For every beautiful, graceful young woman with silken hair and a million friends, there’s an awkward girl in a hoodie who feels like a fish out of water. And for every athletic stud who struts around campus to the delight of all his admirers, there’s a boy who thinks he’s too ugly and scrawny to ever have the confidence he’s supposed to have. “These are the best years of your life,” they all say. “College is the best four (or five, or six) years you’ll ever have.” Television and movies depict university life as one giant beer-soaked party where everyone is good-looking, everyone gets laid, and self-confidence is just something that everybody has.
Of course, that’s simply not the case.
Just because you’ve graduated high school and moved on to higher education doesn’t mean that all your doubts, issues with body image, and lack of confidence magically go away. Yet when you’re surrounded by gaggles of beautiful young girls and herds of men who walk around like they rule the world, you start to think that there’s something wrong with you because you don’t feel the same way they do. What you have to remember, though, is that everyone feels self-doubt. Some people just have more experience conquering it. Some rely on the support of others to keep negative thoughts at bay. Some even take medication to help quash those thoughts. (Talk to your doctor. It can help a lot.) It’s a very rare person that doesn’t feel like an ugly loser sometimes. That’s true for everyone you see on campus, even the ones who look like supermodels.
You’ll hear the term “late bloomer” come up a lot when we talk about youngsters who have yet to hit their stride or grow into the confidence that others seem to adopt naturally. I’m not sure how much I like that term, since it implies that the people who haven’t yet “bloomed” are just little, helpless seeds who have to sit there and wait for the sun, hoping to be watered so that they can grow. If you consider yourself one of these late bloomers, you may feel like it’s all out of your hands. There’s nothing you can do to make yourself prettier, funnier, smarter, more desirable, taller, stronger, or whatever. But the truth is, the ability to change how others perceive you and, most importantly, the ability to change how you perceive yourself is totally within your own control.
Anyone who’s ever suffered from depression knows how frustrating it is when someone thinks they can solve all your problems by simply saying, “Cheer up!” The same can be said for those who feel like they’re ugly ducklings on a college campus of gorgeous swans. Saying, “Have some confidence,” or “Believe in yourself,” just doesn’t help. It has the right sentiment, but it probably won’t do anything except make that ugly duckling (Can we think of a better phrase for this? I feel bad for calling people ugly over and over again…) feel like there’s something wrong with them because they can’t simply summon the courage.
Hang on though, because here’s a healthy dose of hope. The title of this piece is “Why You Shouldn’t Worry If You Still Feel Like An Ugly Duckling” and so far, there hasn’t been much to keep you from worrying.
We’ve established that everyone feels like that fabled ugly duckling from time to time, it’s just that some are able to overcome it through self-confidence, support from the people around them, or even medication. We’ve also discussed how the power to boost your own self-worth is within your own grasp, although sometimes knowing that isn’t enough to make it happen.
Here’s one helpful piece of advice I can offer to all of you who feel ugly, stupid, worthless, and unloved while surrounded by thousands of other students who look like angels and have the world at their fingertips: it’s okay to feel that way.
That’s it: it’s okay.
I’m not a plastic surgeon, so I can’t give you the body and the face you think will bestow you with the confidence you want. I’m also not a therapist, so I can’t listen to you explain your feelings and then tell you the best way to cope with them. However, I am a college graduate who spent four years feeling a lot of the same emotions you’re probably experiencing right now, so I think that gives me at least a little bit of a right to tell you that however you feel, it’s okay. If nothing else, take solace in the fact that, even though you may not believe me when I say that you’re an amazing person with thoughts that are worth sharing, it’s okay to feel that way. You’re a friend worth having, and you’re a person worth knowing, even if you think that’s totally not true.
Whatever you’re feeling right now, it’s okay, I promise. And it will continue to be okay for as long as you need it to be. How do I know? Because I’ve been there.
In your moments of self-doubt, try to remember this. Finding out who we are, learning to like who we are, and coming to terms with who we are in the context of everyone else around us…that’s all part of the human experience. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s easy, but everyone goes through it. Whether you feel like you’re miles behind everyone else on this path or that you can’t even find the path, all I can tell you is that it’s okay.
Seriously. It’s okay.