Why I Decided Not to Reinvent Myself for College

If Accepted Students Day taught me one thing last April, it was that I needed to become a different person—and fast. I felt there was a “coolness” that radiated off Barnard women, and, to someone who inherently lacked that natural sense of suave, it was very intimidating.

As a lot of young people do, I spent all of middle school and high school trying to “find myself” and, to a large degree, failed. I was able to determine what I was not—I give my sincerest apologies to anyone who played softball with me or sat at my chemistry table—but I could not determine what I was. I knew the traits that I did not like about myself, and the traits that made me proud, but neither encompassed enough to assure my sense of self. Frustration plagued me as I thought about what all teen movies had promised me: that everything would finally make sense.

What I neglected to acknowledge then was that teen movies lie about everything. No one I knew had their life together, and a good portion of them were going off to college with the notion that they would become a new person there, baptizing themselves by letting go of the old and accepting the new. They expected that by buying a whole new set of clothes, going by a new nickname or speaking in a fake, ambiguous European accent, they would be able to become the individuals they previously fantasized about being.

I am not going to lie and say I did not have the same thoughts. As the girl who spent all of high school trailing behind her two very outgoing best friends, I too felt that I needed a complete upgrade to become the best version of myself in college. There is a reason “bold, beautiful Barnard babes” is a tagline, and the assuredness of much of the student body is a key reason.

As women, we are held to a standard by society which remains unattainable by most. As women in an elite institution, those standards are multiplied tenfold. Society sits and waits for us to falter, and I wrongly believed that if did not manage to conform to those predetermined notions, I would reach a pitfall.

It was easy to think that becoming the “perfect Barnard woman” required a magazine-quality makeover as well as the acquisition of a sparkling personality; becoming someone I was sure that I was not. Choosing not to become a new version of myself was a harder decision than deciding on where I was going to college, but I believe that I choose correctly in both instances.

I have spent enough time trying to “discover my true self” that looking to become someone else seemed like cheating myself. College is a time to develop your true essence, not to manufacture one. Just as we are told that we must change, women are taught to hate all that makes them different or stereotypically imperfect. Manifesting a false version of myself to please the likes of others only perpetuated the cycle of centuries of oppression towards women. The beautiful nature of a women’s college means women of all races, ethnicities, creeds, gender expressions or gender identities could flourish. What truly made the women in the Barnard community seem so “cool” was the fact that they did not bother to conform or veil their traits. Individuality is treated as a precious gift rather than an infectious disease.

Even though I am still extremely early on in my college career, I feel myself reaping the benefits of being myself. Do I know who I am yet? Not in the slightest, but college is a time for discovery. I now know that I am closer to figuring that out than I was yesterday, and perhaps one day I will finally reach that epiphany. The patriarchy has instilled so much self-hatred that being able to reach a platform where I can learn to love myself for being myself has given me a new calm.

This is not a teen movie where a makeover will give the wallflower the confidence to succeed—this is the teen reality where I no longer need that.