I'm starting this post having just rewatched the first ever episode of a show I feel I've grown up with, Catfish.
For anyone unfamiliar with concept, Catfish features two amazing men, Nev and Max, who help people who have started relationships online with people they have never met. Spoiler alert, more often than not, the people they are speaking to aren't who they say they are. Be it fake photos stolen from someone else on the internet or pretending to be someone they know personally, it's clear that the Catfishers are unhappy with who they are.
Often they've been bullied or have had a hard time and use this persona like a shield. They don't feel good enough.
I think it takes a pretty cruel person to bring someone in to your insecurity, and use them to boost your self esteem through deception. However… imagine if they channeled their negative life experiences in to making themselves better people. Instead of using a mask of someone else.. imagine the self love they could generate!
Dialling it back, let me tell you my story.
I remember starting high school. It was a big public one a half an hour walk from my house, just outside the Yorkshire village I grew up in. Almost all the kids I went to primary school with went with me. Masses off us trudged through the rain and the snow, across the train tracks to the intimidatingly massive new chapter.
In time I grew to love that school and it's long corridors and kids twice the size of me, shoving everyone around for fun. You had to have a drawstring bag otherwise someone was bound to unzip it and knock your stuff on the floor. You had to keep your hand down in class so no one could take the piss out of your answers. You also knew very quickly who the top dogs were and to remember your place.
Bullying is such a normal part of growing up. I put it down to trying to fit in to this new environment, and me being a bit of a bossy boots by nature, but my two best friends from primary school decided they didn't like me anymore. After that, I had a really hard time making friends.
When I did start to bond with someone, often a false rumour stating I'd said something behind their back quickly ended it. I guess that was the thing with me. If I took issue with someone, I would just say it to their face. Maybe that was my problem. Being too upfront made me a target for the whisperers. I was so scared of what I did say getting twisted that I just stopped speaking. It took me years to get the confidence to voice my opinion back. I make up for it now 😊.
I wound up having to go to a 'friendship group'. It was designed for myself and fellow lonely kids who were struggling a bit. We'd do quizzes and talk about our interests and hobbies. Everyone was weird and it was nice to have people to eat lunch with. Yes, there were a few sandwiches ate in a toilet cubicle. What a cliché.
A few long months in, having truly learned the importance of empathy, I reconnected with a couple of the girls from my primary school. We ended up in our own tight knit group.
Rarely a week went by without some of the five of us falling out, of course, but blissful were the lunch breaks spent giggling our heads off in the hot lunch room and getting kicked out for being too loud. Through many hours spent in the library, I discovered Louise Rennison's book series about the most relatable tween on the planet, Georgia Nicolson. I was proud of my new little Ace Gang.
Times got real tough again when I found out I was moving to Australia. Slowly but surely I felt the girls retreating from me, my closest friend especially. She became quite cruel, and though an adult brain understands self preservation and the primal need to lash out in order to protect ourselves, a scared thirteen year old did not. Some of my memories of this time are so vivid. One, I was sobbing at my work station in Food, not wanting anyone to see me. I'd been handed the notes some of the girls had been passing about me. I think it said something about me being a try hard and a made up thing I hadn't said. I'm pretty sure that was the day we made rice pudding.
In the very end they had tried to fix some of the damage caused, and there was a leaving party at my best friends house with Sing Star, baked goods and lots of trampolining. It felt like the end of the world.
Then I left England and didn't really look back.
As with most new kids, I found myself right back where I started in Australia, too.
This new high school was tiny, and I started week three of term three of year nine to be precise. I was buddied with one of the 'cool' girls. I think my teacher thought she was doing me a favour, but she and her friends were very uninterested in me. We were very different people.
In this school watched Napoleon Dynamite, I heard rumours about a boy getting a hand job behind a textbook in class, and got teased for my big shoes. I had to wear UGG boots and a miniskirt to be cool, and I definitely had to shave my legs and pluck my mad Wog eyebrows. What a different world this was!
Yet again, I had a hard time making friends. I'm a girl with a lot of passions. At the age of fourteen, it was Harry Potter and Home and Away. I could barely make eye contact with a boy without turning crimson and I was best friends with my family (and still am).
It was a long and lonely summer, but year 10 began my ascent in to one happy young lady. I made friends with four incredible girls. I can't remember how we found each other exactly, but I distinctly remember one incident in particular.
I was eating cheese and pickle sandwiches for lunch. English people reading this know what I am referring to I'm sure. The two Australian girls that would let me sit near them had no idea what the weird brown stuff I had was. They were loudly ridiculing me, for not the first time unfortunately, when a tiny, wonderful, sparkly eyed girl from southern England barked at them 'its Branston pickle?' With a level of sass I've yet to hear since. They soon shut up, and I soon changed who I sat with at lunch.
Next joined Shaz, a witty and cool as a cucumber girl whose best friend had recently changed school. Then there I was Bek, the green eyed and incredibly intelligent girl that I absolutely idolised (and still do). Thus, Ace Gang 2.0 began. We had sleepovers, long chats, giggles and an obsession with YouTube videos. We talked and sang and danced and we're allowed, encouraged, to be 100% ourselves with each other. We were not without our disagreements of course, teenage girls are a nightmare, but we thrived together. They saw me through my first kiss (literally) and all those other fun things 15 year olds do.
I got in to anime and started writing fan fiction and making music videos. I made the pilgrimage to the city for the final Harry Potter book with Abby and Danica, the two pickle-girl life savers, at 530am one brisk morning. I drew a lot, very averagely. I had a puppy Rio and two six month long crushes that went absolutely nowhere. Two others joined our crew, and soon we were going on adventures to Freo for Timezone photos and sushi train.
My second six month long crush, and first taste of heartbreak, got wind of my affections when I got up the courage to ask for his number on the school bus one day. 'I don't know it,' was his earth-shattering response. Lorraine, one of our new editions, heard from a mutual friend that he intended to pretend to like me and then thoroughly humiliate me in front of everyone on the bus the next day, so she decided to berate him in the hallway for all to hear. My heart was crushed but my friend was golden.
Of course, things changed over time. Boys, Abby moving back to England and just growing up different pulled us apart. By year 12 I was back to my lonely self, this time with two equally lonely companions, Jessie and Arran. Those cynical bastards are still my best friends to this day. God love them.
It wasn't until many years later, having lost all of the things that made me me, that I realised just how important it is for us to be true to ourselves.
I can pinpoint the time when I started to lose my kook. I was deep in a relationship where I didn't feel like myself anymore. It can be hard for natural born people-pleasers like myself and every other Cancerian in the world to stay true to ourselves when we're in love. Sometimes we go too far the other way.
For a lot of people it's their experiences with bullying at school that dilutes their colours. They're sparkling too brightly, and it seems to be in a lot of humans' nature to dim that rival sparkle as much as possible. But the thing is, if we don't care what other people think of us, it completely removes their power.
I am incredibly proud of baby Leigh, because my God did she stay true. I wore all of the nerdy, weird shit I loved on my sleeve for all the world to see and I never felt any shame for it. I surrounded myself with people who were proud of me, and I was proud of them. We lifted each other up and protected one another from the evil outside which slowly stopped mattering. My self preservation developed in to completely cutting people out who I feared would hurt me. It's served me quite well so far. I just can't do fake politeness. My face is too emotive. I give myself away.
As an adult I've gone through the cycle again. When I don't feel like I can be myself I tend to retreat. I look inwardly for that place of peace and power. I remind myself why I like me, regardless of if others do or not. I'm still a pleaser, and I still need validation, but I'm getting better. Maybe I need to ask baby Leigh how she did it. Through all the shit, I was always me.
In telling this story I'm hoping that others who have been shaken by self-doubt due of external factors realise that they were never ever the problem. If you have a good heart, that's all that matters. Let your freak flag fly! The most attractive people in the world to me are the passionate ones. I don't care what you love, if it matters that much to you then you're a dream come true. Tell me yours and I'll tell you mine.
At the ripe old age of 26 I know who I am and what makes me happy.
I love the Beatles, I love looking like I just walked out of the 70s, I love loud live music and I love writing. I love connecting with people, and I love talking about aliens and politics and nature. I love the ocean, and I love red wine and cheese platters.
Most of all I love all of the incredible people all over the world that I have met. Be they weird, loud, artistic, spiritual, gentle, wild, funny or my polar opposite, they are completely and unapologetically themselves.
Being a people pleaser isn't as good a quality as it sounds. It's easy to lose yourself, or change to fit an ideal instead of fulfilling who you really are. Being judged is scary. It's a constant battle not to care too much.
Two years ago I would never have walked down the street in my Rockabilly gear. I also didn't eat much and was overall pretty fucking lost.
Now I find myself curvaceous, sassy and proud of my wild outfits and huge smile. I am proud of myself for all I've done, and I love the person I have become very much. I still love all my nerdy things, and I will gladly talk about them to anyone with remote interest (glazed over eyes works too). If it wasn't for all of the negative experiences I've had, not fitting in, feeling lonely, having my heart broken, I wouldn't be who I am now.
None of us would be real without the shit. Don't let it change you, though.
There may be people who love you unconditionally, but it's you who needs to love you most. You're the cheerleader. You're the one whose been there through it all and lived to tell the tale. You're a bloody legend!
Talk about yourself, be proud. It's ok to blow your own horn sometimes. If the people around you don't want to listen, they aren't your people babe. We should all be rooting for each other. What are friends for?
We are all so unique and have so many stories and experiences. We are all part of this great big mad world, but there's only one YOU.
So be you, be free, be everything you've ever wanted to be. Let the love pour out of you. You'll attract the right people, this I promise you.
In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
So tell me, beautiful people, who are you?
Love your second biggest fan,