Red suitcases and white laundry baskets filled to the brim with tote bags crowded the trunk of my family’s SUV, holding all my unnecessary accessories that I haven’t looked at all summer, the same accessories I brought last year to the dorms and the same ones I backed out of wearing with all my outfits. The clothes I loved but only wore once cushioned the decorations (that I never put up) from hitting the back windows. Silence filled the car while I held my dog in my lap, only to be interrupted by the sound of the navigation system routing the car to my new apartment.
I was never a confident person. My everyday goal when I left the house was to avoid bringing attention to myself. I didn’t go places without at least one other friend, because I thought people might laugh at the fact that I was walking alone. I dressed and acted the same as my peers because I thought people would judge me for wearing something too bold — or for being too weird. Not weird in a funny or quirky way, but in the brown-girl-who-doesn’t-know-how-to-take-care-of-her-curly-hair-leading-to-a-frizzy-mess, who-still-had-braces-as-a-senior-in-high-school, which-did-little-since-she-still-has-crooked-teeth, who-never-opened-her-mouth-in-class-and-only-had-one-close-friend way. Weird as in what my classmates have called me countless times.
This lack of confidence led to nothing but bad social skills, which reduced my self-esteem more — a cycle that I feared was endless, washing away the ounces of morale I had left.
But this past summer, the summer of picnics, painting, window shopping, thrifting, “Twilight” movie marathons and mandatory photoshoots (since we couldn’t let the aesthetic of our picnic setup go to waste) broke the cycle. Or at least cracked it, causing it to gradually slow down until it, hopefully, stops. Every time I had plans with my friend, we encouraged each other to dress cute and pose the same three poses for pictures that would emerge on our Instagram months and months later. I’d wear the outfits I was too scared of wearing before because they were too “bold,” only to realize those outfits gave me a jolt of confidence, an ego boost that I so needed. Something about wearing a lime green tank top and bright orange shorts that puff up in all the wrong areas because they’re the wrong size helped me to feel good about myself, as if the unmatched colors activated a part of my brain which allowed me to enjoy it. The outfits I was so scared of wearing because they were too “bold” became my closet basics.
While the summer began the process of breaking the cycle, a week in Ann Arbor almost destroyed it. It was my second year of college, classes hadn’t started and I’d already fallen behind. Trudging behind the other sophomores who know their favorite study spots and the freshmen who know their favorite restaurants and were already out exploring the campus minutes after move-in, I spent my few months on campus last year inside my stuffy dorm watching every other person in my hall come and pass my wide-open door. I denied their invitations to hang out due to the fear of being too awkward. Those two months where I never left my dorm room made me miss out on so many opportunities to meet people and just have a good time, the college experience I could only wish for.
After driving for over an hour, my family’s SUV pulled up in front of the tall apartment building that towered over us. After I hugged my family goodbye, I turned away from our car and toward my new life. I was determined to not look back, but tears welled up in my eyes as my dog whined at the sight of me leaving. I gave in and looked back to see the life I was leaving behind one last time: my family and my childhood … and my old, insecure, timid self. And with that reminder, I entered the large black door to the building with confidence and excitement.
This was my chance to redefine myself, to act as if I didn’t mess up my first-year experience. I threw on an outfit that I now see as a standard for me, one that I thought was too “bold” a year back, plugged in my old wired earbuds and walked to my friend’s dorm on the other side of campus while staring at Google Maps on my phone. Looking around, I realized my “bold” fit is actually the norm, as I noticed other girls confidently wearing their statement pants and bright tops, reminding me of what I once missed out on. That reminder of missing out is what pushes me to try and be confident and live my life as if insecurity isn’t woven into my skin.
Now day after day I go out alone, with my standard outfits and wired headphones, listening to my newest monthly playlist, completely zoning out every voice and face around me, and just walk around campus carefree. Today, I am happy with the progress I’ve made. And tomorrow, I might even try getting food by myself.
MiC Columnist Roshni Mohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.