They Don't Decide Who You Are — You Do

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I can remember a time before I struggled with self-esteem issues. I was quite young and had not yet started school. Everyone around me thought I was cute and precocious, and no one ever seemed to have a negative word to say about me. Well, except for my older sibling who was jealous of the fact that I had stolen his spotlight simply by being born. Life back then was easy; I frolicked through the world with nary a care, rarely second-guessing myself.

Then, I began to grow up. My family moved from Pasadena, California, to a suburb outside of Boston — a tight-knit community where most people had known each other their whole lives. And, being a mixed-raced half Indian, half white family meant that we stuck out like a sore thumb in the predominantly Irish-Catholic town. Our town wasn’t incredibly welcoming to outsiders. Even as a child, the difference was apparent. Children were less likely to want to play with kids they didn’t know, as opposed to the friendliness that I had become accustomed to in sunny California.

Once I started school, things got worse. I was a very early bloomer, so I grew out of my childish cuteness faster than I would have liked. I towered over all of the other children in my grade. Because I looked older than my age, people expected more out of me, and I found I wasn’t cut a lot of slack anymore. Even though I managed to find a pretty solid friend group, things were still not roses. My undiagnosed Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome led me to gain weight extremely easily and prevented me from losing it, a fact no one in my life would ever let me forget. 

Growing up, I was always the butt of every joke among my friends. No facet of my being was off limits, from my weight to my looks to my personality. I was constantly picked on by pretty much every person in my life, whether friends or family. Despite being a good student who was always at the top of my class, my accomplishments never seemed to be enough to overshadow my supposed shortcomings. I’d go to school and field teasing and criticisms all day only to come home to the same treatment. It was exhausting. 

Eventually, I began to hate myself. If everyone around me saw all of these flaws, I had to be pretty awful, right? When you grow up with the same people from grade school to high school, it can be hard to see yourself objectively. I wasn’t the kind of girl that anyone had crushes on. In fact, boys in my grade thought it was funny to ask me out on behalf of their friends as a cruel joke, thinking I wasn’t aware of their mockery. To this day, I will never understand the joy people feel from causing others misery.

People who are truly happy? They aren’t focused on bringing others down or hurting people’s feelings. They’re confident enough not to be threatened by anyone else.

My saving grace came when I was able to expand my circle of friends. When we reached middle school, the three elementary schools in my hometown combined. This meant new peers for me to interact with. This expansion, combined with new students moving to my town from other towns, states, and even countries, meant that I was able to find new friends who didn’t have preconceived notions about me. As a result, many of them were outsiders as well. They didn’t hate everything about me! By the time I reached high school, I had found some kind and supportive friends. 

I began to realize that maybe I actually wasn’t so bad. It started to sink in that I wasn’t worse than other people, I was just nicer. I wasn’t sitting around focusing on my peers’ flaws the way they were with me. If they tripped, I wasn’t shouting about what an idiot they were — I was asking them if they were okay. If they had a pimple, I was ready with concealer, not laughing in their face and telling them they were ugly. If they gained weight, I was simply ignoring it, as it was none of my business. Still, I wasn’t perfect. My kind nature had changed; I had become quite defensive from years of being bullied, and I was more hostile to my friends and peers at times than I wish I should have been. That kind of interaction had become the norm for me, and it would take years to unlearn that conditioning.

When I moved away to college, it was quite freeing to be able to shake all of the preconceived notions that I had worn since childhood. I was on my own for the first time in my life. Landing in New York City, I was no longer an outlier, a stranger among people who had grown up together without me. We were all transplants for the most part, which meant an even playing field of sorts. I spent a lot of my college career trying to relearn who I was deep down inside and figuring out what made me happy, my own likes and dislikes, and not those imposed upon me by others.

Now that I’m out in the real world, I have a good sense of myself. I have amazing friends who are supportive and caring. They actually like me and think I’m cool! They treat me with respect, and I do the same in kind. And, anyone who doesn’t treat me how I want to be treated? Buh-bye! I don’t have to pay them the time of day. Cutting out the negative influences in my life has made a difference, one I didn’t realize would be so huge. When you’re surrounded by people who truly want the best for you and who praise you for your attributes and accomplishments, you are inspired to be your best self. I’m much less focused on the areas where I feel I’m lacking. I genuinely like myself. And, in turn, I’m back to being my more genuine self, someone who is kind to those in my life rather than defensive by default. Sometimes, you need to shed the weight of other people’s impressions of you in order to become the best version of yourself.

If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self to ignore all the haters. People will tear you down because they’re trying to deflect the attention from their own faults, their own insecurities. People who are truly happy? They aren’t focused on bringing others down or hurting people’s feelings. They’re confident enough not to be threatened by anyone else. I wish I hadn’t spent so long believing all the negative things other people had forced upon me. The woman I am today is who I want to be. No one else gets to decide who I am. That’s all up to me, honey.

Tags: Empowerment, Personal Growth, relationships, Self Confidence, Self Care

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Written By

Allie Nelson

Allie is a TV producer and writer with credits on Netflix, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, TBS, E!, & HGTV. See Full Bio

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