I recently heard on the radio some advice that a psychologist gave to teenagers, and it was profound. I am being sarcastic, because this learned advisor said: “Just be yourself.”
That’s what they told us back in the day, and I still don’t know what it means. There are plenty of people who I wish would NOT be themselves. If a person is naturally selfish, annoying, or gossipy, would you want them to continue being this way?
This “be yourself” advice is flawed from the get-go. Would you advise an axe murderer to “be yourself?” Do they tell people in jail to be themselves?
You go into the self-help section of a bookstore and every one of the titles is about trying to fix what’s wrong with you. There aren’t titles that say, “To Be a Success, Just Be Yourself.” If there were, I would have bought it just to figure out how people figure out what their self is. Curiously, all the books are written by psychologists, and all of them are trying to give you “10 Steps to a Better You.” If I’m supposed to be my self, then why would I want to change for the better? Isn’t being my self my ultimate goal?
My own personal self changes depending on circumstances. With my friends I’m loud, rowdy, and goofy. With a boss I’m quiet and attentive. With my children I’m trying to present a good example. I can’t image which one of these selves I’d pick to be all the time? And at heart, I’m a bitch. Is that the self they want me to be? It would sure make my life easier not to have to be making nice all the freaking time.
Even the simplest things like wardrobe choices vary depending on which self will be wearing it. If I’m going out partying with friends, I might wear something tight and low cut. If I’m going to dress my church self, I’m going to wear a modest skirt and sweater.
I don’t know anyone who has only one self all the time. My daughter is completely different around me than she is around her girlfriends. And they get really polite with me and don’t cuss, but I’ve overheard them when they didn’t know, and they are potty mouths. My son gets very polite and outgoing around everyone but me – to me he’s impatient and persnickety.
My guess is that they are advising kids not to be posers or fake. However, this is the very essence of being a teenager. We were always faking something. We faked being nice to someone in our group, or we faked being coy to the cute guy we had a crush on, or we faked being sick to get out of PE. We even faked boobs. Before boobs became so high tech, we used toilet paper. We had to wear bras to be socially accepted, and if the bra had nothing to go in it naturally, toilet paper worked just fine. I remember coming out of a bathroom after putting wads of toilet paper in my bra, and apparently I must not have gotten one lodged in there, because a little way down the hall a boob-shaped wad fell out of my dress. I’d felt it slip out and heard it hit the floor like a brick. I scurried forward and pretended I didn’t know anything about it, clutching my three ring binder to my chest until I could adjust my lopsidedness.
But my boobs, as interesting as they are, should not be a source of distraction from this important topic. I’ve come to the conclusion that psychologists keep telling teenagers to be themselves because it’s the only advice they’re willing to give out for free. They probably figure that those people who want to discover the meaning may even pay for some 60-minute couch sessions. It’s probably a marketing scheme. Next time someone says that around me, I’m going to fire back, “How ‘bout you be your own self?” or, if nothing else, I’ll say, “Which one?”