| Jane Wang | firstname.lastname@example.org | February 20, 2020 |
Many of us have felt insecure before—looked in the mirror and scowled to see acne-scarred skin or “too-skinny” arms. We’ve scrolled through videos of child-prodigies in our YouTube feeds, lamenting how we’ve done nothing with our lives. Even at school, many of us eye our peers in their glorious perfection, wishing that we were half as beautiful, smart, or talented as someone else.
In an age of so many unrealistic projections of perfection, it’s hard to feel good enough. But there are also people who have come out on top in this struggle. So who are these people? What can they teach us about self-doubt, and how we can overcome it?
When it comes to the origins of insecurity, senior Marek Garbaczonek takes a harsh standpoint. Insecurity, he says, comes down to voluntarily drowning oneself in self-loathing instead of taking active steps to resolve personal issues. “People don’t want to address [their insecurities], talk to people about them…get support. So like, I am doing something to counteract any insecurities that I have, but a lot of people just leave them be and they just build up,” says Garbaczonek.
Former d.tech English teacher, Lessley Anderson, offers a different perspective. A significant part of insecurity, she says, is “about environment.” In her early years at Vassar College, Anderson found it hard to connect with her peers—her interests seemed unique, her music taste was different, and the vibe of her school just wasn’t right. Eventually, after months trying and trying to blend into the crowd, she realized that it was just her. “It’s not like…you’re insecure because you think you don’t fit in. You literally just don’t.” Anderson laughs. “And unless you’re just super, super narcissistic… of course it’s going to cross your mind, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’”
When you’re growing up, “you can’t decide where you live and who you interact with, what social norms and expectations you are exposed to,” she says. “And that significantly impacts how negatively or positively you perceive yourself.”
According to seniors Lily Chambers and Kate Hayashigatani, there also seems to be a correlation between insecurity and gender standards. Whether or not everyone admits it, everyone has issues with self-image at least once in their life, theorizes junior Kate Hayashigatani. But this seems to be especially true for girls.
“All girls want to be pretty and be liked by people…I think society as a whole really values appearance, and sometimes they value it over qualities less superficial,” she says. “My female friends have definitely fallen into the hole [of negative self-perception] and we all talk about it and support each other sometimes.”
Chambers agrees with Hayashigatani about the added pressures that girls tend to have.
“I think guys definitely do have some of those insecurities, and I don’t think they’re all confident, macho…but I think they just have different struggles,” says Chambers.
Many of Chambers’s own battles with self-image have stemmed from female stereotypes regarding personal interests. “I know I don’t really look like a bookworm—I like makeup and I like clothes—so people like to assume that I don’t know what I’m talking about or that I have a lower IQ,” says Chambers. “That is probably part of the reason why I felt like I wasn’t good enough.”
On top of that, female social expectations have made Chambers feel like she didn’t deserve to be heard. It always seemed like what she had to say was never acceptable, and when she did choose to voice her opinion, she needed to humbly second-guess herself.
“At the end of a sentence, I feel like I have to say ‘but I don’t know,’ or ‘if that even makes sense…’” explains Chambers. “But I want to be confident in my opinions.”
So if these are the causes of insecurity, what is the secret to self-confidence?
The first step, according to both Chambers and Hayashigatani, is realizing that you’ll never be anyone but yourself.
“I think that’s a lesson that everyone needs to learn—not caring about what other people think about you because what matters is how you perceive yourself,” Chambers says. “You can’t become a different person as hard as you try. So as long as you accept that…remember that if you feel like you’re being yourself and you’re happy with that, you’re going to be okay. If everybody was the same, it would be a very boring world.”
Hayashigatani agrees. “Of course I still have those moments where I revert back to when I really didn’t have much self-confidence,” says Hayashigatani. “[But what helped me most was] time, and just realizing that I couldn’t change certain things. [Realizing] that I could work with what I had and be the best version of myself that I can.”
Adding on, Garbaczonek recommends adopting a growth mindset. “I’m definitely working on it,” Garbazonek says of his self-diagnosed laziness. And when it comes to his physique, he notes, “Even if people think my body looks good…I’m going to think [it doesn’t look perfect] because I want to get better and better.”
Anderson and sophomore Katherine Errington offer an additional perspective: finding a way to turn your gaze outward, focus on your interactions, and make every day count.
Although Errington, too, has struggled some with self-image, she sees every moment of her life as too precious to be wasted. “In the summer of 2018, I went to Costa Rica and I met a lot of interesting people,” she reflects. “And what came to my mind was, ‘I’m never going to go back there again, so I might as well make this one impression last. So I’m really taking that to heart and applying it to high-school. The seniors I meet—they’ll be leaving in a year. The juniors—two years.”
Anderson’s outlook echoes Errington’s; throughout her experiences, she’s learned that many of the things we stress over now really don’t matter in the long-run.
“Over time…observing yourself and how you experience different situations…it doesn’t matter if these guys aren’t interested in you—you will find somebody and they will love you right. Or it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a great friend group—you’re going to have a great life anyway,” she explains.
“The majority of things that really, truly matter in life happen on a one-to-one interaction level,” Anderson notes. “The way that you operate in that space has very little to do with your stats. It has to do with being sensitive to who you’re dealing with. And having a resonant, exciting, satisfying personal connection. And I found that that generally comes down to kindness.”
“And so all of these things like: ‘How smart are you? How beautiful are you?’— they really don’t matter at all. [What’s important is] being able to just build relationships with people…having listening skills and conversational skills…Just being a human.”
What we can perhaps take away from all of this is that insecurity has many origins. While much of our negative internal monologue may be self-imposed, self-image is greatly impacted by both gender standards and social environment.
However, we all have so much power to improve our self-perceptions. We can start with accepting ourselves for who we are, and working with what we have. We can adopt growth mindsets, focus on our interactions, and work on being the best of ourselves in the moment. However long it takes for you, just remember that you are not alone.