Madeleine Power has worked with children and young people as a social worker and more recently a primary school teacher for over 10 years.
I remember my Year 7 orientation day like it was yesterday. Well, maybe not the whole day, but a lunchtime snippet anyway….
I was talking to a friend outside the canteen and an older boy said something inappropriate and sexualised to a group of people about the way I was sitting – which he intended for me to hear and respond to. I guess now I wonder why I didn’t ignore him or tell him he was being inappropriate. But I, like so many young women, lacked the self-confidence and self-worth to stand up for myself. I wanted to fit in, I didn’t want to stand out or become a target for further bullying. So I, like so many young women, found a cover, a way of hiding who I really was.
For me, it was sarcasm. I can actually remember, in that split second, making a very conscious decision to start using sarcasm to respond to these kinds of comments:
'Yep, that’s exactly what I’m doing,’ I replied.
And that was just the beginning. I think I liked using sarcasm so much because I could avoid telling the truth without actually lying, something I was never much good at.
I am now 32, and as a youth worker and teacher, I know many kids, teenagers (and adults) who use sarcasm too. We think by using sarcasm, we can avoid others seeing who we truly are – some sort of weird idea of protecting ourselves. But we also use it to prevent reactions from others, to keep them (and ourselves) comfortable by not challenging their comments or behaviours.
And it’s not just sarcasm. I know lots of others who use different coping mechanisms. In fact, many of us have several ways of hiding our awesomeness from the world. Some hide by being a ‘good’ student, a ‘bad’ student, or by playing the class clown. Some take on other roles: the cool kid, the fashionista, the tom-boy, the ‘emo’. Some become really good at sports, or art, or spelling, or lawn bowls. Others give up, check out and say ‘it’s too hard.’ Many of us pretend we can’t be bothered or that something doesn’t affect us when really it’s eating us on the inside. Others withdraw, maybe with the aid of a distraction: food, T.V., video games, socialising, alcohol, drugs.
While some forms of hiding may be more harmful than others, they are all ultimately doing the same thing: avoiding expressing the absolute amazingness of who each and every one of us truly is. Instead, we choose to cover up our power and awesomeness and behave in a way that we perceive as socially acceptable. Because, when it comes down to it, we all want to be liked, right? To fit in. Many of us have never been loved and appreciated for who we truly are, so we settle for the next best thing: being accepted, not being bullied as badly as the next kid, hopefully having a bit of fun.
The thing is though, the hiding, the ‘fitting in’ – it doesn’t help.
In fact, in the long run, it makes it so much harder. Because not being ourselves just doesn’t feel right. And, ironically, we actually feel much happier and safer when we are being ourselves than we ever could in the perceived safety of our hiding places.
Imagine if I had have said to that boy, ‘I understand that you find my awesomeness threatening because you are not living your own, but do you actually think it’s appropriate to speak like that?’ Imagine what could have happened!
Yes it sounds scary and yes he and some of his friends might have reacted. But I would have felt great because I’d have stayed true to myself and he and all the other kids listening would have been faced with a young woman in all her awesomeness. Imagine the inspiration the other kids would have received. I had the opportunity to change lives that day. In fact, we all have that opportunity every day, just by being ourselves.
'Be yourself; everyone else is already taken' – Oscar Wilde
YOU are so unbelievably gorgeous, just for being you. We all are. No matter what has happened to us in the past. And when we truly appreciate this about ourselves, and start coming out of hiding, we inspire others to connect with their gorgeous selves too. Imagine the effect you can have on your friends, your school, the world, just by being you in all of your awesomeness! Go on, give it a go - you’ll love it!
By Madeleine Power.