We all have our “things” that hold us back from living our best lives. I fiercely believe that from the time of birth up until we’re old enough to pick up on social cues and obsess over interpersonal relationships, we are, for a sliver of our lives, truly and fearlessly ourselves. I didn’t realize until I was in college that people had a tendency of not liking the person that I was, truly and fearlessly, upon first impression. Once this became my reality, it began to consume me.
I spent a ridiculous amount of time analyzing every second of every day to see if I could figure out what it was about me that turned people off. I knew that I had a handful of friends who would make jokes that my face looked mean, that I didn’t smile enough, and that I was too aggressive. I never took these things into consideration before because I never felt like I had to; I was comfortable with my small friend group in high school. I knew I wasn’t popular, but I wouldn’t have considered myself hated either. I was comfortable, and I was (mostly) unapologetically myself. Once I moved to college and out of my hometown bubble, things shifted for me. I was introduced to many different personalities from many, MANY different parts of the world, and I didn’t know how to handle the fact that almost none of them seemed to be able to stand me.
I think what bothered me the most is that I know I’m a “good person.” I do and say and believe most things that the generic “good person” would do and say and believe; I like to make others feel happy, I care about and actively try to advocate for the less fortunate, I give people the benefit of the doubt, I love cats and pizza…what else do I need? I thought that what people expected of me was too tall an order, I felt saddened that so many would judge me so harshly based off of a singular interaction, and I felt bitter that these people, who were so unapologetically judgmental toward me, seemed to have no trouble making friends.
It didn’t take long for me to find that circle in college that made me feel like I could be who I was and not apologize for it (“R.B.F” and all). My college experience could have been much different without them, and I am eternally grateful for the amazing sense of community and acceptance that I was able to feel with them. However, this desperate need to be liked has had a lasting (and damaging) effect on me as I’ve transitioned into adulthood.
“All of this to say, I am beginning to love myself. Not the self that I pretend to be because I feel that the world expects it, but the self that is deeply and intensely known by those closest to me and who choose to love me anyway.”
Vocationally and personally, I spend hours stewing over any minor interaction that could maybe have given someone the wrong impression of my character. If I advocate for myself, I get nervous that it made me come off as aggressive or rude. If I’m tired and I don’t immediately smile at the person waiting at the copier with me or greet the barista at 7:00 a.m with a beaming grin and a cheery “good morning,” I will think about that interaction for the entire day. Did she turn and talk to her coworkers about the bitchy lady in the drive-thru window? Did she use me as an example of why she hates her job? Do my coworkers/friends/neighbors think I’m too loud, too confident, too opinionated, or a “nasty woman?” Should I be smiling more?
Someone very close to me recently helped me to start to sift through some of the most pressing criticisms I’ve received and weed out the TRUE bits and pieces of my character. Once the outer layer of perceived reality is chiseled away, what’s left is this: There have been times when I’ve been ferociously anxious and depressed (more anxious these days) and my face reflects these things when I’m under attack. The depression (to which the constant critique of my disposition probably didn’t help) was at it’s worst in college, so this probably contributed to my face looking mean. I am opinionated, and folks don’t always appreciate when women are confident and unapologetic about their desires, goals, beliefs, and philosophies. Much of my college’s demographic expected women to be docile and soft-spoken…and there’s nothing wrong with being that way! It’s simply not who I am, and I continue to be misjudged based on qualities that seem “aggressive” for a female.
I am still trying to un-learn that the core parts of my personality are inherently “bad” and that I ought to be ashamed of who I am. My desire to be liked and crippling fear of being disliked has ruined many days that should have been spent enjoying this wonderful life I am so fortunate to have. All of this to say, I am beginning to love myself. Not the self that I pretend to be because I feel that the world expects it, but the self that is deeply and intensely known by those closest to me and who choose to love me anyway. I know that there are parts of the framework of my personality that are flawed, and I am willing to go through the painful process of confronting and changing the things that require reform. I am not claiming to be without fault; I am simply refusing to apologize for the things that make up the inner workings of my most intimate and true self. And I will never, ever apologize for how my face looks again.