Here’s the dill. Many who know me well know that I have a special love for pickles. I have been known to order the Pint O’Pickles from Jimmy John’s and eat the entire thing by myself. I’ve also been known to scarf down a to-go pickle pouch (it’s a thing) right before taking an intense exam because pickles are brain food, people!
My friends and family are well aware of this love affair with the Captain America of cucumbers. Which is why I get tagged in things like this:
But what you may not be aware of is how I became such a fan in the first place. The story is worth sharing for an important reason. It’s about my first experience with bullying. It may seem like childish antics, but the need to please and adapt in order to fit in and be accepted has been a battle I have fought with myself for basically all of my life. I may have a handle on it now, but I see countless stories and real life moments of young girls like me feeling like they have to change and be something they are not just to keep things around them stable. When I see girls playing dumb in order to seem cute or excluding others to make themselves feel included I just want to shout at them, “Don’t throw out your pickles!” And this is why:
It all goes back to the first grade cafeteria (as do most moving personal narratives). I had just moved and started at a new school. Making friends had been difficult at first, but soon I was making clover chains and exchanging scented markers with a group of girls in my class. Being the new girl, I tried desperately to fit in. Which is why it hit me especially hard when they would refuse to play with me on the days I wore my hand-me-down jacket. Even as first graders, the elite club of blonde girls with the same haircut in their puffy pink jackets had little room for me in my brown pigtails and denim. But I kept trying. Despite being kicked, laughed at, and ignored for things as simple as saying I liked frogs I still craved acceptance and did everything I could to fit in.
The day that inspired my love for pickles happened like any other. We were herded into the cafeteria and handed our trays of mysteries. Every day we would sit at our same little table and have the same little ritual. The queen bee, she of the puffiest of coats, would scan the tray with a crinkled up nose. Since it was a public school lunch and had little variation (or nutrition tbh) there was almost always a small pile of pickles as a side item.
This of course was seen as the greatest offense and loudly protested by my tablemates. As each girl flicked the offending pickle chips onto a separate plate with a fork and a sneer I would watch with sad eyes. Secretly, I loved pickles. At home I would eat them out of the jar but here the pressure was on and the stakes were high. I would silently add my pickles to the pile and pretend I shared their angst. I would always feel guilty when they made me take the plate up to dump them in the trash. I knew it was wasteful and that I was not being true to myself, but I was so afraid of the alienation I had already felt that I was determined to do anything to keep myself a part of the group.
I’m not sure what was different about that particular day (hunger perhaps?), but for some reason or another I just couldn’t take it anymore. When they pushed the plate towards me to go dump it I looked down at it and I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a huge pile of pickles.”
And reader, I ate them. Truth be told they had never tasted so good. The other girls just stared at me silently and finished their lunches. Things got a lot worse for me after that and I ended up switching schools before 2nd grade started but I never forgot that day. That plate of pickles was my tiny rebellion, my own personal briny barricade. Later, in high school when people would pull my arm hair or pull up my sleeves to point out to everyone that I had shaved it, I still tried to laugh it off and pacify them. I was a champion chameleon and made it my business to affirm, appease, and fit in as much as possible.
It took a few years, but I finally learned that I was never going to be happy living my life for everyone else. Being liked and keeping people happy isn’t worth the toll it takes on your own spirit and your potential. I know the misery it has caused me and I cringe to think about how many people perpetuate the cycle with their actions every day.
I still love pickles btw. Whenever I eat them I’m reminded of that first time I stood up for myself. Even if I struggled afterwards, it was a moment I will always be proud of. No one is meant to be kept down by themselves or by anyone else. A general rule I’ve learnt is that if someone begins a sentence with the words “If you want to be our friend you (insert condition here)” They probably are not worth it. This may seem like a simple lesson and maybe it only applies to children but I see the same thing happening with adults all the time.
Whether it is pretending to hate something the culture has deemed annoying (T. Swift perhaps) or faking interest in whatever everyone else is hyped about (looking at you G.O.T.) it’s no different than tiny Chey offering up her pickles to the plate of peer pressure. Whether it’s overtly stated or not, if you’re in a situation where you’re sculpting how you act around another person’s demands it’s not a healthy place to be.
Take some advice from myself, the ladies of SNL, or Joe/Eleanor Roosevelt and find a way to be free.