Don’t Act Normal | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Don’t Act Normal


Amber Helsel

It's taken me 26 years to finally figure out my personal style.

I think I've known for years what it is, but up until beginning my work at the Jackson Free Press, I haven't really had to worry about it.

A couple of months ago as I was making the long drive back from my dad's house in Louisiana, I asked myself what I thought my style was. An image of a woman in a recent NYLON Magazine spread popped up in my head: She had dark, choppy brown hair with fringe bangs and black eyeliner around her eyes, and she wore a white button-down shirt and black pants. She was edgy, cool. That's when I realized it: That was my style. Or at least some form of that.

Because of that particular realization, I spent the rest of my birthday Target gift card on makeup that night after coming back, and for about a week, I wore it pretty consistently. But with me having such sensitive skin and terrible allergies, it made me break out and made my eyes burn, so I decided to stop doing it.

So makeup is a no-go, and since I have a round face and thin curly hair, fringe bangs also probably won't happen.

I can't and won't do much about my hair and makeup, but that doesn't mean I gave up the vision entirely. Over the last couple of months, I have put more thought into my wardrobe than I ever have in my life. I've collected many pop culture T-shirts (mostly ones pertaining to superheroes such as the Flash or Iron Man), and I've found more creative ways to wear pieces in my wardrobe, such as pairing said Flash T-shirt with a multi-strand metal necklace, black pants, and my most favorite shoes in the world, my black Chuck Taylors.

I'm still perfecting my style, but I like finally being able to walk into a store and know what I want and what works for me. It beats walking around aimlessly until something strikes my eye (though I still occasionally do that).

My mom doesn't understand my style. She hates shopping with me because she knows we'll get into arguments. She'll try and make me buy something "normal" or "trendy," and I immediately jet toward bold patterns and colors and leather and lace and cool T-shirts.

She's learned to live with me being the weird black sheep of the family. I don't even really believe any of the same things that she does anymore. My parents often call me a liberal, though I'm not sure that they realize that while I'm probably closer to that than conservative, I am by no means liberal. If I had to choose, I'm probably more moderate, though I'm still learning exactly what that means, as well.

I'm still learning about much of the political world, because for the majority of my life, I've stayed away from it. But working at a progressive alternative weekly in the middle of one of the most conservative states in the U.S. makes you rethink some of your own beliefs.

I think the first time I realized just how vastly different mine and my family's beliefs are is when Proposition 26 (the personhood amendment that said life begins at conception) got on the ballot in 2011.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what to believe. I wanted to call myself a pro-lifer, but some of those beliefs didn't sit well with me. Then, I began to do research. I discovered that not only would it affect abortions; it would also affect women's ability to easily get birth control or Plan B or even our ability to get in vitro fertilization. So I voted no and now consider myself pro-choice. My mom agreed with me on the issue at that point, but that was the last time we saw eye-to-eye on anything.

My cousin and I got into an argument about it over Facebook. She argued that abortion killed innocent children; I argued that the government shouldn't dictate what women can and can't do with their bodies. I'd like to think I won, but I probably didn't. I've learned that arguing about stuff like that with family is pointless and could cause more trouble than it's worth. For a long time, I was so afraid to tell my family that I didn't agree with them that when it came things like elections, I would do whatever they told me. These days, I try to make an informed decision, and even it's an unpleasant conversation, I'll tell them who I voted for and against if they ask.

But I don't really call my political views progressive or conservative or liberal or even moderate. I just call them common sense. Schools need more funding in Mississippi, so I voted for Initiative 42. I voted against the Proposition 26 because the state doesn't have the right to tell me or any woman what we can and can't do with our bodies. If it ever comes to a vote, I'll vote down the Mississippi state flag because it's a hateful symbol.

Unlike many people in my life, I've never dropped an n-bomb, even though I've heard multiple people do it and have been told it was OK. Even as a child, I knew it really wasn't. I try not to judge people based on their skin color or religion or anything like that, and I try to keep an open mind.

My family calls me weird because of things like that (and also, just because I'm me). But that's OK. I've learned that weird is a good thing to be, and I mean, we're all a little weird, right? We all have different views of the world. We all like different things. We all have those moments that make us think, "I'm so strange." I'd rather be "not normal" than stick with the status quo. I'd rather judge people based on the quality of their character, not by the way they look.

I'm told by multiple people that when it comes to anything in life that's uncomfortable to me (such as dating), to act normal. But the thing is, any time they say that, I automatically picture that scene in "SpongeBob SquarePants" where someone told him and Patrick to act normal, and they began to eat seaweed like under-sea cows. Because that's normal, right?

What does normal even mean?

Assistant Editor Amber Helsel graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She is short, always hungry, always thinking, and has been told multiple times that she looks like a fairy (or an elf, or hobbit). Email feature story ideas to [email protected].

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