In high school I had a friend named Erin. She was smart, athletic, talented, beautiful, and never seemed to have the same teenage insecurities I felt I had. I admired her and wanted to be like her.
She had very curly red hair that always looked great. One day she came to school with it cut very short and I told her how much I loved it and added, “I wish I could cut my hair short.”
“You can,” she said.
“Yeah, but guys [I might have said, “my boyfriend”] like long hair.”
“I don’t do my hair or wear clothes for other people. I do it to make myself feel good.”
I wish I could say that my mind was blown and suddenly a world of opportunity opened up to me. But no. I spent the day trying to figure out what she was talking about. “I do it for myself” didn’t make sense to me. The thought was so foreign I tried to work it out in my head, but all I was getting was “Did. Not. Compute.” I decided to laugh it off and inwardly think she simply hadn’t grasped the concept yet.
I mean, seriously. Why do your hair for yourself? It’s not like you’re looking at a mirror all day and are even going to see it! Who cares if you like your hair? And how can hair even make you feel good unless people around you are telling you how great it is?
Somewhere along the line I had picked up that I had to look good for other people. Actually, everywhere along the line I had picked that up. I had been made fun of at school for having unshaven legs and greasy hair when I hit puberty. As a family rule, I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 16 because “why would you need makeup if you’re not trying to impress a guy?” And of course, I needed to cover my body in lots of clothes because everyone seeing your cellulite and stretch marks? Disgusting. Fashion magazines, church classes, cat calls on the street. They all told me that my appearance was for other people.
It took me years to find the wisdom in Erin’s words. And when I find another person as self-actualized, I always wonder, how? How is it that Erin managed to become a teenager and not feel like she had to dress for other people? What’s the secret? Is it innate: are there people out there who just have that kind of self-confidence? Is it taught and people like Erin are the products of great families and childhood experiences?
I try to remember to ask myself if I’m looking to impress others or feel good about myself. And it doesn’t need to be mutually exclusive- Erin impresses me because she feels good about herself.