You might know me as that girl that has changed a lot since elementary school, or the girl that complimented your outfit in the bathroom or the girl that you never agreed with in your history class. You might know me because the shoes I wear every day make loud noises in the hallways, or because you’ve been in classes with me since middle school or just because you’re friends with Julian. No matter how you know me, I can guarantee you that I’ve given extensive thought to what you must think about me – whether that’s over the span of a few days, a few hours or just a few minutes, as you walk by me in the hallway.
The main thought that goes through my head is how someone views me regarding my race. Throughout high school, I’ve often felt either too Chinese or not Chinese enough; for a while I even avoided going to Panda Express for lunch after someone in my history class asked me, “Did your mom make that?” Every time I ask someone to “send” me home, or refuse to bring leftovers for lunch the next day because I’m worried about what people might say, I am made very aware of my race. None of this is to say I’m not proud of being Chinese – as much as I love being Chinese, it will always bother me when people make judgments purely based on my race.
As for not feeling not Chinese enough, I clearly remember every time someone has assumed that I’m not able to speak or understand Chinese (which I can, so if you’re going to gossip about me please pick another language). When I’m done worrying about that, I’ll move on to trying to guess what you think about my outfit, or what you think about something I said in class a few weeks ago, or what you think about an article of mine I know you read. I spend so much time worrying about what other people think of me that I rarely consider what I think about myself, which is what I’ve been trying to do more of lately.
Toward the beginning of high school, I’d constantly think of ways to improve myself in the eyes of others, brainstorming ways to get people to like me without actually considering why I needed people to like me. Until recently, I had never been asked point-blank, “Why do you need people to like you?” The short answer is that I’m insecure, but I think it also has something to do with the fact that I measure my self worth by the validation I am given from others. If you know me now, you know that I’m constantly wondering if someone is mad at me, or asking what someone thought of me. I’m working on not worrying about what other people think, and now, when I separate myself from what I think everybody else is thinking, at least I’ve realized that I’m actually starting to like the person I’m becoming. For a long time, I thought that nothing really set me apart from other people, and I still feel that way sometimes. But I’ve come to realize that I’m probably one of the only girls that comes to school in three-inch heels and a bodycon dress. I spent a lot of time wondering why there wasn’t one defining quality that set me apart. But little by little, I forgot about that and started delving deeper into finding new music, developing my sense of style (and an addiction to online shopping) and working on my art – three hobbies I love that I’m by no means amazing at, but I still continue to pursue. Having increased confidence doesn’t mean I think I’m perfect or that there’s no room for improvement, it just means that I’m slowly becoming more proud of the qualities that define me. There are still fewer than 10 people that have seen me without makeup in the past three years, and I still lowkey hate everything I write, but I’ve learned that while I’m worrying about what everyone thinks of me, they’re probably worrying about what I think of them.
While I can say with 100 percent certainty that high school was not, and will never be, the “best four years of my life,” I can still recognize the fact that many of my high school experiences have shaped who I am. If you’re a freshman and reading this, come to terms with two things: you probably won’t still be friends with the same people you’re friends with now, and school is about to get a lot harder. If I could go back in time and tell my freshman self anything, it would be not to care so much about other people, to focus on myself and find something I love to do and not to buy those all- white Adidas Superstars. When sophomore year rolled around, I did start doing the things that I love, like joining Falconer, pole vault and GSA; becoming more involved in debate and starting a music club with my friends. I’m not going to lie that both sophomore and junior year were awful, as was the beginning half of senior year. I spent the majority of those years tired, stressed or both. However, I did join the improv team my senior year, something that was, and still is, extremely out of my comfort zone. One main thing that improv has shown me is that when I get in my head and start worrying about what people think about me, I don’t perform or do as well, which I think is applicable to everything else I do.
I don’t really know if there’s a point to me writing this or if my reflection on my high school career has helped you in any way. I’m not sure if I missed out on anything or portrayed myself accurately or if you’ll think of me differently now that you read this or if you’ll want to talk to me or stop talking to me or if you’re mad at me. But at this point, I really don’t care.