Dressing Up Our 'Real Selves': A Letter To My Kids About Fitting In

by Tracy Wright
Originally Published: 
being popular

Listen kids, Mom needs to talk to you about something really important. I am by no means an expert on this topic. But I have had more experience than you, so maybe I can teach you a little something. Remember the other night when we were talking at the dinner table about friends and fitting in and being popular? That was a hard conversation for me to have with you, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say at the time. But I have been pondering it for a few days now, and I have some things I want you to know.

I know that right now it feels really important to be popular. Some days, it might feel like the most important thing. I know that there are a lot of things that go on during the day at school that have nothing to do with math or science or social studies. I know that a lot of the time you are surrounded by people all day, everywhere you turn, but somehow you still end up feeling lonely and left out. I know that even though Dad and I tell you to just be yourself, it feels like in order to fit in you have to act like someone you’re not. You have to act like the kids that are cooler or more popular than you, or like someone that you saw on TV.

Imagine with me for a moment your most comfortable pants. You know how Mom loves to wear comfy clothes, and what a relief it is at the end of the day to change out of work clothes and into my comfy stuff. You love that too, don’t you? There is nothing better after a long day than to come home and put on your fuzzy fleece pants with a nice soft shirt, perfectly worn in, with no tags to rub on your skin. Are you picturing it? Sometimes we wear our most comfy clothes out in the world, but most of the time, we save those comfy, well-worn clothes for when we are sitting around at home. No one at home cares what you look like, and everyone else is wearing their comfy things too.

Okay, now let’s pretend that those comfy clothes that you love represent your most genuine, most honest, most true self — your “real” self. I hope that you feel like you can be your real self at home. Home should be a place where we get to be exactly who we are, knowing that we will be loved no matter what. Home is where everyone knows the real you and loves you anyway.

When we go out into the world, we try to dress our outside selves up a bit. We have been taught that even though we are most comfortable in sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt, we need to put on jewelry and makeup and cool shoes before we go out. So we put on tight jeans and maybe a shirt with lots of buttons that requires ironing, and we look in the mirror and think we look pretty good. And that is okay. There is nothing wrong with dressing yourself up to look nice. We all have to do it sometimes.

We dress up our “real selves” too before we go out into the world. Some of these things are necessary, like making small talk so you can get to know someone, or being polite and using your best manners. But sometimes we do things like laugh at jokes that we don’t think are funny or take part in things that we don’t really enjoy because we feel pressured. We do things to get attention or be noticed.

Sometimes we even do things we know are wrong, just because we want people to like us or pay attention to us. I did these things for a really long time when I was your age. Sometimes I still catch myself doing something that is just not true to my real self. But here’s the problem: If you keep those things up long enough, you’re going to get really uncomfortable, really fast. Because when you dress up your real self to make other people like you, it is kind of like trying to squeeze yourself into a stiff pair of jeans that are one size too small. You can make it work for a little while, and you might even look good to the people around you.

But sooner or later, you’re going to start to notice that you can’t move quite as freely as you would like, and maybe your circulation is getting cut off. It’s hard to sit down, and the jeans are rubbing on your skin and starting to leave indentations around your waist. You start to have trouble enjoying what is going on around you because you’re just not comfortable. You may even start thinking with great longing about your comfy, fuzzy pants at home.

You need to listen to that discomfort. It is so important for you to honor and respect your real self. Your real self doesn’t like to be squeezed and buttoned and contained. She won’t tolerate being made into something other that what she is. It’s not because she doesn’t like change or new experiences — on the contrary, your real self is very interested in growth and transformation, just not at the expense of her integrity.

One of the bravest things we can do is to let other people see our real selves. It feels a little scary, taking your real self out in public — almost like going to the store in your pajamas. Are people going to stare at me? Will they laugh and make fun of me? Maybe I don’t want people to see what I look like unless I’m all dressed up. But here’s the thing: When you are brave enough to show other people your real self, the great reward is that it can make other people feel brave enough to show you their real selves! And let me tell you, as fun as it may sound to be wildly popular and the envy of all the cool kids at school, there is nothing — nothing — that compares to having friends who show you their real selves, and who fully love and accept you as your most real, genuine self. And once you have had a friend like that, well, you’ll never be able to settle for the alternative again. You will choose the comfy fuzzy pants over the uncomfortable skinny jeans at every opportunity.

What some of those cool kids don’t know is that all those people who are following them around don’t necessarily know them. They only know the version of them that they dress up and present to the world, not their real self. And you can’t be truly loved unless you are truly known.

When I was your age, I really thought I wanted to be popular too. Now I know better. Now I know that I want to be known, and I want to be loved. I want to be real, and I want people who are brave enough to be real with me. And I want to wear my sweatpants all the time (both literally and metaphorically).

So, let’s be brave together. Let’s try to show up as our real selves as often as possible, and let’s keep on the lookout for others who also want to be truly loved and truly known, just as they are, in their comfy pants.

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