You: Is It Good Enough?7:30 AM
|Mary Cassatt, Child in a Straw Hat|
This girl went to camp. No big deal: she could handle it. She'd never technically been away from home, with people she'd never laid eyes on; but that wasn't really what was concerning. Homesickness one could sugarcoat and swallow. Her biggest fear was The Girls.
You know the type. The girls who can apply mascara flawlessly, who know the tricks to getting one's hair perfect, who can interact with boys without inventing a new shade of red. The girls you always wanted to be but never quite managed to find the how-to book for. Those girls.
And this wasn't just any old camp, where people went without showering for a couple of days without social consequence and mud was tramped through every square inch of the campus and the unwritten dress code was jeans and camp t-shirts. This was a government camp.
Think crisp shirts, pressed skirts and elegant French twists.
This girl had only recently discovered that there are more hairstyles in life than a severe part down the middle of one's scalp. She had reason to be a little antsy at the thought of sharing the bathroom with the paragons of coolness. And she was so dead right.
The girls had fashionable clothes, much more fashionable than the thrift-store finds and hand-me-downs she had gone giddy over a couple days before. For heaven's sake -- some old lady in the fifties had probably been wearing her hideously fuchsia, big-buttoned blazer thing whose matching skirt had been hastily hidden away. The girls spent a good hour applying makeup, doing up their hair, chatting nonchalantly as they passed around the straightener and curling iron.
The most intimidating moment in a girl's life is when she is the first one out of the bathroom. Our heroine spent less than five minutes on the brushing of her hair and teeth before waiting the long while until the others exited the bathroom premises.
It didn't take her long to calculate how she matched up with these girls. She scored a neat zero, unquestionably. And after sitting around watching the girls form curls and dust blush onto their dull cheeks, she realized, subconsciously, that she'd have to change in order to fit in.
So instead of wearing her 1950’s red blazer, she stuck to her more fashionable black blazer outfit, even though she had to wear things over again multiple times. She spent a longer time brushing her teeth and fixing her hair and washing her face, to make it seem like she normally took hours in front of the mirror each morning. She found herself saying stupid things and laughing at stupid jokes in order to be noticed—though nobody really did. She nodded along when everyone was discussing politics, even though she didn’t have a clue about what they were talking about. When someone disagreed with her opinion, she didn’t dare defend herself, lest she look bad tempered in front of the smartest girl there. She didn’t make any friends, though she tried; she called home every day to talk to her mom and siblings, people who cared; she was so busy primping herself during the day to make sure her suit and hair was staying in place that she couldn’t really enjoy herself during the actual camp.
When her parents picked her up, she bawled her eyes out. At first she said it was because she missed everyone and it was hard to leave, but in reality, she was crying because she knew nobody cared that she was going. She had wasted her entire week trying to be someone else. She felt exactly like the soaked tissue curled in her fist: shredded, wasted, worth nothing but garbage.
This girl was me. Self-conscious, hesitant, fearing to let the true me shine in case I'd be sitting alone by myself, reading Shakespeare and wondering where I'd end up in life. I wanted perfection in me, to be liked immediately by everyone, and deep down, I believed I was someone special.
But I didn't think that was enough. Other girls were prettier than I was, smarter, funnier, more spiritual, more confident, more athletic -- just more anything: they had it and I didn't. And in my quest for The Perfect Girl, the elusive all-around tenth grader, I borrowed elements from other girls I admired. I borrowed their fashion sense. I borrowed their way of talking. I tried to timidly butt into their circle of friends. I broached the topics they were interested in -- respectfully, sensing my imperfection and low worth vividly alight in their radiant perfectness.
I became this mixed-up jumble of a human being, more a sketch on crumpled paper, a half-baked thought, a failed attempt, than anything concrete and real. I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't know if I was worth anything, being unlike my superheroines in every single way. I mean, I didn't even wear mascara or enjoy shopping at the mall. I was unfit to go on in life, practically.
We girls who go through this painful, embarrassing, largely unsuccessful metamorphosis from plain girl to slightly-cool girl know that there's something not quite right with our self-absorption, our self-consciousness. We feel uneasy even when we're included in the cool girls' group. We feel fake, left out, an object of charity to the more confident, slightly compassionate girls around us. It degrades and humiliates us. We're unhappy with who we are and we're unhappy with who we have to be. We lose even if we win.
May I share with you a little secret?
You don't have to live your entire life like this.
You don't have to. Why? Because I went from this ridiculously self-conscious misfit to a girl totally comfortable in her skin, imperfect though it may be. I lied to myself. I said that people were always looking at me and judging me, when most people didn't even care that I existed. I said that I wasn't perfect unless I was the best at everything. I said that a mistake was fatal and could not be afforded. I said that no one would ever like me for who I was.
I was wrong.
And that admission changed my life. The next time I went to camp (albeit the mud and jeans sort), I wasn't concerned with fitting in. I was looking for friends, not trophies of my awesomeness. I was looking to serve God, not feed my feeble self-image.
I just got back from counseling a cabin of middle school girls who straightened their hair each morning, did the whole make-up thing, wore the brand names and worried about lake water in their hair. But that stuff, my former obsession, didn't even cross my mind. I wasn't concerned about not wearing short-shorts and tank tops, about facing the world make-up-less, about letting the lake water sit in my hair for an afternoon.
And I got so much done. I learned so much. And I made so many friends -- friends who thought I was the funniest thing ever, that I was adorable (especially when I caught laryngitis and talked like a sick frog), that I was trustworthy.
They thought I was pretty cool.
Isn't that just crazy?
But going beyond my anecdotal triumph: acceptance isn't everything. When you let yourself be defined by who accepts you and who doesn't, you will not be accepted...because deep down, you're not accepting yourself. I'm not a wheel on the whole self-esteem bandwagon; I think it misses the point in life (i.e. "Man's chief end is to glorify God," not score a 100% on the Superficial Happiness Exam). But this is different. This is a kind of humility, to open up the tight fist of fear and let people see that you're not perfect. That you're uncool. That -- wince -- you're different. And that -- gasp -- you're okay with that.
Funny story: I knew I was going to go far in life the second I didn't care if the girls in my cabin saw me with a bright blue toothpaste moustache at bedtime. Who cares if for a few minutes after teeth brushing I didn't look entirely put together? Before my purposed admission of confidence, I hesitated to brush my teeth in front of my own sisters, lest they see me in that uncouth moment when I'm in need of a hand towel and I die of embarrassment.
That's the kind of self-consciousness that we can laugh at...but I know the bigger sort, the perpetual awkward, out-of-place feeling.
There are so many reasons we feel like we don't fit in. Maybe you're the girl who has convictions that manifest themselves in outward ways -- you dress more conservatively, you limit the amount of make-up on your face, you go with simpler haircuts. Maybe you're the girl whose acne, freckles and/or big nose prohibits you from enjoying life to the fullest. Maybe you're the girl who is a klutz with the curling iron and couldn't put a fashionable outfit together to save your life. Maybe you're the girl who just feels like you're on a different rhythm with everyone, where even the smallest things like wearing a skirt on a day when everyone's wearing jeans (or vice versa) highlights your insecurity.
Or maybe you ace this game and are severe cases of all four, like me.
It's time to get over that. You don't have to care about what others think. Got that? Write it down and say it a hundred times until you believe it. We're living for an audience of One. Our purpose is grander than snaring a popular friend or looking infallible every second of our social lives. Our goal is outside looking cool and fitting in. It's so beyond the superficial outward appearances that seem to squelch every inner gem we've been given.
You've been given a personality, a life purpose, talents, gifts, quirks because God wanted you that way. Why? So you could serve Him to the fullest of your ability. If our main goal is to fit in, yes, start to trim yourself away into bland conformity. But if it's to glorify God, then cultivate those differences, those things that make you stand out, and focus on reaching outside of yourself and your self-image.
Trust me when I say this: life gets a lot easier after that.