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Commentary: Student recalls how she found the courage to be herself

Creative Commons/Flickr/jamiesrabbit

Battles with self-confidence often start early in life, most often in adolescence.  In this commentary, high school student Maya Litauer shares how a middle-school friendship first challenged her self-esteem, then helped her find it.

MAYA LITAUER: Two years ago, in eighth grade, I became best friends with a girl whom I would have done anything for. We prided ourselves in our ability to be completely honest with each other. We shared secrets we wouldn't dare tell anyone else. We were a constant jumble – of words, of bodies, of limbs, of clothes, and phone calls and pictures, wandering in the streets barefoot because we could. She made me feel special, like we could do anything together.

In reality, I was just her knock off. I tried to look like her, and tried to talk like her, and tried to be the way she was. But I believed I loved her. So I agreed with her even when she said things I knew were wrong, like how the girl whose dad died was a bitch for trying to be our friend, and how all the guys flirted with us because (we knew) everyone else was worthless I was the one she could talk trash to, because she knew I would agree that the girls who called us stupid and bitchy were wrong.

At the time, I didn't see the flaws in our friendship. I thought these things were normal, good, even. I thought they cemented our love towards each other, when, really, they prevented me from loving myself.

In truth, our relationship was founded on jabbing at each other to make ourselves feel better. In truth, I feared that disagreeing with this girl would make me uncool or unpopular or worse than her. In truth, I constantly questioned my appearance, emotions, popularity, decisions, and actions. Then, on a school trip, one of our close, mutual friends said to me, “You do agree with her a lot. Whenever she says she likes something, you automatically agree.” That's when I realized that maybe my opinions were not mine at all and my thoughts were not mine because she had them first. And maybe the reason she was the only one of us that people remembered was because we were all like her, all exclusive and judgmental and insecure and trying to be sexy just like she was.

After a lot of fighting and drama and feeling unsafe and violated, we stopped being friends. My self-confidence doesn't have to depend on that girl's opinions or criticisms. Just because she thought my stretch marks were ugly, and wanted me to hate the way they grow on my skin, didn’t mean I had to. It took me a while, but I learned that I can do better than hating the way I look and caring all the time what other people think of me.

I haven't been in contact with this girl for almost two years now, and I am much happier with myself. I don't have to constantly compare myself to her, or question myself around her, because I decided that I didn't have to. I don't have to depend on her to tell me how pretty I am or how much I'm “trying” to look good on any given day. Now, it's up to me to decide – and that's the way it should be.

True, it still stings when someone jabs at me, but one day, when I've padded myself with enough love, care, confidence and strength, I'll be able to brush it off, and go on with my day.

Maya Litauer is a student at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. Her story was produced by Maia Ipp.

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