‘You’re too fat.’
‘You’re too skinny.’
‘Your hair hasn’t got enough Sun-in in.’
‘You haven’t got the right ra-ra skirt.’
‘We all look like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, but you….well, you just don’t.’
‘You’re just too different to be in our cool gang.’
We’ve all been there in our youth. God forbid if we were unique. Stood out from the crowd. Actually expressed ourselves in our own way.
These days, of course, in our more comfortable middle age, it’s easy to look back and wish we’d put two fingers up to those cloned Madonnas in their identical, lacy, fingerless gloves.
And just been ourselves.
Because being yourself is pretty damn awesome.
We know that now, but it’s hard, especially when you’re a child and afraid of standing out from the crowd.
And imagine if you’re a young person who thinks you’re the only one feeling the way you do.
Everyone else seems so happy. So sorted. The last thing you want is for anyone to realise that your head is full of anxiety, fear, stress, exhaustion, panic. Your thoughts are bleak. Nothing seems fun anymore. It’s a lonely place to be.
You’ll do anything to fit in because maybe then you’ll feel better.
But you won’t. You’ll only be pretending to be something that you’re not, which, as we all know, does nothing for anyone’s self esteem.
And 8-10 children who get one to one support from the school based charity Place2Be, are affected by low self esteem.
We’ve all longed to be someone else. I’ve had a few girl crushes. First it was Demi Moore (the St Elmo’s Fire period – getting off with Rob Lowe may have had something to do with it, alongside her cool crimped hair).
Next it was Cindy Crawford.
Clearly this was stratospherically out of reach. No matter how many times I did her 1990’s workout ‘video’, I was never going to be this Amazonian goddess. No beauty spot, no long, thick, lustrous hair, no Richard Gere, and 4 inches too short.
But if I’d suddenly morphed into Cindy C overnight, would everything in my life have been better? No, of course not, because I wouldn’t be me.
Young people today are under even more pressure to be something they’re not, through social media. Airbrushed perfection on Instagram or Snapchat.
But we can help our kids realise that none of this matters, because they have their own special qualities. Being themselves is the best way to be.
It’s no easy gig, even as an adult. It takes skill and practise and as much as I’m much happier in my own skin now, there are still days when Cindy seems an attractive prospect. There are always bumps in the road.
All we can do is guide our children over those bumps and encourage them to be who they are. To embrace their individuality, as well as the individuality of those around them. If we can appreciate the different qualities in others, it helps us connect with them – all good for our mental health.
As Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself; everyone else is taken.’
And let’s face it, the world would be a pretty dull place if we were all the same.
It’s all about ‘Being Ourselves.’
To find out more about this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week and how you can get involved and support Place2Be, go to www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.