I turned 35 last month. It wasn't what I had expected. I mean, we all remember watching Carrie Bradshaw turn 35 all alone in Il Cantinori. On the contrary, I had overwhelming feelings of excitement, gratitude, and eagerness for this next chapter. The next decade will be a time of growth, learning new things, meeting new people, challenging myself, and nurturing all the seeds I have been planting.
But a big birthday is also a great moment for reflection. And as firmly as I believe in the importance of looking forward, there are some moments when we should, and even have to, look back. Often for me those moments come while I'm on the couch with my girlfriends, or listening to my husband make fun of the younger version of me. The end result is sometimes smiles and laughter, and there are often moments of disbelief like I'm talking about someone else.
Other moments come when I'm out in the world, and that's a very different picture, one of danger, darkness, and shame. Moments of congratulation and celebrating who I am do not come without strangers pointing out how dark my life once was. I hear a lot of "Wow, you once looked like this, but now you look like this!" and "You once were wild, and now you're an angel!"
Moments of congratulation and celebrating who I am do not come without strangers pointing out how dark my life once was.
I was so used to hearing others' views of my life that I found myself believing them. I sat and wondered, Why do I laugh at home, but feel shamed out in the world? With my family and close friends, I am owning my past, relishing in the absurdity, slightly flinching at my own naïveté, and giving myself props for the unabashed bravery that streaked through my youth. But not trying to hide from it, not trying to change it, just allowing it to help propel me forward.
When I am out in the world naked and vulnerable, I acknowledge that I was young, had a lot of freedom, and made some "bad decisions" ... but how bad are they if it's part of a journey to understanding who I am and what I stand for? I feel the need to support women loving themselves. It's by loving ourselves that we give permission to others to love us. Life is a roller coaster, and we all have had times where we need to get back on the up, but we can't do it alone. We need each other's love and support.
I finally realized that taking on someone else's vision of you can be very dangerous. People attempt to categorize and label so they can feel upright and comfortable. If you are hard to understand, they don't feel safe, so they put you in a box that they recognize. I cannot tell you how easy it is to believe someone else's picture of you. Is it because it's easier to be agreeable? Partly. Is it because of laziness? Partly.
I finally realized that taking on someone else's vision of you can be very dangerous.
It is no secret that I have, at times, taken advantage of my time on this planet. And as much as I have to look at those moments and learn from them, as we all do, it's important for me to have gratitude for that time, too. Not shame. Being ashamed of your life is not OK. I realized I am actually extremely thankful I was so beastly in front of the world for a few reasons. It's so bad in people's minds that there's nothing that can embarrass me now. I got a little surprise gift of freedom! I also truly believe if I didn't have so many eyes on me, it would've been easier for me to slip back into my reckless behavior. I had people rooting me on and watching me at a time when I needed that.
Mostly, the utter freedom I experience from having all of my past out in the open allows me to truly accept and embrace my former self, allowing her and every subsequent version of me to know that we are going to be OK, because we are not static. And I don't have to worry someone is going to put an embarrassing picture up on Facebook — the worst is already in strangers' heads. How cool is that?!
I could fall into the role-playing that some people seem to want and say, "YES! I am so sorry. I was bad. I am good now! I promise." But I don't believe in that story of redemption, a good-prevailing-over-evil story. It's one I'm just not in. I am not going to apologize for being me so you can get your triumphant ending. I don't believe the world operates in absolutes, in black and white and short and tall — I like living in the gray, in the medium.
I am not going to apologize for being me so you can get your triumphant ending.
That's because all of these things I learned by being me in my teens and twenties are just more tools that allow me to live in a more peaceful, safe way. The simple yet difficult act of forgiving yourself is so powerful, because it's all within you. We have to embrace ourselves and hold every part of our journey in some type of light. Instead of reliving my past as a point of shame, I've embedded the lessons into my skill set.
The biggest lesson? How to have the confidence to just go in there and be my own version of anything. Not somebody else's, but mine. So as a mom at a school, as an actor on a comedy series, as a designer at Fashion Week, I don't have to worry that I won't fit into expectations, but rather, my inner acceptance and peace will allow my true self to shine through and carry me along. Because playing someone else's version of you all the time keeps you from actualizing yourself.
I've been given many titles: Wild child. Reality star. White-washed black girl. Skinny. Rich. (I guess the last two aren't so bad).
Now, at 35, the only titles I am taking on are the ones I give myself.
Nicole Camille Richie-Madden. Mother. Wife. Gardening extraordinaire. And I'm out.