On Confidence

(Above picture: my friend Hannah and I (behold: me in all my unbrushed ’fro glory) at the cottage. Without her, I probably wouldn’t have survived those few days.)

Confidence is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. I’ve been the shy kid for most of my life. For the longest time, I’ve been afraid of people I don’t know—afraid of what they think of me, afraid that they’ll turn against me, afraid that they’ll hurt me, whatever. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. But here’s the thing I’ve learned this summer: my problem with self-confidence isn’t anyone else. It’s me.

A few weeks ago, old friends from BC came to visit Ontario. The last time I saw them and their kids, I was five and we all got along swimmingly. Now, I’m almost seventeen and their kids are eight, twelve, fifteen and seventeen respectively. And they’re all boys.

So I’m freaking out because a) boys and b) people who thought I was cool when I was five and who I want to think that I’m cool now. I’m socially awkward at the best of times, but factor in my ineptness in the field of teenage boys and things get even worse. And the day of the meeting in Niagara Falls (because who visits Ontario and doesn’t visit the Falls?) arrives and I’m trying to make sure my hair isn’t going to morph into an afro and the pimple on my jaw is covered and my clothes are make me look good but still modest and also casual and just generally freaking out.

And then we get there and okay, it’s a little awkward at first, because hello, it’s been eleven years and the last time I saw them, one of the kids was in diapers and another hadn’t even been born yet. And yeah, I didn’t talk as much as I should have. I’ll freely admit that. Keeping mum and not busting out of the shackles of my shyness is my biggest and only regret from that weekend. But I did talk a little, especially to the two younger boys and the parents. I even had a couple conversations with the older boys, which for me is pretty amazing because I don’t know how to talk to boys—like, at all.

But what I did accomplish was becoming more confident. That night, us kids went swimming at this waterpark, and as expected, my hair went all frizzy and my eye makeup had to be taken off and somehow, I found that I didn’t care and they didn’t seem to either either. The next morning, I took a shower, let my hair air-dry, put my contacts in for the sole purpose of being able to wear my sunglasses, and maybe put on a little eyeliner and some concealer under my eyes. And by the morning after that, I was completely makeup-free.

Look, my complexion isn’t the greatest. I have, like, zits and dry skin and dark circles and stuff. When I go out, I usually wear foundation and concealer to cover these imperfections up because they make me feel insecure. But on this trip, I didn’t cover up, and surprisingly, I didn’t feel any different. No one treated me as if I was less for having a couple zits, and I didn’t either.

Then last weekend, my family and I went up to my uncle’s cottage in Huntsville. They have this big annual party every year where like forty people go. It’s super fun and I had a great time, but frankly… it didn’t start off that well.

There was this girl that came with her friend. She’d been at the cottage last year with her family, and I didn’t exactly like her then and I knew I probably wouldn’t get along with her too well this year, either. I don’t tend to get along with girls like her—loud, glitzy, all look at me look at me I’m so perfect—anyway, but she grated on me worse than most.

She and her friend kept mostly to themselves the first day, and although my friend and I technically did the same, while we were friendly and polite, they acted like they thought they were better than us. The entire time we were there, the most communication I had with this girl was when she raised her eyebrows at me when she first arrived. Other than that and the occasional sour look, she didn’t speak to me—or my parents, or my friend, unless she talked to her first—at all. And then, on the second day she was there, three boys arrived, and it was like a switch had been flipped.

Suddenly, this girl and her friend were everywhere, in the main cottage, around the tents, at the dock, in the lake, always talking loudly. I’m not trying to slut-shame, but there’s something very wrong about two newly sixteen- and fifteen-year-olds smoking cigarettes and playing beer pong and drinking wine coolers and flirting with boys at least five years their senior. And I don’t know if that’s all they’ve known or if that’s just what they’ve found out works or what, but it’s definitely not a good—or appropriate, or legal, even—way to be acting.

So these girls stuck to the older boys like glue from the moment they got up to the moment they left for bed. Wherever the boys went, they followed, flirting and giggling and complaining loudly about how their lifejacket pushed their boobs together and how that tube ride hurt my thighs in here. It was ridiculous, because jeez, it’s a friggen’ cottage, not New York Fashion Week—I’m walking around bare-faced and hair un-brushed while they’re coming down in the mornings with full eye makeup. But I could deal with it. Or so I thought.

And then something one night my dog, Tessa, got into an altercation with another dog and ran off, yelping. My parents and I went after Tessa and found her with the boys (and subsequently the girls, too). The girls moved to let my dad through, and then—and I don’t truly know if this was done on purpose or not—moved right back into place before I could get through.

So these girls are standing between me and my dog, and I can hear my mom saying how Tessa’s shaking because she’s so scared and I have to push my way through these stupid girls because they won’t be nice and just let me through, and I’m so mad. All of the sudden, I’m just so mad because all I want to do is make sure that my dog is okay and they won’t move because they’re so damn petty and I just want to punch something. I actually had to leave and go upstairs for a bit, I was so mad.

When I finally calmed down and went back downstairs, the adults had a guitar out and were singing songs. After a couple minutes, my aunt and another woman pulled me and my friend up and started dancing with us, and it took a while, but I finally relaxed. I forgot all about those girls. I didn’t even care that they could be looking in from outside and laughing at how dorky I looked. I probably had more fun than I’d had in a while that night, dancing and singing and talking and laughing. My friend and I even sang a song by ourselves, something I thought I’d never do (re: shyness), and we sounded really good.

And the thing is that while those girls may seem like they’re winning, their lives are so completely fake and insincere. When you act like that, so surface-shallow and in need of attention wherever you go, nothing you do will be real. Those girls will never have true human interaction pretending to be who they are. Drinking and smoking and flirting with older boys just to get attention can never be as fun as singing parody covers of old songs such as “Let Him Pee” and dancing like no one is watching and just letting go, because the former is about trying to accomplish something and the latter is about not trying to accomplish anything. And if I have to sacrifice who I am and the possibility of having honest human interaction with people who do matter just to have the attention of those who don’t, I think I’m fine just the way I am, flaws and all.

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