographed, shyness around strangers, assuming nobody would ever find me physically attractive, and thinking of my body as a separate entity.

In college I realized this needed to change, so I adopted the philosophy of “fake it til you make it” meaning I tried to behave as though I liked the body I inhabited as opposed to loathing it.

About the time I started liking what I could see in the mirror, I went totally blind. That through me for how could you learn to like your body if you couldn’t see what others saw? Well, you can when you stubbornly refuse to let that stop progress.

From time to time, events still make me doubt that I’m attractive. I refuse to accept that version of reality and persist until my positive body image re-asserts itself. In other words, I stubbornly wait out my emotions until they go back to what I want.

The above examples do not truly reflect the reality I have always experienced. Whether by word, deed, or attitude, I am reminded constantly and unpredictably that who and what I am is different from what is acceptable and expected. Trying to find a way to live with it is hard. To do so without becoming a stone wall is more challenging. Some days I turn the not so pleasant experiences into humor, some days I scream and still others I cry. Yet I never stop feeling because somewhere along the way I decided turning off my emotions would be wrong for lessening the amount of hurt would muffle the intensity of joy. Each time something less than pleasant happens I make a choice to continue down this road rather than walking an easier path. That alternative would not be possible if not for my stubborn nature and I would not b the me I know and love.

Usually I brush off admiration so take not of what I am about to say. I’ve managed to cope with how the world reacts to me without giving up, giving in, or rejecting the entire human race. Let that cause awe and amazement instead of the fact that I make fabulous chocolate cupcakes.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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