Open letter to a teenage misfit
Dear Bullied Teen Girl,
Don’t change who you are in response to the words of the assholes who make fun of you. Bullies are drawn to the traits that make you stand out. It may seem a good solution to change yourself or your traits so you stand out less, like the girl in this story, who had plastic surgery to make her nose smaller so kids would stop teasing her about it. In the short term, sure, it might stop the harassment, but for what? This girl will now live out the rest of her life with one fewer defining trait; one fewer way to stand out.
It turns out that standing out can be vitally important for success in adult life; both in your career and your personal life. Dating site OkCupid recently posted another one of their OkTrends articles, this time looking at what kinds of women get the most attention from men on the site. As it happens, women who have distinctive traits, and whose attractiveness men disagree upon most widely, get contacted at much higher rates than women who are rated as universally good-looking.
My experience on the site has fit this pattern as well. I was bullied a lot when I was in school, and called various permutations of ugly and fat. I have a very prominent, beak-like nose, and sharp features, and my social awkwardness made me an easy target for teasing. Since joining OkCupid, I’ve had consistent compliments on one feature: my nose. The one feature I’d always thought of as ugly, and probably the only thing I would have ever considered changing about myself, has now become something that makes me desirable. As a teen, I never would’ve imagined that this would be the case.
Of course, there’s more to life than dating success. But I acknowledge that how you are viewed and treated by the members of the sex you find attractive is a hugely important part of most people’s high school experience, and I think this is a great example of how success in high school does not necessarily translate into success in adulthood, and how, in fact, sometimes the things that make one unsuccessful in high school can be the very things that bring success in adulthood.
I’ve come to value my outcast experience very highly, in retrospect. I know it’s hard to see right now, but these experiences can help to shape you into a unique, independent individual who finds value in herself because she cannot count on others to find it for her. Try to look beyond the immediacy of the seeming importance of things like popularity and social acceptance. Cultivate in yourself a fearlessness; a lack of regard for the ways in which the cowards around you will attempt to pull you down with them. Find inspiration in the stories of successful women throughout history who have leveraged their own arguably undesirable traits into enduring legacies. Pursue your interests, fiercely.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: the kids that teased me in school? They’re mostly living boring, conventional lives, and few of them have left the small town we all grew up in. They peaked in high school. Your best days are still ahead of you. Don’t sabotage your future self so you can blend in and avoid a few years of teasing. Yes, it sucks right now. But I cannot express to you how satisfying it will be in 10 or 20 years when you see them at reunions or on some future version of Facebook, and realize that you wouldn’t for a billion dollars trade your life for theirs.
Don’t settle for ordinary. Find the courage to become extraordinary.