Not a Barbie Girl in a ‘Barbie world’

Since a very young age I have been very introverted and kept to myself. I never really felt I should conform to societal standards. On the contrary, I thought the more I rebelled against them the better I was. As a kid I never felt the need to put myself out there, not because I was shy but because I felt I didn’t fit in in the mainstream culture my school was about: private, catholic, all-girls, and strictly superficial. They all looked like Barbie, I looked like myself. For the longest time I was fine keeping to my music, my books, my studying and the only two friends I had at school. I didn’t want to fall into a conformist culture that valued “clones”. The problem was that by trying to conserve my personality and identity I became very arrogant and ended up distancing myself from everyone surrounding me. When social isolation began to take a toll on my life, I decided to be open-minded and try to understand others instead of judging them. I won’t lie: it was extremely hard to get rid of all the prejudices I had built up against “that” society, but it didn’t take me[…]

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Feeling Awkward and Judged

Throughout middle school and high school, I had a constant fear that everyone, even my closest friends, were always judging me and didn’t actually like me for who I was—that they were only friends with me because we were in the same “clique”. I second guessed all of my social interactions with them and analyzed over and over again in my mind what they really meant by what they said. If they forgot to call or text me back I would take that as them showing that they didn’t actually like me. I would even find myself doing things I didn’t normally do so that I would fit in better with them so I could ensure that they liked me. Nobody knew I felt this way, because I was friends with a bigger group of people so I didn’t really feel extremely close to any one person that I could have told this to. I also didn’t think they would take me seriously or they would think I just wanted attention. When I got to the next stage of my life, which for me was college, I was able to make new friends. I became very close with my roommate[…]

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Starting Somewhere New and Knowing No One

After I got through my first year of high school, made a solid group of friends, and even joined a lacrosse team, I had to transfer to a new school because my family was moving. I felt like I was starting high school all over again, but this time it was much more difficult. During freshman year, almost everyone is new. People are more outgoing because they want to make friends. As a new sophomore in a high school, I felt very alone for the first few months. I had a difficult time making friends since most of my peers already established their friend groups during freshman year, like I had at my previous school. I had solid family support and a great group of friends from my previous school, but at my new school, I felt completely alone and no one seemed to even notice me, let alone try to be my friend. After a few months, I began to push myself to try out for new clubs and teams. I eventually tried out for the lacrosse team and made it. Although the upper class team members knew each other, the freshmen and sophomores were brand new; this worked[…]

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Having Less Money & Stuff than Other Teens

I was the only person I knew when I started high school. Most of the kids I was in middle school with went to one of local public high schools, but I got a scholarship to go to a private prep school in a different neighborhood. Everyone told me I was really lucky to have such an opportunity, and even though I knew I was, I couldn’t help but feeling totally lost and suddenly out of place when I got to this fancy new school. Even though we had uniforms, other kids had designer bags and shoes and things my family couldn’t dream of affording. Sometimes kids would be mean about it (like commenting on the hand-me-downs I’d wear), and sometimes it was simply their unfamiliarity with how other people lived (like being visibly shocked when I told them that my family didn’t have a car) that would really sting me. I’d try to shrug it off, but those kinds of interactions really made me feel so small and worthless. I was mortified everyone would find out I was there on financial aid, and I isolated myself because of it. I was embarrassed to invite people over to my family’s[…]

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Getting Connected

I felt really alone when I started high school. I didn’t just feel really different from everyone around me—I really was different because I had been homeschooled since first grade. This was my first time in years where I had to get up at a painfully early hour, pack a lunch, and spend an entire day surrounded by hundreds of other kids my age. I didn’t know what teachers expected and I felt extremely shy around my classmates. At first, I would just go to classes and come home, barely talking to anyone throughout the day. I felt exhausted and lonely by 3pm. However, two good things happened that first year that started to turn high school around for me: I had a wonderful Honors English teacher who challenged me and was genuinely interested in talking to me before or after class. From him, I learned how to write a good essay but also felt like I wasn’t just an anonymous student in a huge school anymore. I also made a friend who was less shy than me but also introverted and happy to spend hours watching movies or talking about ideas. We started spending time together during school and[…]

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Finding “Natural” Friendships

I started at a new school at the beginning of 7th grade.  I was really shy and socially anxious, and very worried about making friends.  I felt like everybody else fit in and had a place but me.  I noticed that the girls in my grade were very “cliquey”, and I felt like I had to do whatever I could to become part of one of these cliques.  While struggling, I met another girl who was also new to the school, who was also struggling to fit in.  We got along really well and ended up becoming close friends.  But she wasn’t part of the “clique” that I really wanted to be a part of.  Looking back, I realize that sometimes I was so focused on (and my self-esteem was so caught up in) gaining “status” and trying to become a part of a clique, that I neglected the close friendship I had right in front of me.  The silly thing was that I really wasn’t very compatible with the girls in the clique I was trying to join, and when they did include me in social gatherings, I really didn’t feel comfortable and really couldn’t be myself.  But I[…]

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Gaining Confidence

When I was a teenager, I was so insecure about my body. I just felt like I looked awkward and weird. I had curves in places that I didn’t want. Why couldn’t my body just be like everyone else’s? I would wear oversized clothing to try to hide my shape and even wore jackets on high temperature days. I remember saying I wasn’t hot, but would be dying under that jacket. I never wanted to participate in gym because I felt like all of the boys would be looking at me. I even questioned when boys liked me in school. Do they really like me for me? I tried to convince my mom that I had to have surgery to get the shape I wanted. I spent many nights in high school crying to my sister about how I was feeling. She would always tell me that it was not a big deal. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I made a bigger deal about it than everyone else did. I feel silly for wasting so much time and negative energy on this situation. Of course there were some boys that commented on my body,[…]

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Being Genuine

When I was in high school, I felt like I belonged everywhere, but that I didn’t belong anywhere at the same time. I was on the dance team and was therefore considered “popular”, but I was also on the honor roll and in AP classes and was therefore considered a “nerd”. My cool friends did drugs and drank alcohol and they didn’t see the point in education. My intellectual friends were so focused on grades that they never paused to have fun. Because of this, I never had any close friends. I didn’t have a best friend who I could talk to anything about, because no one understood or accepted both sides of me. It wasn’t until college that I gained confidence in being myself, all parts of myself, that I actually built strong relationships with people. By not trying to fit into a specific group, and being my genuine self, I generated strong connections with other people that I still have today.

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Learning to Let People See the Real Me

My entire childhood was spent thinking about the next time I’d have to leave a place and go on to the next one. Every couple of years I had to figure out a new school. I remember lying on an air mattress on the floor surrounded by boxes one night before my freshman year. I was so frustrated by having to leave. I hated leaving. I hated school. I didn’t want to go. They made me. The new school felt like another planet. I was the only person who didn’t know the slang words – everyone even listened to different music. It was like I spoke a different language, and I was so afraid that everyone could tell how uncomfortable I felt. I acted like I didn’t care in order to seem “cool”, but it was actually really hard for me. I was counting down to when I could be done with school for good. I figured I’d never have really close friends, and I’d just decided to deal with that because trying too hard would just seem weird. I used sports to deal with my frustration. One day, a couple of months into the school year, I got a[…]

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Race and Connection

One of the things that made me feel alone as a teenager was my race. I was a minority in my middle and high school. The stereotype for kids in my racial group was that they were popular, good at sports, partied all the time, and did not care about school. I did not fit this description at all and naturally became friends with other kids. However, I was always insecure about why I did not fit in with my racial group. It confused my parents, who wondered why I did not want to become friends with my “own people”. Even though my group of friends accepted me as one of them, joking about how I had been assigned the wrong race, the outside world still saw me as different from them. Once, when we posted a picture of our friend group on Facebook, a classmate made a comment about how I was the one that did not belong. Another time we were meeting at a friend’s house for a party and the security guard let all of my friends in without questioning. However, when I arrived, he kept me in the front office until my friend came downstairs and[…]

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Feeling Different

I’ve felt different for most of my life, and not in a flattering way. For me, “different” was synonymous with “bad,” “isolated,” “strange,” and “disliked.” It was painfully difficult to grow up not watching the same TV shows, not wearing the same trendy clothes, and not listening to the same music as other kids. I didn’t have any videogame systems, I had books. I remember my parents telling me at some low point, “Well, maybe if other people see that you like that, you’ll set a new trend!” To my complete lack of surprise, that never did happen. I had different hobbies than the majority, and most importantly and strikingly, different priorities. I found it near impossible to make friends when the only topics of conversation I could speak fluently and enthusiastically about included quality literature and schoolwork, and I was more excited about having a philosophical conversation on a Friday night than about going out. I was quiet, productive, and deeply lonely. I expected that to be the eternal state of things. Moving through college, a gradual, imperceptible change started to happen. As I narrowed my field of acquaintances to primarily the people who were studying things similar to[…]

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Born a Mistake

I remember growing up feeling like I was a mistake. I was born a half sibling to two sisters on one side of my family and a half sibling to five other siblings on the other side of my family. I never felt like I belonged anywhere because everyone had the same mom and dad and I always felt out of place. It really caused me to doubt myself a lot and try really hard to fit in. I did not understand my purpose in life and really struggled in middle school and high school with valuing my own identity and sets of experiences and not thinking of myself as a mistake. It was not until I high school when I really began to embrace my uniqueness and started to appreciate my own talents. Often times, we look on the outside for approval, but I have found that my true struggle was loving myself. Once I began to do that, I became more confident in my own abilities and doing things I never thought I would. I was no longer afraid of being myself and that was the best thing I could have ever done. By embracing my distinctiveness, I[…]

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Talking White

In middle school, I was CONSTANTLY told by peers outside of school and my cousins that I talked “white”. In elementary school and in my middle school classes, I was with other black students who spoke the same way that I did, and therefore, I didn’t stand out. But my parents also put me into camps and other activities with kids who spoke with a different vernacular. I dreaded being called on to speak in front of others because I knew that I’d be mocked or made fun of, or worse, being told that I didn’t represent my race. It made me uncomfortable to try to change my voice so it became easier for me to say as little as possible. It became much easier for me to enter into social situations speaking confidently in my own voice because I eventually understood that speaking differently isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’m not the only one who speaks this way, and there is no wrong way of “being black”.

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John Donne

“No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s or thy own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls [when someone has died]; It tolls for thee.” – John Donne

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