How to Be Special

How to Be Special

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

How to Be Special

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.
~Judy Garland

Olivia Mai rocks. She’s my mom, and because of her, I learned that fashion is powerful. Mom’s daring, playful and unconditionally loving personality taught me that being attractive has nothing to do with good looks, but everything to do with great style.

Growing up was a show with my mom. We glittered it up for grocery shopping, gave makeovers to friends who stopped by, and had fun with style for the sake of creativity, not for money or because of trends. Mom believed looking good said two things about a woman: First, that she cares about herself; and second, that she wants others to care about themselves. And she was right. Taking the time to dress yourself builds the confidence to feel good, therefore making you give your best to everyone. People will see your positive energy through your style. Fashion is powerful.

For the first few years of my life, everything was cupcakes and cashmere. I had no problem being myself, and had the most enjoyable time decorating my moods each day. Then came my first day of school.

All month, Mom and I had been preparing for this day and I had everything set the night before to walk in and make new friends. I had decided my first-day color had to be a powerful purple, and sprung out of bed that morning ready to throw on my purple and gray plaid jumper with my favorite T-shirt underneath that spelled “J-E-A-N-N-I-E” in bold black letters. I had also chosen funky, fresh pink fishnet stockings and glossy purple rubber galoshes that my mom had purchased for rainy weather. (It was seventy-four degrees and sunny that day.) She helped me with the finishing touches of sparkly bangles to my wrist, gave me a wet kiss on my cheek, (careful not to smudge my glittery lip gloss), and walked me into school.

The moment I walked into my classroom and took off my coat, every single kid stared. Parents, too. Mom saw Mrs. Clark, my new teacher, and left my side to say hello. I immediately felt the eyes all over the room pan head to toe over my outfit. Several of the parents raised an eyebrow, while many of the kids pointed and laughed. For the first time, I felt insecure. Even scarier, I felt like I’d rather be anybody else but me. I saw that everyone else had slicked smooth hair, barrettes, matching dresses and socks and appropriate sandals and shoes. I sat down wishing I could take off my galoshes and hide.

By midday, I was known as Jeannie Weenie Wild. At lunch, nobody sat by me and at the end, where new friends waited in pairs to be picked up, I waited by myself. When Mom rolled up, I lunged into the backseat, kicked off my boots and headband, and slouched low in my seat. I didn’t even wait for Mom to ask what was wrong. Through tears, I wailed about how she let me go to school looking like that and why didn’t she buy me clothes like the other kids and why did she name me something that rhymes with Weenie and why...?

Mom immediately pulled the car over, took off her seatbelt and turned around with such a thrilled, elated expression of joy that I wondered if I was in the right car. “They already know your name? What did they say? That’s WONDERFUL!”

I sat there dumbfounded. “Did you hear what I said? NO! I don’t want them to know my name! I hate school! I’m never going back! Everybody is too mean and I hate my clothes!”

I never forgot the next words my mom said: “Con (which means “my child” in Vietnamese), this is the best day ever. I raised you to stand out and be something to talk about. I don’t care what they’re saying. You were noticed and unforgettable. You are my daughter and I am so proud!”

Those words changed my life forever. The very second her words slipped into my ears, I understood the difference between “owning it” and “being owned,” a philosophy I advocate today when adopting new styles. Never again would I let anybody else tell me who I was. She spent those years teaching me to celebrate myself, and now was my turn to learn how to make a statement. This lesson has built the wall of protection I need in this business. As long as my actions come out of love and a fun spirit, I’m a “Do” all the way.

Thanks to Mom, I use that confident foundation to influence others through fashion.

And just so you know, I wore those purple galoshes the next day, too.

~Jeannie Mai

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