Giraffes and chameleons

I have long had a fascination with giraffes and felt a kinship with them. They are the tallest mammal, have long legs, and can be very awkward as a newborn learning to walk. With their height, they are very noticeable; you would not want them on your team when playing hide-and-seek!

I was born about 22 inches long and by my first birthday I was about 33 inches. I have always been tall. It wasn’t just a big growth spurt in middle school, which I certainly had, but height has always been a part of my life. I have a picture of me with friends in the fourth grade during Girl Scouts, and I am literally a head taller than my peers, with one girl only reaching my stomach. Being so much taller than my classmates has naturally made me stand out, to be noticeable. It was painful and made it difficult to feel like I belonged.

To add to it, I was a very clumsy kid. I would drop things and walk into walls. These characteristics made me stand out even more. I felt like my insecurities were on display for all to see, and that I was completely vulnerable.

cham on branchI longed to be more like a chameleon, to have the ability
of blending in with my
surroundings, not being so obvious and different others. I wanted to be more like everyone else. You aren’t as readily accepted when you’re drastically different.

Yet it wasn’t until doing a little research for this note that I discovered chameleons don’t actually change color to blend in with their surroundings. It’s not a defense mechanism at all! They change color mostly to regulate their own body temperature or even to indicate their mood. Apparently it’s a common misconception to think they change color to be safer.

In 2009, I shared the following Facebook status: Lindsay “wishes she was a chameleon but has to be a giraffe.” I received these comments:
A: Be glad you aren’t a skunk.
B: I think you’re more unicorn: unique and beautiful.
C: How about a beagle? Sweet, kind, loyal, observant, intelligent, loving …. However, if you ARE a giraffe, I must say they are one of the most amazing, gorgeous, unique and fascinating animals I’ve ever seen. Plus, they have the benefit of a perspective that most don’t. Doesn’t sound at all negative to me.

The third comment really made me think and question my self-image. Maybe being a giraffe wasn’t such a bad thing. But I still wondered about the value of being so different. It still seemed like a negative.

In the intervening years since that Facebook post, I have grappled with a lot of things concerning who I am. Last year, I realized I got my childhood wish: I was the chameleon. I was pretending to be happy when I wasn’t. I was hiding more of myself, not sharing as much, thinking no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I had such a negative self-image that I had trouble recognizing and valuing my own contributions.

In order to truly value myself as a person, I have to embrace being a giraffe, being different. It’s not such a bad thing. While I act a little different from others, I also provide a different perspective. My experiences have shaped me a certain way; I can either despise those challenges or allow myself to grow from them.

The bottom line is: Be proud of the unique perspective you offer. It may not seem important, but it is.


12 thoughts on “Giraffes and chameleons”

  1. It really struck me when you said that you can offer a different perspective, because that’s what my limited view of you is. While you ARE often quiet, when you speak out, you almost always contribute something very meaningful and a different way of looking at things. it’s often helped me to think “out of the box,” and without that initiation comment by you, I never would have. (I’m more like a mother hen, clucking away and often saying little of significance!)


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