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Monday, April 1, 2013

Let Them Stare! by Meg Zucker

We all need some inspiration from time to time! So I decided to dedicate the month of April to “Overcoming Circumstances”.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would love to introduce you to Meg Zucker.

Let Them Stare! by Meg Zucker

Those stares!  No matter how many years I’ve endured the uninvited attention, and even learned to brush it off, I still sometimes find myself surprised at how unabashedly some people will gape at me.   And while I’d like to think it’s because I’m so gorgeous, I don’t kid myself.   I know they often fixate on me because I look quite different from the norm.  That’s to be expected.  But what I didn’t expect was that along the way, I might begin to inspire others to be less self-conscious.

I am a wife, mother to three children, working lawyer, and woman who happened to be born with ectrodactyly, a genetic condition where I only have one finger on each hand, shortened forearms and one toe on each foot.  Before I arrived, no one else in my family was born with ectrodactyly.  In fact, with no one around me missing any digits, I didn’t even think it was a condition.  Somehow I just naively assumed that this was not genetic and merely a one-off fluke, or perhaps while she was pregnant my mom ate some bad fish?  Yet, whatever the cause (and a bad meal was not it), the hardest part of having this condition is not the condition itself, but rather the years of caring so much about what others think of me and how they might react.

For instance, I remember compiling photos for my wedding montage and realizing that in so many of my old pictures, I had hidden my hands.   It’s hard to believe, but I finally had someone willing to commit to and accept all of me, and yet I was still having trouble accepting myself.  It took a few more years as well as giving birth to two of my three children with my condition before I finally embraced my difference. 

Despite my extremely unique appearance, I feel and experience life as able-bodied as everyone else.  In fact, unless I am reminded by another, I often completely forget about it, as do my family and close friends.  I am sure of this because sometimes a friend will suggest that I join her for a manicure and I’m forced to remind her that for me, that special time together would only last about two minutes.    Close friends aside though, I am rarely allowed to forget for long.  Just the other evening, I was in Manhattan on my way home from work purchasing a cute top for a friend’s daughter at Forever 21.   As can be expected during the holidays, the store was crowded and I was focused on completing my purchase and catching my bus home.  When it was finally my turn to check out, the sales clerk turned to me.  I noticed her noticing me as she asked how I wished to pay for my purchase.  “Credit card,” I responded matter-of-factly.  As she rang up my charge, she smiled a weird grin.   I knew what was coming.  “Ma’am, do you need my help in signing your receipt?”  “No, thanks.” I replied, hoping the conversation would end there.  No such luck.   As I began to sign my name, she continued, “You do that so well!  I am so impressed you can write like that.  But I can finish helping you sign the receipt if you think that might be easier for you.”   At this point, I tried to hide my annoyance. “Not unless you are also offering to pay for my purchase!” I offered back with a slight smile.   By her expression, I am sure that I embarrassed her with my reply.  But let’s face it, she embarrassed me too.  And that all is ok—if you live in my shoes, it just has to be ok. 

Along the way, I have observed that many have their own version of two fingers to hide.  Whether it is an unattractive physical attribute or an insecurity lurking beneath the surface, they feel similarly vulnerable to how others view them.   While the difference might not be so significant at first glance, it can even change behavior.  I cannot tell you how many times I have watched women decline to purchase a striking strapless dress (the one they like the most) because they don’t like the way their upper arms look, fearing how they’ll be judged.  Of course, there is also hair loss.  Ironically though, it’s the comb-over rather than the receding hairline that garners more negative judgment.  Another example is financial security.  People cannot necessarily keep up with their peers, yet they like to portray an image of wealth, regardless of what is going on behind the scenes at home. 

I wish they could understand what I have learned:  People may judge me, but I cannot control their thoughts. At the end of the day, there will be many, many opinions, and if I choose to internalize them, I’ll always be hiding.   Rather, I choose not to hide it, but to flaunt it.  In that way, I now feel perfect.  Let them stare!

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Author shares message through Zippy the zebra