Oddities and all

The sunny days of summer have assuredly faded. On my end of the street, leaves transitioned from green to brown and now line sidewalks of all ethnicities, awaiting their fate along with discarded cigarette butts, animal fecal matter and a host of other unidentified entities. As the temperature changes, the weather, in a way, becomes as refreshing as a lager on a hot day and something about that change is rewarding. 

Here in San Francisco, even during this time of fleece leggings and puffy jackets, warm days periodically emerge like lovesick ex-significant others. Gusts of cold winds support the idea of a change of season with those random warm days providing a much-needed form of distraction from reality. San Francisco's weather is beautiful in that way; like human and animal personalities - lots of variables - lots of transmuting and unchanging.

Personally, living in a four-season climate, adjustments become a lot more arduous, sickness comes easily and wardrobe needs constant updating. Swimsuits definitely cry out for attention versus being a staple, like in the Caribbean, and the park and beaches see an influx of sun-hungry people on those random sunny days.

In many parts of the world, this description is applicable and in others, it would need re-indictment.

One of these others is the Caribbean. Sandy beaches, tropical breeze, and heat - just pristine sunshine, giving school children tan lines. To combat the effects of the sun, a proud show of talcum powder on the chest and necks of some becomes a defense against exorbitant sweating. As proof of the sun's power, sweat stains in the shape of car seat belts and bag straps, imprint themselves across the shirts of the working class. As a means of avoiding inundation by the heat, people blast air conditioners on the coldest setting, while fans are a highly sought after commodity. Although rain shows its face now and then, most of the time the sun becomes a marginally less sought after best friend and an everyday reality.

In the sunny twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the sun holds a special place in life, with two seasons - wet season and dry season - seeing more rain during the dry than in the wet. This duality makes for good memories, frequent beach visits, arbitrary flooding, traffic, and sometimes school closures - particularly when those hurricanes stop by to say hello.

As a child of the sun, growing up in the Caribbean meant rampant squinting.

Countless childhood images show peculiar facial expressions as a means of trying to look decent while the sun shone blindly into disinclined eyes. As a result, constant questioning of the need for picture-taking in the sunlight became habitual. What a silly girl some may say, but when most of your childhood pictures look odd because of an odd facial expression, then others may find themselves questioning the need as well.

Throughout childhood and early adulthood, these eccentric facial expressions remained constant. As an adult, the frequency of squinting in photographs gradually got better. The difference? A newfound understanding of how to evade the power of the sun when being photographed outdoors and the purchase of my first pair of glasses.

Scrolling through old newspaper clippings, I stumble upon an image from my days as a delegate in the Miss Trinidad and Tobago pageant and one tainted by squinting.


As delegates for the Miss World Trinidad and Tobago pageant, immersion in all sorts of pre-pageant preparations and events became a natural part of life. Packed schedules ascertained that. Apart from the many other unmentioned activities, swimming sessions noticeably sat on the pre-pageant regime. Every Saturday morning swimming kept us occupied.

One of these mornings, several media photographers showed up to snap pictures of the delegates in action, many of whom expressed displeasure over having their pictures taken, citing messy hair and un-made faces as the reason. Impeccably legitimate reasons, especially as a beauty queen. Urged by the pageant chaperone, Denise Darlington, and hurriedly strewn into it all, a quick low bun, a pair of hoop earrings, a choker necklace, and a swim wrap helped one look a bit more "put together" for the photo.

The sun was blazing that day, mercilessly in fact, and my eyes relucted willing participation.

As memory evoking as this image is, for a long time, subjective criticism focused only on the squinting. This opinion brewed periodic dislike for this image and a secondary awareness of the lack of focus placed on all the great experiences this time of life holds. To speak plainly, this image was once viewed as ugly, particularly because of the squinting, but is it that unsightly? The answer comes in the negative form. 

By definition ugly means; unpleasant or repulsive, especially in appearance. Therefore, the next question to ask is, does this image even fit that definition? Again, the answer comes in the negative form. 

It is saddening to think of how a simple childhood grievance impacted general opinion. For years, I despised taking photos in the sun and on that day, those feelings remained the same. As a beauty queen, photographs were always taken and featured in local newspapers and rather than enjoy seeing myself in the newspaper, I pined over the fact that this particular photo looked ugly. This statement itself may seem superficial and even shallow, but sometimes opinion makes things seem that way.

Looking at a photograph is such a different experience than looking in the mirror. Personally, a photograph provides an authentic perspective on how others receive my physical appearance and because of that, looking, and feeling good bares some significance. For centuries, physical appearance presented a basis for judgment. On the same note, physical appearance presents a basis for stereotyping. As a person of color, with naturally curly hair, my skin color and even choice of hairstyles can at times encourage judgment and stereotyping, thus tampering with how others receive my physical appearance. Many may lay claim to this statement as well and because of these types of specificities self-presentation rises in importance to make sure that others receive our physical appearance in a positive way because the last thing most of us want, is to offer others the opportunity to take a derogatory stance against our physical appearance.

Pondering on that last point, one begs to state that, the previous sentence holds the answer to the unasked question about the main issue with the image in the first place. To elaborate further, had it been placed in my childhood photo album, fuss about it would have been minimal but publication in a major newspaper for millions of people to see garnered self-consciousness and worry over how others would receive my physical appearance, especially those who were strangers and vice versa. 

Sometimes, the harshest self-judgment lives in the mind, therefore, constant analysis and questioning of thoughts, especially thoughts about beauty and physical appearance is in a way a good thing. Everyone should embrace the right to criticise, question, or analyze their own thinking, especially if their thoughts are not necessarily helpful.

The consideration of how my thought process as a child about the sun and squinting influenced personal feelings about those same topics in adult-life and encouraged association of that thought with derogatory self-criticism is astounding. This same thought process negatively manifested itself through the harsh criticism about that image upon publication. Furthermore, ignorance only made matters worse.

Truthfully, I needed glasses the entire time. Had I had them, those odd facial expressions would have ceased to exist and my take on the sun and photography would have differed. At the same time though, had I not experienced this, would I have had any lesson to learn from? Probably not. That is the beauty of living and experiencing things, perspective is gained.

Nowadays, those odd quirks and mannerisms, like squinting are embraced, for these oddities are beautiful and offer vast perspective on one's individuality. When a person can just express, embrace, accept, and portray themselves as themselves - oddities and all - abundant liberation follows.

Remember, within the oddities lay hidden reassurances - ones that make it even clearer that we are not akin to anyone else - that we are individuals with specific ways of being, co-existing with other individuals with oddities of their own. If this way of thinking is adopted, is it safe to ask the question - will we all learn to embrace each other a little more if we understand how unique our oddities make each of us and how instrumental they can be in the lives of others?