Sorry this might get lengthy, but let me tell you a story, anon.
I used to be a lot like you, having an idea of what I wanted my aesthetic to look like but being caught up in what other people think or what I could do to please people. I still struggle with it a lot and don’t always have the best self esteem. But here’s the thing about self esteem- it’s hard to have any if you’re not being yourself.
This was me way back in seventh grade.
You’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal, so it’s an awkward selfie from back in the dark ages of your childhood. It’s not that bad. Well, although this picture isn’t necessarily bad at all, it’s hard to look at pictures from that time of my life because I dressed to please other people. I listened to my parents and stuff I saw on TV and things people told me about how girls were ‘supposed to be’ and what ‘ladylike and pretty’ meant and all the things I had to do in order to be that, and I hated that I could never live up to it. I dressed for others, not myself. I had a ton of internal anxiety over my body image and the way I looked and it was awful. I had some friends who supported me but also some friends who were toxic and judged me by my appearance. It was like this all through middle school, with me making small efforts to dress the way I wanted but then losing confidence and going back to hiding and my mental health and self esteem were unstable.
Eventually I realized, I have to stop trying to please all the critics of the world.
Now doing that isn’t easy. I have anxiety and a whole bunch of ingrained tendencies to want to please everyone around me, but at the same time I’m also conditioned to want to rebel and be myself, so it’s a constant struggle some days. But I knew I had to begin the process of learning not to give a fuck what other people say about me or the way I dress.
Once I mustered the confidence, I decided to go crazy with it. I experimented with tons of different looks, types of makeup, clothing styles. People had no idea what I was trying to do. I didn’t even know what I was trying to do. It was liberating, and even though I still struggled with confidence I had made a resolution to stop basing the way I looked on what other people wanted.
And yeah there were some things I tried that probably didn’t work for me and I probably made a fool out of myself sometimes but that’s okay. I tried chalking my hair purple and putting it in pigtails and this horrible awkwardness ensued and stained a bunch of my clothes purple. Throughout my first tries at individuality and gaining my own style there were issues with badly applied lipstick, horridly combined outfits, tacky accessories, getting cheap mascara caught in my eye and having to go to the nurse, and bad haircuts; all sorts of horrid embarrassing things. BUT THAT WAS OKAY. I WAS DEVELOPING MYSELF. IT WASN’T PERFECT. But it was better than hiding behind a fake me.
By eighth grade I was starting to be more self expressive and figure it out but I had some toxic relationships that started while some of my real friends and I had a falling out, and those toxic relationships killed a lot of the progress I made.
Now I’m in high school. It hasn’t been that long. But I’ve made a lot of progress. I still struggle with social anxiety and self esteem but I feel better and more confident about myself, my body, and my personal style than I ever have and I am learning to truly not care whether or not the way I look pleases people. It’s about me, not them. Fashion is a personal choice.
I’ve found ways to compromise with my parents on the things I wear, and sometimes I have to give in for the sake of peace, but most of the time I stand my ground. I’ve cut ties with any so-called friends who judged me on how I looked and become better friends with the ones who are positive about it and made new friends too. I’ve made progress recovering from my eating issues and negative body image. I have a long way to go but I’m getting there. My self esteem is better than it has been in a while thanks to surrounding myself with positive people and making decisions for myself.
THIS IS ME NOW:
Notice that all of these pictures are different. I don’t conform to one aesthetic or stereotype. I literally wear the makeup and clothes that make me happy in that particular moment. I project my inner self.
The most important thing I’ve learned: You don’t have to subscribe to anyone’s bullshit “norm”. You can wear frilly skirts and pastel colors one day and all black the next or mix the two. You can wear jeans and a t-shirt one day and dress up fancy the next for no good reason except for that it feels right. You can wear short shorts or cover everything up. Whatever you want. You can wear any color, style, aesthetic, or combination of aesthetics you want for just one reason: You want to. You can wear whatever makeup you like, or none at all. You can shave your legs or not shave your legs. You can eat what you want and be proud of your weight. You can gain or lose weight for your own healthy reasons or you can chose to be just the way you are for your own healthy reasons. You can do anything you want and you should NOT have to justify it. Get rid of anyone who tries to make you justify it. Wearing something or looking a certain way doesn’t put you in a labeled box. Fashion is about projecting confidence and what makes you you. Rock it, whatever it is!
Don’t feel bad if it’s a long process. There are still days when I hate the way I look and I struggle with it a lot. But making the effort to just make decisions for myself and not to please others has been a huge step in the right direction. I hope in 5 years I’ll be even MORE confident and at home in my own skin.