Standing Up for Yourself May Leave You Standing Alone

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I used to find that in every situation it’s best to try to envision life as a children’s book. Bad guys create a problem, and as the story unfolds the good guys dash in and save the day. Victory is won.

But for me, college life became a fully-fledged adult novel filled with plot twists. I learned that the good guys won’t always be victorious.

One day the second semester of my freshmen year, I opened up my email and there it was. “Congratulations, you have been selected to walk in the African Student Association Fashion Show!” My cheeks couldn’t move from my ears. I couldn’t believe it. The image of me walking on the runway, having my friends support me all while dressed in some of the greatest African designs filled my stomach with butterflies. When the weekend came around, rehearsal fueled my days. We spent hours in the gymnasium perfecting scenes and choreography right up until the night before.

The night before the show snuck up on us. The final all-day rehearsal was filled with trying on clothes and putting the finishing touches on the show. The girls tried on beautifully crafted modern African dresses–somehow just about every piece fit someone.

The same couldn’t be said for the boys. We went to a different room to try on the clothes provided for us. I was given a fire engine red blazer and some pants. I tried the blazer on, only to realize I couldn’t move my arms. The pants wouldn’t even go over my thighs. I looked around the room and saw similar situations. One boy’s pants couldn’t cover his ankles and another boy’s shirt looked like it was about to burst. We made our way back to the other room. While each of us walked in, one by one I saw jaws drop and I heard girls laughing. I watched as panic struck the president’s face and reality sunk in–there were no clothes for the boys and were we less than 24 hours away from show time. With no time to worry and complain, she went into thinking mode.

“Is it possibly you guys can bring your own clothes?” she asked. The response was mixed. Some boys didn’t have the basic items, while other boys just didn’t have certain items with them at school. She made direct eye contact with me, her eyes full of worry.

“Is it possible that you can bring some clothes for the boys?”

I was shocked yet slightly flattered that she would ask. My mind was telling me no. I questioned my trust for these guys I barely knew. How would I know that none of them would steal any of my clothes? What if something gets damaged, then who is responsible? I also hesitated because I was one of the biggest guys there. What if my clothes were too big for them? But before I could stop myself I blurted out, “Sure, I’ll see what I can do.”

The day of the show came. While everyone was arriving to the student center for breakfast, hair and makeup, I was arriving with a large suitcase filled with pants, shirts, blazers and shoes. I walked over to the president, prepared to show her what I brought. I open my bag and saw her face light up. She could breathe easily knowing that the boys now had clothes to wear.

The day moved quickly and show time was only an hour away. I stepped out of the room for a while and when I came back, I saw people trying on my clothes–without me.

Outfits that were created using my clothing had already been picked and labeled. I was immediately offended. How could anyone have their outfits picked out with my clothes before I could even choose what I was wearing? I didn’t say a word, my introversion working to avoid conflict. I hoped that they left options for me.

I walked over to the rack and saw all of my clothes on racks for other people. I continued to watch people try on outfits. It became clear to me what was happening. Nearly every outfit of mine was going to the president’s friends–leaving me with nothing to wear.

My calm demeanor flipped like a switch. Of course I empathized with the president’s dilemma, and I genuinely wanted to help. But I didn’t get the impression that I was being appreciated for my contribution. As I watched everyone hover over my clothes, I felt like I was being used instead. I was no more than a solution to their problem. I proceeded to take my clothes off of hangers. I took everything that was mine and placed them back in my suitcase. I couldn’t believe I allowed the president to play me. How could I be that naïve?

I closed my bag and made my way out the door. Somehow I managed to get away with a fully packed suitcase with no one stopping me–after all, it was clear that I wasn’t anyone’s priority. I wasn’t walking in the show and my clothes weren’t going to make their runway debut either. With one model out of the show and barely any clothes for the boys, I hoped that the president realized that karma would come back around. My friends and I got dressed in our nicest clothes and attended the show. We took our seats and couldn’t wait to watch karma work its magic.

When the show ended, my friends and I just looked at each other. We all were surprised at the fact that the show ended up being a success. I couldn’t deny that I secretly wished I hadn’t left. But I knew that what I did was right for me. I learned the hard way that taking a stand for myself could create some unexpected consequences.

My bitter heart hoped that after some time, karma would come back to her, but that never happened. Instead, the karma that I thought was destined for her managed to skip her and make its way back to me, and I had to accept it.

Javon is a junior at Penn State pursuing a degree in Photojournalism. He enjoys fashion, experimenting with different hair colors, and anything that involves YouTube or Netflix.

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