Middle school is perhaps one of the hardest time periods in life. You're going through puberty, unfamiliar hormones are surging through your body, and you feel weird all the time. You're certainly convinced you look weird, too. Popularity and blending in were two seemingly opposite but equal dreams—if you couldn't have the former it was mandatory to achieve the latter. I remember taking a chair from a different table and squeezing it in between two others just to sit near the cool girls. They wouldn't move their chairs to help mine fit.
Nothing felt comfortable.
Recently, an uncannily astute seventh grader performed a poem about those feelings that struck me to my very core. I had a visceral reaction to every sentence, each word transporting me back to the times I straightened away my curls and put my newly-formed body on a diet. I couldn't believe the fearlessness it took to recite those familiar but perpetually hidden thoughts in front of her classmates. "Pick out an outfit that will fit in with the latest trends and won’t make you the laughing stock of the school more than you already are," she begins.
"Don't forget to style your hair in elegant curls. You can't let everyone at school see how your hair frizzes up like an electrocuted monkey naturally. ... As you gaze into the bathroom, mirror you see a stranger that somehow stole your reflection and replaced it with a completely different girl." I'm gutted by her prose in that devastating I know exactly how you're feeling kind of way. She keeps repeating, "Why am I not good enough?"
Studies show standing out in comparison to peers, or deviating from the norm, often exposes adolescents to the risk of peer harassment. Results also conclude early developing girls are more at risk for peer victimization via malicious rumors and gossip. Both of those findings are associated with subsequent depressive symptoms and low self-worth in middle school age girls. In essence, science proves girls have it pretty rough during those years. Though, this girl's six-minute-long presentation had me wondering: Have our thoughts and insecurities changed since middle school?
I decided to log every confident and anxious thought I had for a full day to find out and list them just like she did. Keep reading for the unfiltered life and thoughts of a 28-year-old woman.
1. I wake up and post a selfie I took the night before. I usually can't help but make a bizarre-looking face in my front-facing camera, so when I score a good one, I post it.
2. Do my under-eye circles look too pronounced in this photo? Should I edit my face with an app? Eh, It's fine, I'm too scared someone will notice if I edit it. I'll just keep them.
3. Why hasn't my selfie gotten more likes? It's been 20 minutes. I guess it's early and most people are still asleep.
4. I get out of bed and look in the mirror. My blowout still looks good but I wish my hair was longer. Why won't it grow?
5. I'm not as bloated as I thought I'd be after eating all that Chinese food last night. That's a win. I feel good about my body right now.
6. Okay, now the Instagram likes are rolling in. I guess people don't notice the under-eye circles.
7. Speaking of which, they're really bad today—I didn't get enough sleep. I wonder if they're getting worse because I'm getting older or if I'm just noticing them now because I'm especially tired. Is that a wrinkle or a pillow mark? Should I actually get Botox?
8. I go to the bathroom to wash my face. I shouldn't use my vitamin C serum today, I'm getting an exfoliating facial later.
9. I go back into my bedroom to get dressed for the day. This shirt isn't flattering. Or is it? I'm going to wear it anyway.
10. The next time I catch my reflection in the mirror as I'm getting ready: Maybe I should change, I have two work events later and this outfit will probably be documented on someone's Instagram stories. Oh well, I'm not changing.
11. I go to my facial appointment. Afterward, my skin looks amazing—glowy, even, and properly exfoliated. It looks so good, I'm so glad I came this morning. I still have blackheads though. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't have blackheads? I'm not going to wear makeup today.
12. I get to work and start flipping through videos and pictures that were taken of me the night before. The jeans I wore are kind of unflattering. Oh well, there are a few good angles. I like this picture of my butt.
13. As I sit at my computer eating a gifted chia pudding: I should eat a healthy breakfast more often.
14. Oh shoot, I forgot about our edit meeting this afternoon. I wish I was more Type A. I wonder, do my co-workers sometimes wish I was more Type A? I hope my ideas will inspire a thoughtful conversation at the meeting. Are my ideas good enough?
15. Oh good, there's cake in the office. Should I abandon my healthy eating plan for the day and eat some? I eat some. Now I feel nauseated. I wish I didn't eat that.
16. Wow, my co-worker wrote such a great piece today—she's a brilliant writer. I hope my writing is good enough.
17. Someone at the office complimented my shirt. Maybe it does look good after all. Or maybe she likes the style but it still doesn't look particularly good on me.
18. Should I put on makeup before this event? I really don't feel like it. Okay, I'll compromise. Just apply a bit of tinted moisturizer at my desk. Did that even do anything? I'll put on mascara, too. My skin really does look great after that facial.
19. I want to skip these events and go home to eat my leftover Chinese food… but I won't.
20. I leave the office, go to my work events, and head home. Before falling asleep on the couch I think: Remember to wash your face before you fall asleep so your skin looks good in the morning. Please do it. I did it.
Recording all my ruminating thoughts, fears, and musings were both surprising and not entirely remarkable. I think of myself as a confident woman—yet so many of my random thoughts were soaked in doubt. Though, those insecurities are passing, in one ear and out the other. I won't hold my brain responsible for things I can't help but think. I'm not hard on myself for having doubts, which, ultimately, is what I believe to be the difference between me now and me as an adolescent. In performing this experiment, I was searching for an understanding of how our insecurities change as we age.
What I found, however, was it's not as much that our insecurities change (some do, of course) but rather the way in which we internalize them, deal with them, and let them go.
Fran Walfish, Ph.D., a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, agrees that women go through a "huge growth spurt in their confidence, self-expression, and self-advocating," as they age. "It brings on more clarity about self-identification," Walfish says. My arbitrary thoughts about my body, looking pretty, and seeming smart are similar if not exactly the same as the ones I had in seventh grade. However, it's the tools with which I've armed myself that have grown. I brush insecure thoughts off because I know who I am.
I can say oh well when I don't feel I look my best. I leave the house every day without makeup because I prefer it that way. I love my natural hair texture. I do look good in those jeans. I am smart even if I'm not Type A. I am good enough.