Our definition of normal depends on our surroundings. So, if you look around and everyone looks like you, it’s assumed that you are normal.

But what if you’re the only one that looks like you?

As Sheepy shows us, it’s difficult growing up in a small, southern town where you stick out like a sore thumb–where different is considered weird and unwelcome. And because we determine our level of beauty the same way we decide what’s “normal,” it can be that much harder being proud of who you are, especially when you’re considered the beautiful weirdo.

In the southern town where I grew up, there was just white, black, and sometimes hispanic. There were no  Asians or people of other ethnicities. So, as a kid with a big, curly afro, I was the foreign-looking kid that nobody really understood.

I remember always feeling like I stuck out and never had a “home” or a group of people who understood or looked like me. And despite my pride in my Dominican and Lebanese heritage, I never felt like I could really express them fully.

Because I was practically the only kid that looked like me, one of the things I wished I could change at that age was having straight hair like everyone else. That’s what everyone seemed to have in common, and that’s also what the girls were attracted to. But I looked and acted different from everyone else.

Eventually, as I grew fond of skateboarding growing up, I changed my appearance entirely and embraced the skater dude look, and even straightened my hair for a couple of years to see if it changed how everyone saw me. I no longer wanted to be the odd one out, at least not when it came to hair texture.

Suddenly, I got more attention and people noticed me more. When I fully transitioned into the skater dude look with skinny jeans, I really appealed to a certain demographic of students in my school.  But shortly after finishing junior high, I stopped straightening it. My hair was still curly, but it was so long that it could no longer stand up in an afro, so it just hung down. That’s when I stopped brushing and  combing it altogether and just let my hair do its thing. Eventually, my hair loc’d up and that really made me stand out.

As a kid with a big, curly afro, I was the foreign-looking kid that nobody really understood. I remember always feeling like I stuck out and never had a “home”…

Although I wasn’t previously good at sports, after being a skater, I’d become a lot more athletic. So when I applied that discipline — along with 10 years of piano lessons — and focus to other things, I became good at just about every activity I tried. On top of that, I also became more serious with working out, which gave me amore noticeably athletic physique.

With all of these changes–the chiseled physique, easy skill-learning, and locs–I suddenly became someone people thought was cool. I went from being a weird, foreign boy that girls didn’t like, to everyone taking an interest in me. And the attention became addictive.

The thing about attention, specifically for people who aren’t used to it, is that it slowly destroys you from the inside because you start to feed off of it and it becomes your diet. You fear becoming irrelevant or going back to what it was like before everyone noticed you. As a result, I noticed I became more attention-driven, which just wasn’t me.  I didn’t like feeling that social media “likes” and comments were gauges of my own self-worth.

One day I got tired of all of it and deleted a lot of my social media accounts. I needed a break. Eventually, I went back to it, and it felt a little weird posting a picture and not getting a lot of “likes.” But I still delete everything and start all over every now and then, so I don’t risk getting caught up in the attention. It’s how I remind myself that I am more than just the number of likes and comments I get on a post.