I spent a year changing myself to be popular — and it totally backfired

My mother always used to tell me that I was born to lead and not to follow. She would recite this sentiment daily, weekly, monthly. Any time I would tell her about what other girls wore, what other girls said, how other girls talked, she would spin around, narrow her eyes, and say: “Aubrey, you are not other girls! You were born to lead and not to follow. Be a leader, be different.”

Of course, the proper response to this was to roll my eyes and sigh theatrically. It didn’t matter what my mother said, because being cool was what mattered. Being liked, being invited places, being allowed to participate in jokes and sleepovers, those were the things that truly mattered, and being different wasn’t on my agenda if it meant being different from what was considered cool.

I never thought of myself as a leader, instead I thought I was the girl in the background. The girl who read too much, wore too many hand-me-downs, and talked to herself. I was the teacher’s pet and the misfit, the weirdo and the klutz. And it made me hate myself. I truly, undeniably hated myself. I wanted to be anyone but me, I wanted to be the girl who everyone talked too, I wanted to be “cool”. But I wasn’t, or at least I thought I wasn’t.

Having this feeling deep down that you’re not good enough, or that there is something physically wrong with how you look, or something annoying about your personality, is disheartening to say the least. It’s destructive and ruinous. It builds a system of constant, cycling self-loathing and confusion. Why am I not good enough? Why don’t others like me? What is wrong with me? This constant barrage of tormenting self-assessment questions is what keeps you up at night, thinking of ways to change yourself so that you can fit in.

In order to be “better,” I decided to alter nearly everything about myself. I gossiped, I lied, I was rude to my parents, I complained about the clothes I wore, I was spiteful and self-loathing, and because I hated myself, I decided I should hate others that were just like me. I left behind my closest friends because they weren’t cool enough. I mocked girls who I thought wore the wrong clothes, or girls that had braces because I didn’t.

My parents were constantly frustrated with me. They would ask me what was wrong and why I had suddenly started acting out, but I ignored their questions and continued my spiteful and disrespectful behavior. I figured that once I was popular my parents would realize that all of this torment that I had put them through was worth it. If only I could garner a higher popularity status in my school then my parents would be proud of me, because isn’t that what every parent wants for their child? At least I thought so, and my behavior worsened because of it.

I remember constantly trying to gossip with my mom, telling her all about what the non-cool kids were doing, and how they wore the wrong pants, or didn’t straighten their hair. She was having none of it though, she would look at me in shock to the drivel spewing from my mouth and ask me why I thought I was any better than any of those classmates who didn’t wear the same clothes as me. It was a question I chose not to answer, because I knew the answer. I knew that I wasn’t. I wasn’t any better than them, but I couldn’t say that, because wouldn’t that go against my whole premise of wanting to be popular? Doesn’t being popular mean you’re inherently better than those who aren’t?

It wasn’t just my parents who noticed this change in my demeanor; my friends did, too. In my quest to gain popularity status, I had left behind my best friend, completing ignoring her and abandoning her in some of the toughest schooling years of our lives. One day we were talking non-stop, and the next day I wasn’t returning her calls and texts, and I only ever hung out with her when my parent’s asked me why they hadn’t seen her around lately. I felt guilty about it, but being popular seemed more important, more pressing of an issue. I was selfish and callous, someone entirely unlike the person I had always been. Even so, my best friend did what best friends are suppose to do, and never stopped trying to reach out to me, even if I gave her nothing back in return.

In a short time, I had completely reversed my role in my school’s society, and I had become the person who I thought I was suppose to be in order for the popular people to like me. But I wasn’t cool. I simply followed the popular kids around, drooling at the prospect of being their friend. I can only recall two times that I was actually invited to go anywhere with them or hang out. I only saw them during school hours, where I was desperately trying to garner their attention and become a new member of their posse.

I tried to blend in, but it didn’t work. My quirks still showed through, I still talked to myself and was a teacher’s pet, and I still wore mostly hand-me-downs. I wasn’t one of them, and I never would be.

It’s not that these popular kids were terrible people, or that they deserve to be hated and ridiculed. It’s just that I wasn’t them. I didn’t have the same personality or the same desires. I didn’t act the way they did naturally, rather I mimicked them, and I tried to be them. It was unhealthy and draining. I knew I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, I was just the person I thought I needed to be.

It wasn’t until a year later that I looked into my internal mirror and realized that my outward appearances and behaviors in no way reflected my true thoughts and feelings and desires; all those annoying aspects of myself that I had locked away in my heart for committing the crime of being “uncool.”

I remember the day I realized my mistakes. I had woken up at six a.m. on a Wednesday to do my hair and apply my makeup, and I was exhausted. I had stayed up late the night before meticulously plucking and tweezing my eyebrows to an embarrassingly small size, resulting in roughly four hours of sleep. As I was about to get out of bed I realized that I really, really did not want to. I wanted to sleep for another half hour, but that would mean forfeiting my get-ready time. It would mean not wearing make-up to school, not straightening my hair, not obsessively applying my new blue eyeliner. Could I really do that? Could I actually go to school without making myself photo-shoot ready?

It was at that moment that I realized I truly didn’t like who I had become. I was putting my physical appearance ahead of my need for sleep. I had become someone who valued being liked by others rather than being liked by myself. Because truthfully, I hated plucking my eyebrows, I hated wearing make-up, I hated all the expensive Hollister clothes, and I hated feeling like I constantly needed to impress my friends. I hated it all. I missed carrying stacks of books down the hallways, and I missed talking to friends without obsessing over every word I wanted to say. It was exhausting trying to be someone I wasn’t, and truthfully it was exhausting trying to be liked.

Why had I needed the validation of all those people who were nothing like me? I had other friends who liked me as I had always been, but I had cast them aside thinking that they would hold me back from my true destiny of being “cool.” It was sickening, absolutely horrifying looking at everything I had changed about myself, and everything I had done and said about other people.

I ended up reconciling with my parents slowly, abandoning my constant bickering and defiance. I didn’t come right out and apologize, telling them that I had given up my run for fame in my school, because I had never actually told them that was my goal. I just quit being a daughter they were disappointed in and started being the daughter they could be proud of, because I finally realized that your parents don’t care about your popularity, they just care if you’re a kind person.

As for my best friend, we’re still best friends. The absolute best of friends. I cannot believe how incredibly lucky I was in finding someone like her, someone who openly forgave me, who welcomed me back without casting shame or making me work for her friendship again. She is the true definition of a friend, and I hope that one day I can show her the same amount of kindness and understanding that she showed me.

Coming to the realization that I didn’t need to alter myself to be liked was life changing, because it helped me start along the path of not caring what other people think, of being the person that I truly am.

Now I wear make-up if I want to wear make-up, not to match some perceived notion of beauty. I wear clothes that are comfortable and cute, clothes that I can afford and want to pay money for, not clothes that I think will get me friends. I read books and write, I talk to myself and adore hand-me-downs, and most importantly I’m the person I want to be and not the person others want me to be.

Wearing make-up and Hollister clothes doesn’t make you a bad person, or a popular person, or any type of person but yourself. If it makes you happy, if you like how you look and how you feel then more power to you. If you don’t then that’s fine too, but don’t change yourself to fit the perfect ideal, because in all reality, you are the ideal. Being yourself and doing what you love is what makes you cool. It just took me a long time to realize that.

I had always thought that being different was a curse or a fault. That fitting in was the best way to go, the way that would make you happiest, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Being myself and not caring what others thought was the most liberating gift of all. Being cool wasn’t being like everyone else, because no single person gets to define what “cool” is, and who wants to be someone else’s definition of cool anyway? You are cool by just being you. Whether you love fashion, cooking, reading, texting, blogging, traveling, or talking to yourself, it doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you love yourself and that you love your quirks. You choose who you want to be. I know that I want to be interesting, intriguing, thought provoking, smart, a writer, a blogger, well read. I want to be a leader. I want to be me.

(Image via.)