“What will people say?”

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I still have a long way to reach that point in my life where I can discard what other people think, but I’m slowly changing my attitude.

Neha Ayyer

I looked in awe at my mother getting dressed for a party in traditional Indian clothes, jewelry and makeup. It was expected of me to dress similarly, but I couldn’t help feeling that it simply wasn’t me. My dad and brother were both wearing jeans and a shirt, a style with which I was much more comfortable. I asked my mother if I could wear fancy pants and a shirt instead of a dress. She looked at me and said the phrase that I will hear for the rest of my life: “What will people think?”

When I was younger, I didn’t pay attention to the rhetorical question and continued to follow my parents’ advice on my clothing choices and mannerisms toward different people. However, as I grew older and started to hear it more, I realized that the question perpetuates the idea that reputation matters most in a person’s life and people must think highly of you in order for you to succeed. I’ve been taught to put other people’s opinions over my own feelings.

Whenever my family attended an event, I was forced to hide my true emotions behind a facade of happiness. I was told that I needed to smile at all times to look approachable. I was told that people wouldn’t like me if I didn’t always show them the best version of myself. So, I promptly changed my habits.

I adjusted my personality to fit others by altering my interests to those of the person I was conversing with as a way to become relatable. With my friends, I talk loudly and make unfunny jokes, but with my relatives, I’m quiet and reserved. I’ve developed different identities within myself, and it’s hard to juggle these characters while also trying to find my true personality.

But years of hiding my true feelings from my friends and family in order to be a likable person have led to an inability to process my feelings in front of other people and talk freely. I was so absorbed in trying to please everyone and being likable that I lost who I truly am.

I still have a long way to reach that point in my life where I can discard what other people think, but I’m slowly changing my attitude. I’ve started to chip away at the wall I’ve built around myself and realized that I can talk about my feelings to some people without worrying about their judgment. Although rebuilding myself into a brand new person might not be achievable, I’m glad that I’m one step closer to being my true self rather than being someone who lives for the validation of other people.