I remember in seventh grade when one of my classmates and I were talking and he said she wished she could be like me. I was completely confused as to why in the world anyone would want to be like me, when all my life I’d been trying to be like someone else, someone better than me.
“You don’t care what anyone thinks about you,” she informed me. “I wish I could be like that.”
I just smiled and nodded. What was I supposed to do–inform her that I cared way too much about everyone’s opinion of me and ruin the high opinion she had of me? No. Again, I cared too much what she and everyone else thought. And hey, if she thought I was cool enough to be looked up to, I’d take that, true or not.
In the last year, I’ve begun to realize that it’s completely and utterly ridiculous to want to be like everyone around me when I could be just as successful being myself. Why strive to have hair that’s identical to that of my friend when I’ve got hair that can look good my way? Why attempt to copy someone’s wardrobe when I look better in the clothes I like? Why post a Facebook status I don’t like just because I know it’ll get a ton of likes?
Being an adolescent is an awkward time. Honestly, it is. Middle school is the worst of it. You don’t know who you are, and you’re desperately trying to become who you wish you could be. Thing is, the person you wish you could be often isn’t you. That doesn’t mean one persona is better than the other, it just means that it’s not you. And you should always, one hundred percent of the time, strive to be yourself.
I’m finally starting to be comfortable with being me. I dress how I want to dress, and I don’t really care if someone likes it or not. I don’t wear a lot of makeup because I don’t think I need it. I don’t spend an hour on my hair because it’s easier to throw it in a messy bun and go. I say what I think, not what will get people to think I’m funny. I do things how I want them done, not in a way to please others. I don’t consider going tanning just because my skin is pale. I stand tall and refuse to let the fact that I’m taller than a lot of people–including some guys–bother me anymore. It’s who I am, and it’s something I can’t change.
When I was a few years younger, one question took up a lot of my time: if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I spent hours upon hours pondering that question, trying to find one thing instead of dozens that I wished I could change. My hair, my skin, my body, my wardrobe, my feet (feet are weird no matter who you are, so I never should’ve been self-conscious about those!), etc. Thinking back, it makes me a little angry at myself for wasting so much time and energy thinking like that. I could’ve been studying for a history test instead of googling ways to make my hair shinier. I could’ve been out running and getting in shape for softball while I complained that I didn’t have the perfect body. (And hello, who even has the perfect body at age thirteen? Nobody.)
I think it all comes down to the fact that we have very few positive influences in our lives. Sure, our parents are usually good role models who are there to support and encourage us. But think about it, as a pre-teen or a teenager, did you want to listen to Mom and Dad? Probably not. I know I didn’t. In fact, there were times that I purposely did the opposite of what I was told to do.
The number of negative influences far outweighs the positive. On TV, there are hundreds of skinny, flawless-skinned, tan, gorgeous girls with lots of friends and even more boyfriends. In magazines, we come to see photoshopped, unrealistic pictures as the girls we should be. Commercials tell us that we’re not pretty enough or skinny enough or perfect enough, and we therefore need to buy their product to make us better. I’ve even heard teachers tell people that they’re not smart enough and that they’ll never amount to anything.
Our culture’s image of perfection is a too-skinny, tall (but not too tall!), gorgeous girl who has clear skin and wears designer clothes. Perfect has boys chasing after her, begging for a date. She’s the best at everything she does by nature, and she doesn’t need anybody’s help with anything. And she has money. Lots and lots of money. Not to mention the fact that everyone loves her.
Please, do me a favor and name one person who is perfect. Can’t do it, can you? That’s because perfection isn’t an earthly quality. Jesus was the only perfect being to ever walk the earth, and He’s not here right now. He’s up in heaven. But even so, He wouldn’t fit society’s perception of perfection. So what does that mean? It means that the perfection so many of us strive for isn’t really perfect at all. It means that we’re looking up to people who shouldn’t be looked up to. It means that we’re wasting precious time trying to be better when we’re all incredible the way we are.
I wish I could overturn the ideas that my generation has grown up with. I wish I could tell each girl individually that she’s beautiful the way she is. I wish I could tell every guy that it’s okay to not look like they live in the gym, and that they don’t have to break hearts to be a real man. I wish I could convince everyone that alcohol and drugs and cigarettes don’t make them cool. I wish I could ensure that my baby sister and all the other kids she’s going to grow up with would have more positive role models than negative ones.
I’m glad I’m coming to peace with myself and that I’m comfortable doing what I want, whether or not it’s what society says I should be doing. But a lot of people aren’t, and a lot of people never will be. I’m finding myself, but a lot of people have and will leave adolescence as a fake who never gave themselves the opportunity to discover who they are. So do me a favor: if you’re around my age and you’re reading this, remember that you’re absolutely incredible no matter what. Don’t let anyone bring you down. And if you’re older, try to remember your teenage years. Try to remember when all you wanted to do was fit in. Try to understand that now, we’re even more desperate than you were then, and try to bring us up. Remind us that we’re amazing. Remind us that we can do anything we want to do, no matter how crazy it is. Remind us that you’re there for us. Just make sure we know that there are people there when we need them, because it’s easy to forget sometimes.