by: Frank McAlpin
When I was young, I was not your typical little boy. I was into make believe and pretending. I liked to collect rocks and paint them pretty colors. I had a whole family of My Little Pony’s (the old school kind). And I was obsessed with unicorns. My mom even made me a unicorn costume for Halloween one year. It was epic. I guess you could say I was different.
And it was as a young boy, a boy that often felt different from his peers, that I was first introduced to the revolutionary children’s book Free to Be…You and Me by Marlo Thomas. Although I didn’t really know it at the time, this book had a profound impact on my life. Free To Be…You and Me is a collection of stories, poems and songs that teach young children and adults that it is okay to be different. It challenges cultural and gender stereotypes and encourages children to love and embrace themselves and others for who they are. Ultimately it promotes a message of self acceptance and love. A message that forty years after it first was published is still relevant today.
In reading Free to Be…You and Me I learned that being different, that being me, was okay. I learned that activities and experiences shouldn’t be based on someone’s gender but instead on their interests. As a young boy who did not fit into the typical male gender roles Free to Be…You and Me made me feel good. Years later, I realized that the “good” feeling that Free to Be…You and Me ignited within me was a feeling of inclusion and acceptance. It was a feeling that my truth, that my “differentness” was honored. It was a feeling of love for myself and others. It was a feeling of liberation!
Today, even as a young man in my late 20s I still gather strength and inspiration from the message and feeling of Free to Be…You and Me. In fact, the concepts of originality, self acceptance and embracing others for who they are has become a passion of mine. As an educator, friend and My Little Pony enthusiast I have introduced the concept and feeling of Free to Be…You and Me to both children and adults.
In today’s world, I know it can be difficult to live your truth and love yourself. To be who you are. I also recognize that I was able to be who I am and deal with difficulties because I had parents and other adults that loved me and all my “differentness”. But being Free to Be…You and Me shouldn’t be just for some of us. It must be for all of us.
Creating homes, schools and communities that empower individuals to love themselves and others for who they truly are is what we, as a society should be striving for. Just think about how fabulous it would be if there were more children in unicorn costumes. If differentness was celebrated. If all children were encouraged and supported in being their true selves. And if we ALL were Free to Be…You and Me.
Frank McAlpin is an educator, social worker and human rights activist.