TTLG: Skin Deep

by Lucy Li | 5/29/19 2:05am

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I was raised under the sun, yet I wasn’t really supposed to be. My skin takes after my mother’s, who grew up in northern China, where the sun hides for a large part of the year. When my mother was younger, her skin was pale and spotless like porcelain. After living in California for over 20 years, her skin is now adorned with a lovely arrangement of spots and freckles that bear witness to her strength and adaptability. 

Like my mother, my skin is a physical reflection of my own adaptability. The freckles on my face and patches of hyperpigmentation and white freckles on my arms and legs grow and fade with the sun and the seasons. While I used to dislike these imperfections, as I grew older I came to see them as my body’s own miraculous way of making sense of the environment that nurtured it, even when it wasn’t necessarily designed for that environment.

My whole identity has been created by the reconciliation of disparate parts, and a desire to find my own sense of place and comfort no matter where I am or who I am surrounded by. My freshman year at Dartmouth, when winter came around and phased the sun out, I fell out of my element and started losing my sense of place. By nature of having an identity that crosses so many lines, being able to discern who I am amongst a sea of influences and prescriptions for who I should be has been the glue to my existence. Freshman year, though, while in the process of rediscovering who I was in relation to a new environment, I realized that I no longer recognized myself. 

I think a lot of people at Dartmouth come to that realization at some point in time in their self-development here. On a campus as culturally cut-off and niche as Dartmouth, it can be too easy to adopt the behaviors of the norm as a cop-out when you have yet to really know who you are as an individual. The trigger for this realization is different for everyone, but for me, as trivial as it seems, it was the moment when I realized that I had no idea what was compelling me to wear athleisure every single day, and that I needed to make some changes before my soul died from sheer boredom.

Since then, every single term that I’ve come back to Dartmouth I’ve settled in to a more whole version of myself. My evolution has been the outcome of decisions I’ve made over my four years that I never realized would carry so much impact. What I’ve realized is that Dartmouth is a place that has pushed me to be in a state of constant growth. It’s forced me to consider my values time and time again, and for that I’m grateful — because now, I know who I am in relationship to this environment, and having that familiarity with myself is what keeps me grounded. 

I’ve been told that I’ve changed so much since freshman year. I think the reason why is that Dartmouth is a place where we experience constant pressure, and with pressure comes discomfort. I’ve never been someone who could sit with discomfort and ignore it until it passes — my course of action has always been to attack those feelings to get to the root of the problem. And while taking this course of action is both mentally and emotionally exhausting, it also means that growth is always on the other side.

My story at Dartmouth has been the development of one of the deepest of loves. When the honeymoon phase ended, I learned that Dartmouth is not an environment that was designed for me. But now that my relationship with Dartmouth has matured, I know that this place has nurtured me and shaped the direction of my life, but I’ve still come out of it feeling a sense of self that is all mine to own. And to me, that is love in its most essential form.

Lucy Li '19 is a former opinion editor of The Dartmouth.