Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
This is not a call to action. There will be no bayonets, no spears, no sit-ins, and no snipers. You don’t have to march anywhere. You don’t have to fight off dogs like civil rights leaders in the 1960’s. You don’t have to disappear into the night like brave women escaping slavery with babies on their backs. This is not about mimicking the boldness of our ancestors. This is a bold decision to be yourself. This is a conversation about loving yourself in a society begging you not to.
I recently listened to a talk by Amandla Stenberg on an episode of Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations” and she reminded me and thousands of other listeners that by choosing to love herself and be comfortable in her identity, she’s doing something revolutionary. Her tenacity to be herself triggered me. She is a Gen Z actress, beautiful and brilliant. But beyond all of her accomplishments lies the greatest characteristic a woman can have. She’s honest. Her talk inspired me to be more honest.
My journey to authenticity hasn’t been scenic or serene. It’s been a movie. Not a romantic comedy. It’s been a Lifetime movie. It’s soundtrack is spastic, with no warning before a shift in mood or message. I cry more than I laugh and yet I’ve learned to welcome tears as a prerequisite to growth. The relationships that helped me evolve were messy and inconsistent. Every heartbreak makes me kinder and more gentle. When I feel like giving up, I don’t. When I feel like I’m not enough, life offers beautiful nudges to realign me and help me straighten up. I walk with my head high because I know where my help comes from, not because I’m always certain. We all have insecurities.
I spend a lot of time drafting and editing my life. I change my mind a lot which is why the following steps are simply suggestions. I am not a GPS. I do not have all the answers. I do know, however; self- acceptance is not a place. There will be no welcome sign and more than likely, no one will cheer your name or congratulate you for knowing how it feels to like yourself. Do the work anyway.
1. Reject the notion that you are not enough. There are thousands of images a day, popping up on every screen in your home, telling you that your thighs are too big and your butt isn’t perky enough. Sanity is scarce and messages promoting self doubt are everywhere. With every marketing campaign telling you to be a little more this and less that, there is rarely time to question the norms. Important questions to ask yourself are:
What do I love most about myself?
What makes me unique and incomparable?
Are the standards of beauty I’m being exposed to realistic or healthy?
How can I preserve my sanity and reject the standards of beauty that don’t align with my core beliefs or who I aspire to be?
2. Stop comparing your lows to their highs. A co-worker who makes more money than you is vacationing in Cabo and you’re struggling to pay for gas to go to the job that doesn’t pay you enough. You feel like you aren’t successful enough because everyone you know is living their best life and you eat Ramen four times a week. Don’t allow the limitations of the present to overshadow the opportunity to create a better future. Everyone struggles. We all know most people don’t post everything they’re dealing with daily. Social media is quickly becoming a fictional, idealistic highlight reel.
3. Fast from social media.There is only one way to dismiss the noise and get back to being yourself. Turn it off. The apps are optional. The ads can’t pop up without your consent (see settings on your phone or laptop). Holding your phone like a newborn isn’t mandatory either. No matter what your job is or how important you are- there are opportunities to unplug. Especially because studies show that screen time is at an all-time high and confidence is plummeting.
4. Be a safe space. Teens and young adults are creating more spaces where being authentic is an option. Unlike previous generations who were physically and emotionally rejected from campuses, jobs, and their own families for being honest about their choices and preferences; safe spaces are giving so many people an opportunity to feel supported and heard. Being a safe space removes the need for a brick and mortar location by making sure that you are your biggest supporter. Refusing to self-reject or self-sabotage helps me feel safer with the person I spend the most time with. Take it one step further by inviting people around you to be themselves with you. Try to remove judgment and bias from friendships and intimate relationships.
5. Avoid people, places, and things that make you feel inadequate.
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