Until recently, without it being particularly apparent or compromising, I didn’t have one. While those around me “dared” to speak, you know, shout about what they loved and generally have an opinion, I always felt like I wasn’t quite good enough for that. I’m not sure what part of me separated myself from other females my own age. They were the knowledgeable, better ones and myself inferior. It had been there since I could remember.
It’s easy to hide, you don’t have to voice your opinion until someone else has voiced theirs, and then you can just copy that one, surely it’s correct if they’re saying it. They have no greater expertise or value than you, but it’s not coming from your head, so it’s better, right? It’s a conundrum. If I don’t think that anyone cares enough to hear what I have to say, then why would they care if I got it wrong? And how do you even get an opinion wrong?
It started quite small, yet still worthy of note. I would never wear a slogan or band t-shirt, as this might give an indication towards my personality and the fact that I am indeed a human being who thinks things. If you think things then there will always be someone who thinks differently. That was too big of a risk for me to take.
Then social media came into it. Social media. The sometimes wonderful, empowering, crippling and debilitating creature that can mean so much or so little. How could I write a Facebook status which had any worth? I won’t touch Instagram, that’s for stylish people. Twitter is far too opinionated, fancy putting your heart on the line like that. No, I’ll just lurk. I’ll just be a social media lurker who silently looks for the opinions of others online in an attempt to remould myself accordingly.
Real life too. Lots of ‘hmm’ and ‘mmm’ and ‘oh yeah I never thought of that’ to cover up that yes, I did bloody think of it actually, I just didn’t want to say it.
I genuinely think nobody realised that I was too scared to be myself in case it wasn’t good enough. It didn’t make me quiet or meek, which might be what you’re imagining. It just made me loud on the menial things and quiet on the proper things. I could talk about Doritos at length, but don’t ask me what you think about those shoes that she’s wearing, because I might get it wrong (yes, that’s the ‘proper’ things). Is the book I’m reading any good? Hmm, mmm, well, why don’t you borrow it, read it, share your opinion of it with me and then I’ll agree with that? It’ll be much easier that way.
I’m not alone in this. So many young women feel, in some capacity, that they’re not good enough. That despite all of their knowledge and worth, what they say simply does not count. Or worse, it shouldn’t be heard.
I’m not sure if any one thing in particular is to blame – can we point a finger at something which feels so personal? Social media is today’s go-to blame and shame for anything related to self-esteem, and I think there is an argument for this, but it can’t be the only reason. The ease at which we can compare ourselves, not to celebrities or airbrushed models who we expect to be super-humans sent from another land, but to people we actually worked with or learned with in real life who just seem to be doing it all so much better certainly does have an impact. But these people exist in our daily interactions too. How does she get her hair so shiny? Look at her make-up, it’s still perfectly placed at 4pm. She’s a hero for walking in those heels all day (to be honest, she probably is). It’s human nature to compare, but not to let it consume and alter you. Often, when we feel inferior, we go quiet.
It stopped consuming me in such a negative way when I actually started listening to people. Instead of assuming they knew everything and letting the rest follow, I started listening to the musings of others and realised that, actually, they were pretty normal. They weren’t terrified of saying stuff, they just had some faith in their own mind. And did I think unfavourably towards them if I didn’t agree? Not at all. Would that feeling be mutual if the shoe was on the other foot? Probably.
I also started noticing that Instagram was full of people just like me who were giving accounts of their pleasant weekend activities through a filter and showing their followers what they were up to. I decided I could do that too. They’re at a park because it is 14 degrees for the first time in 15 months? Brilliant, I’m at a park too. Hang on, those shoes are from Primark…I have those shoes! Exciting. I want to Boomerang them. I’ll even take a selfie now, because nobody’s face is perfect so why would anyone expect mine to be? And it actually feels great, not for the likes or the comments, but because I feel a sense of empowerment whenever I click upload. This is a mirror selfie and you are not too good to see it.
Through all of this I learnt that generally, on an average day, bad things don’t happen from having an opinion and having a voice. It makes interesting conversation, it makes people open their ears and want to listen to you. Having a voice, whether it be online or in person, shows people who you are, and they deserve to know, because you’re worth knowing.