This is going to be an emotional post to write, but it's been on my heart for weeks and I think it's important. Being a teenager is such an exciting time - your whole life is ahead of you, with practically endless possibilities. But for many, the teenage years also pose great challenges. The process of finding yourself and the path you want to take isn't an easy one, and you're surrounded by others on a similar journey, leading to a great deal of uncertainty and vulnerability.
I know I've been very fortunate. I grew up in a loving household with supportive parents and experienced no safety concerns and relatively little bullying compared to what many teens face. But I did go through some years of very low self-esteem, and I'd like to share about it - not to make you all feel sorry for me, because I've made my peace with these events, but to give you my perspective 10+ years after the fact. If you're a teenager having a tough time, I hope this can show you you're not alone, and that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it's not yet apparent.
I went to a small, private grade school where my classmates were generally pleasant and respectful towards one another. So up through sixth grade I felt confident in my abilities and my looks, and couldn't wait to expand my horizons at the public middle school.
But in seventh grade, things changed for the worse. I was going through an extremely awkward stage. No, really. I had unflattering glasses, a large gap between my front teeth (that later led to years of braces), and bushy, curly hair that I didn't know how to deal with. In addition, I had quite a full figure for a 12/13-year-old with no clue how to dress appropriately. On top of that, with a larger school came a wider range of classmates, who weren't all quite as civil as I was accustomed to.
The first comment on my appearance came indirectly through a friend. In discussing why I hadn't received an invitation to a party she was planning to attend, she reluctantly told me, "So-and-so doesn't want to be friends with you because of your teeth." It hit me like a physical blow. I was ugly. So ugly, in fact, that someone - probably lots of people - didn't want to be friends with me. I regarded myself differently from that moment on, letting that one comment shatter my formerly positive self-image.
The other incident that stands out most strongly in my mind happened later that year. I left school late because of a French horn lesson, and I was wearing a new dress because we'd had a band performance earlier that day. As I walked out to where my mom waited in our van, I passed a group of 8th-grade girls, one of whom called out a comment about my large chest. I remember fighting tears as I kept walking, not wanting them to see me cry and too ashamed to explain what happened to my mom. And from then on I was self-conscious about my figure - first wearing clothes that were too baggy, later too tight - trying to sort out how to handle this physical feature I was so uncomfortable with.
Eventually, my awkward phase passed (as they all do, I promise!). I got contacts, my braces came off, and I learned how to straighten my hair. But even once the compliments started coming in, I didn't believe them. I was too scared to think someone might find me pretty, because what if I was wrong again? I didn't think my confidence could take another crippling blow, so instead I kept it as low as possible.
But years later, I finally managed to build myself back up. I matured, as did my peers. I went off to college and beyond, where my world-view expanded, and I realized that many of the things and people I had found so important in high school hardly mattered anymore. Most significantly, the way I defined my self-worth altered dramatically. I began to realize how much I'm capable of, and that how I carry myself and treat people affects how they view me at least as much as whether or not my features are attractive.
As I said, I'm now 10+ years past being a teenager. Looking back, it makes me so sad and frustrated that I let a few comments from petty classmates have such a lasting influence on me. Do I still care about how I look? Of course. But time and experience have helped me put it in perspective. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, writer, lawyer, reader, friend, singer, and so many other things, all of which make me a worthwhile person, regardless of my external appearance.
So, if you are experiencing any kind of self-esteem crisis, please know that you are important and beautiful to me and the vast majority of the people around you, even if someone feels the need to cut you down to feel better about themselves. Most importantly, you are exactly who God made you to be. To paraphrase from one of my favorite children's books, You Are Special by Max Lucado, God made you, and He doesn't make mistakes. And hang in there. Awkward phases don't last forever, nor does middle school, high school, or whatever tough phase you're going through. I pray that one day you'll be able to look back on these struggles from the perspective of a much happier time of life.
What stands out most to you about your teenage years - the good or the bad? Are there any experiences or pieces of advice you'd like to share?
Thanks for reading,