When I was 12 my favourite item of clothing was a pink sleeveless tank top with giant foil lettering on the front that read, ‘I LOVE ME‘. I don’t know where I bought it from – probably the same place I bought my cargo trousers and studded chokers. Sorry, where I made my mum buy my cargo trousers and studded chokers. The point is I loved that thing a lot, a lot a lot, (impossible to say without doing a British Lindsey Lohan), and it only had a teeny bit to do with the fact that I looked undeniably cool, and a ton to do with the fact that I did, in fact, love myself.
That’s right. At the tender age of 12 my mum had already bestowed on me an inflated sense of self that would soon be responsible for a 3 page poem about my own hair – unapologetically titled, “The Girl with the Golden Hair.” FYI my hair is mousy brown at best, but I grew up with cheerleaders for parents, to whom brown meant gold, sweat meant sparkle and a D in Maths meant my creative mind would one day be responsible for the next Harry Potter franchise. Failing that, something that involved balloons and lots of colours.
I’m not gonna lie, my self-confidence peaked aged 8 – 12. I felt like a damn queen most of the time. But that didn’t matter because Hailee Steinfeld had only just turned 5 so she wasn’t gonna be around to sing about it for at least another 15 years. That was bad news for the girl in the I love me t-shirt, who was about to get her first glimpse of what ‘most girls‘ thought of her slogan t-shirt. (See what I did there?!)
It wasn’t just me who wanted a slice of the slogan action by the way. Slogans were cute. Slogans DEFINED you in the 90s. There were no hashtags we could tag on to the zippers of our East backpacks to let people know how we were feeling, so we had to rely on Tammy Girl and slogans like, “groovy chick” and “surfer babe”. We were branding ourselves way before Instagram because hey – it’s in our nature to want to be understood. And that’s okay.
Take the infamous too busy to fcuk tee. That said, “I’m totally having sex by the way because look how scandalous I’m being rn.” Translation: I have absolutely no idea where anything goes.
BABE or GIRL POWER said, “If Mizz isn’t your favourite magazine then you’re basically not my best friend anymore. Oh and The Spice Girls are life.”
SURF BABE was only to be worn if you were a sporty person. Someone like me, who once hid in a cupboard to avoid a basketball game, could not wear a SURF BABE tee.
But what did I care? I had my pink tank top. I was loving life, loving myself, loving my fam, loving Gareth Gates…
Until one day.
It’s been 84 years…and I can still smell the sarcasm dripping from that upstairs window. There I was one home clothes day, walking to the library in my baggy jeans and I love me tee, when a terrifying pack of Year Eights yelled, ‘I LOVE MEEEE‘ out of top-floor classroom window. The laughter that followed was worse than the time my best friend (aged 6) lifted up my skirt in the school playground on the one day I’d forgotten to wear knickers.
Wait, what? Were they laughing at me? Was my pink t-shirt not cool? Did I look ugly? Did I look fat? Did I look like an arrogant b*tch?! Was I too ugly to be wearing a slogan t-shirt? Who the f*ck did I think I was, Sabrina the Teenage Witch?
“I LOVE MEEEE” they cooed sarcastically from their classroom as I kept my head down and pretended not to hear them.
“CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING ABLE TO READ,” is what I definitely didn’t say but should’ve. In reality I did some ugly crying and never wore the t-shirt ever again.
That was that. I had been catapulted into the world of womanhood and expectation. Gone was the girl with the golden hair and in strolled a big fat potato sack full of self-doubt and a new phobia of top-floor windows.
After that I started to learn all about the things that were wrong with me.
(That last one is actually true though.)
The cheerleaders at home were working overtime to convince me that brown meant gold but there was no going back – brown was forever a dirty pile of sh*t and gold didn’t exist any more.
After the bubble of a private school ended, it only got worse. Now there was a whole world of bitchy Year Eights. Male and female. Telling me I wasn’t good enough. Telling me to strive for something I didn’t have. Telling me I wasn’t going to be truly happy until I had achieved A,B,C and perky boobs. Happiness is just over that invisible hill there…see it? Over there by the flying tortoise? See it now? How ’bout now?
It wasn’t until recently that I called bullsh*t on that theory. Isn’t it crazy that we have to remind ourselves to love the person we are? Maybe in a perfect world without Year Eights it would come naturally to us. But unfortunately our world doesn’t want us to realise our own greatness. Because if we all realised how great we are without any modification, then who the hell would buy this, ‘You only need this last thing to be beautiful now Brenda’ face cream or click through to this, ‘Half a second to perfect abs’ blog post?
Our world wants us to forget that we’re amazing, which really sucks because it means we’re missing out on loving ourselves and missing out on all the positivity that comes with that decision.
It took me way too long to put my I love me t-shirt back on, and even now there are people in my life who want me to take it off again. (Probably not for sexual reasons.) You may not notice them right away but those pesky Year Eights are everywhere – trying to squash you because you’re shining a little brighter than they are today.
But Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and I wanted to remind you that self-confidence is cool, even when it comes from a pink t-shirt. Wear the thing that makes you feel amazing. Do the thing that reminds you how talented you are. Eat the thing that makes you drool like a baby camel just by thinking about. Keep shining bright and keep falling totally in love with yourself, because those Year Eights don’t know sh*t.
(FYI the poem I wrote about my hair won a prize.)