When I was in second grade, I changed my name every week. According to the tops of my school worksheets, I was ‘Tiffany’ one day, ‘Bridget’ another, ‘Amanda’ the next. One day, my teacher was handing back quizzes and with a face I'll never forget said, ‘Who is..Princess Aurora?’. I -inspired by watching Sleeping Beauty for the first time that week- awkwardly slid my hand in the air with chagrin. You can say that at the ripe age of seven, I began wrestling with an identity crisis. In high school, I told my mom I’d only answer to Dulcinea, ‘my new middle name’. For 6 years, almost all my friends called me ‘Willis.’ I was ‘Alesi’ to my neighbors who barely spoke english, ‘Alexa’ to my young niece who could pronounce her letters just fine, but apparently likes that better. There was something about Alexis that never stuck. I've wanted so badly to be someone else in a near delusional way. In my youth, it stemmed from a place of unfamiliarity- Alexis was uncommon, and I wanted to be branded with a connotation, be it girly, exotic, bold, whatever.
As I got older, it was from a place of shame. In a sociology class, I learned of something called the ‘grand narrative’. If everyone you've ever interacted with was asked “so what is [insert your name] like?”, the collection of their responses forms your grand narrative, a figurative cloud of your identity based on the world’s experience of you. Imagining my grand narrative haunted me. If you asked my family, they’d say I was sullen, distant, contentious because I couldn’t turn depressed Alexis off around them. My friends would say I was caring and bubbly and zany, but in my worser moments throughout college, some could say I was erratic, burdening, straight up mean at times. If you were looking hard enough, you’d see I was aloof, irresponsible, untrustworthy, ungrounded. I was popular, but not the leader of the conversation-just following along, here for the photo opps, not that memorable. I hooked up with people and drank beyond the point of fun. I don’t know how much of this people actually saw because I had the ability to smile big and hide well. But I saw it everyday. Each time I almost got fired from my job, or barely passed a test from a class on the pre-med track I hated, or received a follow up email for something I’d been avoiding. I saw ’Alexis Willis’ and I saw shortcoming and unworthiness.
When I surrendered to my faith beginning of 2017, it raised an interesting tension in me. There was my worldly grand narrative and then there was God, saying my slate was clean and I was freed from my failures. As I grew closer to Him, my character conformed, breaking those negative behaviors one by one. One day last spring, I woke up and realize I wasn’t depressed anymore. And that I didn’t know who I was outside of my depression. I started modeling in New York and it dawned upon me: when I walk into a room, people only know who I show up as, which could theoretically be whoever I wanted. Simultaneously building a new career and a new personhood, I created my new Instagram ‘butcallmelex’. In reality, maybe 3 people actually called me Lex, but the thought popped up- What if I start introducing myself as Lex?
It was unnatural at first. I’d show up to a shoot or church or to hang out someone new and have to actively remind myself, ‘You’re Lex now’. And yet it was easy enough. ln hindsight, I see my logic: I couldn’t undo the damage to my grand narrative as Alexis, but I could create and control a pure narrative as Lex. Lex was free in heart and spirit. She showed up on time and had her priorities straight. She put 100% into things and killed it. She didn’t settle, she wasn’t living in fear. People liked Lex and were inspired by her in a way Alexis had never seen. It spoke to the power of affirmation- I told myself I was this kind of person, other people were seeing as me this kind of person, so I eventually became this kind of person.
After all these months, it’s less of a Bruce Wayne stepping into his Batman suit process. I don’t see it as a separate entity but when someone calls me Lex, I still have a ‘oh right, that’s me’ moment for .2 seconds. I still call myself Alexis in my head and don’t tell people who know me as Alexis to change. It’s a healthy reminder that as much as I’d like to pretend the old me never existed, she does creep up, in times of fear or me living under my potential. I see it as ‘a(lex)is’ : this is who I am at the core, when I push all the extra bs surrounding my heart out the way. That symbolism conveniently works out with the spelling of my name, but i think it applies to everyone. Too many people are not living as their ideal selves- outside the parentheses, so to speak- because their grand narratives are in the way. Though it was a new city, job, and commitment to religion that prompted me to change my life, such drastic changes aren't necessary to experience the same process. Make peace with your current grand narrative, understand what negative parts of your life come from it, and decide to begin afresh. It's truly that simple.