William Wallace Denslow's 1901 rendition of the poem.

William Wallace Denslow’s 1901 rendition of the poem.

One vivid memory I have of my girlhood was when I was asked to play Mary, Mary quite contrary‚ in the harvest celebration. Now I wasn’t the most natural child performer, but I did always enjoy being in performances, so I was utterly over the moon when I was chosen for the main part, despite it being only a 20 second skit and my casting most likely being based on my name being identical to the character’s. Nonetheless, my mum helped me put together an outfit, and at 9:00am on show day I strutted down from my Year 2 classroom in a lovely floral dress I had previously worn as a bridesmaid. I started to walk towards the door of the hall, when suddenly I froze. I didn’t know why, but I knew I did not want to go through the door at all. I ran and hid under the stairs I had just walked down, crying out all of the moisture which I had in my body, no doubt snot going all over my lovely dress. Now you might think that this was stage fright, but no, whilst I’ve always got the stereotypical butterflies in my belly when about to perform, whether I am performing a solo dance or merely walking on stage and whispering to a camel and walking off, this was different. I could see a sea of children, all in their green jumpers and black bottoms, and there I was in a pink puffy dress! (As for the camel, at age five I effectively told the three wise men’s camel that there was no room at the inn, ending in laughter from the audience and my face turning a deep shade of beetroot.)

This was a feeling I felt often through my girlhood. While in Brownies, one evening, I entered in my usually brownie uniform, to find that to my horror I had forgotten that we were meant to be dressing up as tramps (yes a bit of a weird one). I was therefore greeted with my friends all dressed up in dirty clothes with messy hair, and I instantly walked straight back out of the door I had come through. On this occasion and the previous, a kind and caring woman talked to me and got me over my fears, firstly my teacher and secondly my brown owl. They didn’t tell me there was nothing to worry about‚ or that I was being silly; instead they told me how great I looked, how well I would do and how it did not matter. Whilst at the time I didn’t fully understand what I was afraid of, now it seems obvious: I was afraid of being different. And for me, being a distinctly average girl, what is more different then wearing different clothes in front of a large group of uniformly-clad people?

It’s a universal fear, particularly for children, that to be different is to be rejected, and to be rejected is to be alone. However, I feel that as I grew, and especially as I grew out of certain institutions (no disrespect to the brownies here!), that I was able to be myself without fear, whether that was by dressing differently, acting differently or have different views to the common consensus. As Oscar Wilde said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated,” and whilst I feel maybe wearing stilettos and a ball gown to the gym may be taking things a step too far, to me it is obvious: what is better than conforming and being swept along in a sea of plain colour? Being yourself in all your multi-layered glory!

-Mary Horrell
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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