How to build self confidence in an online world and beyond. Being yourself is key, but allowing yourself to accept who you are is the hardest part.
It was a tank top. A simple striped tank top.
The striped tank top omnipresent in my school in the early summer of 2006, making it even harder to distinguish the 250 or so girls roaming the grounds.
It was the very moment in my life I realized the power of peer pressure, of the desire to belong.
I didn’t own the tank top, at 5ft 11′ I am way too tall to wear any kind of mainstream tank top, unless I’m keen on showing off my belly button.
I didn’t have the right hair. I didn’t have the right height. The right weight, the right bra size, the right kind of shoes, the right boyfriends, the right place to live or the right kind of money flowing into my pockets from home.
I was too loud, too quirky, too intelligent, too fast a reader, too well-versed in the English language, too not-too-fond of my nationality.
In the confusing, disrupted and emotionally unstable world of a teenage girl who grew up to be different, I was wrong, and worst of all, others let me know.
And not just wrong, but easily influenced and incredibly keen to belong into a tribe, to be able to fit herself into a shoebox, to label her drawer, to stop the sneering looks from the brigade of same-height, same-haircut, same-clothes army of adolescents.
From the moment I stepped foot into kindergarten, where I learned to change my accent within days to match everyone else’s after having been laughed at my weird way of talking, I have been on a mission to fit in. Make myself the same. Make myself right.
But the incredibly cruel way of life dictates that shaping oneself into something one is not will never work out.
You can browse a million outfits on Pinterest. You can save home decor pictures to last yourself a lifetime. You can try your hardest at doing everything right, at becoming a normal person, but you will always fail.
Every time you need to make a purchase, you need to pull out your phone and check if that color, that cut, that pattern fits the persona you’re trying to adopt.
Every time you decorate your home, shop for kids’ clothes, get a hair cut, pick a holiday destination, write a social media caption – you need to run it through the eyes of someone you don’t really know.
Because it is all just a humorless play you’re playing within your own life.
Fact is, no matter how hard you try to become someone specific, someone who’s not rooted in the deepest parts of your soul, you will never succeed. Every step of the way will be a thousand times harder, because no decision is truly your own.
The quest of making yourself right will actually make everything seem so much more wrong, because you’re putting together a puzzle made up from pieces that don’t fit together.
With every kind of life imagineable readily available to be browsed, to be patched together, to be arranged on Pinterest boards – it makes it so easy for those of us who long to belong. So easy to scratch away our own personalities in favor of something we believe to be more popular, more beautiful, more right.
Running a blog makes this even harder.
When you see the success of other people online, you want that for yourself, too. But instead of focusing on your own journey, you jump to their result.
When you assume what they’re doing is right and what you’re doing is wrong, you’re embarking on a slippery slope.
The slippery slope of unhappiness, of anger over photography you know should feel right, but looks so wrong.
The path of many recipes left unposted, of photography you secretly love but have to trash, simply because you think your chosen persona would not actually resonate with it.
It is the path of many tears and internal struggles. The road of irregular posting and seeing everyone else overtake you (which, truly, makes matters even worse).
It is hard to slowly be closing in on the big three-o, kids and a husband in tow, and realizing you’ve been acting more like your fifteen-year-old self than the responsible mother-of-two with a business you should be.
Just the fact that I’m 26 and have two kids (and no, we’re not that religious and I was pregnant by choice before we got married, and a small part of why we got married was because I wanted some security in case, you know, anything happens) should show me that the path I carve out for myself isn’t the path everyone else takes.
Lately I have been allowing my creative soul to roam in any direction she wants, and roam she did.
More than roam, she’s positively bursting.
I cannot begin to describe what it feels like to focus on what I have been trying to suppress outside of my save havens for so many years. It’s like flying at lightning speed.
At the same time, it is a battle every day.
Closing Pinterest in search of the perfect picture to model a shoot after. Unfollowing someone on Instagram because the fragile soul you’re nursing back to health just can’t handle that account right now.
Let me just tell you, it is OK. You will be fine. WE will be fine.
The most important thing you can do if you’re caught in the comparison trap, in the addictive way of modelling yourself after something you know deep in your heart you’re not, is letting go. It’s a hurdle seemingly too high to ever be climbed, but if you free your mind you will free the bird you’ve been caging in your chest for so long.
At first it will test stretching its wings, but if you face your terror and let it, it will flutter and reach for the sky.
Whenever I was upset as a teen, whenever I blamed myself for the suicide of my late father, whenever my physically and emotionally abusive boyfriend would break up just once more with me because I misstepped on the path HE had put me on, when I had been found crying in the bathroom at school again – or found in the street by my uncle or in the hallway by a neighbor, with the marks of an angry boyfriend all over my face – I’d go get a haircut (which used to be my way of letting go of something) and then proceed to bake.
Diana Henry’s book is something my husband ordered for me because I (me, myself, the real I) loved the look of it so much. It is very different from what I’ve been trying to become on this blog for the better part of its existence.
When it arrived, for the first time in a very long time, I was holding something I wanted to cook from, cook everything, immediately.
Her yogurt raspberry cake is simple, yes, but incredible. And now it is my battle cry for more diversity and authenticity in the world, both online and unplugged.
It is my plea to parents everywhere to raise kids who hold out their hands to alterity instead of their middle fingers.
A request to teachers to interrupt an abusive relationship among their teenage students when they see a girl crumbling in front of their very eyes.
It is in memoriam of every child who took their own life because just another day at school seemed unbearable. May you rest in peace, sweet souls.
Let’s use it as a reminder for all of us to pave the way for our own success instead of reaching for someone else’s outcome.
You do you, darling. You do you.