As I was getting coffee the other day, I caught myself looking at the young woman serving me. Her clothes were torn, tattoos galore, and sporting various arrays of piercings. Her fashion statement and mine were worlds apart and I found myself passing judgment. Instinctively, I disliked that thought. I was ashamed of myself. Then there came the knee-jerk reaction, something inside me shouting, “How dare you pass judgment, you don’t even know her!” It was that inner-voice, deep inside—the one that’s usually right.

I quieted and went through the process of asking myself, “Why did this come up for me? Where did it start? How long ago?” Memories flooded forward. How many times in my elementary and high school years was I witness to the fashion police and received a verbal summons if the attire was not in vogue. Those were impressionable years. Confidence and I were still getting to know each other. So speaking my mind and standing up for another/myself was a Herculean feat. All too often I found myself going along with the group.

It was not until I became the mother of a very self-expressive daughter that I began to learn the fine art of allowing. I encouraged her to dress herself at a very young age and, while I reveled in her choice of clothing for the most part, I had to learn to let go of some of her final selections. I was not going to curb self expression. I can recount one evening, Sarah had requested a “supper date” with just mom. But true to fashion, in the end she invited her older brother Corey, age seven, to join us. Just at the “stroke of ‘to go’,” four-year-old Sarah bounced down the stairs wearing light pink tights, her favorite jelly shoes, a pink shoulder bag, and asked if I would braid her hair. Corey bristled, clearly showing signs of embarrassment. “She’s going like that?! How can you let her? You can see her underwear!” Indeed I could. They were her favorites—pink with red hearts. Yes, I might have suggested she put some shorts on or a skirt, but in that instant, she was wearing her coat of pride and confidence. She was dressed. She was clothed—just not as completely as her brother may have wanted. And off we went.

When we arrived, Sarah jumped out. I took her hand while Corey walked ten feet behind. She took her place in line, ordered what she wanted while fumbling in her purse to find the correct amount to pay the clerk. People turned and stared. Sarah strutted. It was my hope that they saw through (no pun intended) the little girl with the see-through tights and saw a self-assured pint-sized powerhouse using her voice to get what she wanted; proud in her own skin.

I took another look at the young woman serving me. I smiled and realized, like Sarah, she too was expressing herself. She may have had a tattoo on her wrist—I had a large turquoise silver bracelet on mine. She had piercings all over her face—I donned a clothespin holding my hair up! How different were we really? We were both expressing our taste.

She handed me my coffee and off I went. I hoped to see her again. She taught me to stop, reprocess, and not be quick to judge. She was just another version of four-year-old Sarah standing there there, proud as a peacock in all her finery.

So when you look at someone and find yourself passing judgment on them, ask yourself:

“Where did I hear that voice from your past?” and “Whose voice is it?” See if you can step back from being the fashion police and realize we are all different. Diversity is empowerment. Get out of the comfort zone of judging and notice the positive characteristics this person exhibits. Were they polite, kind, friendly, did they make eye contact? What was it? There is always something! How very boring this world would be if we all came from the same cookie cutter.

As featured on ABC, NBC, CNN, and FOX News affiliates across the country, Sallie Felton, President of Sallie Felton LLC is a life coach, international radio talk show host, author, facilitator and inspirational speaker. For more info on Sallie, please visit her WEBSITE or follow her on TWITTER.