Readers won’t stop sending the Bad Advisor their real-ass questions to answer, so the Bad Advisor is periodically going to try her hand at answering them.
The Bad Advisor was bullied in dance class as a kid, and it was horrible. For years, dance class was a wonderful haven of fun jumps and twirls, until one day … it just wasn’t. Suddenly the Bad Advisor didn’t have the right leotards, and her favorite dancing—tap dancing—became way less “cool” than jazz dancing. Suddenly the Bad Advisor stopped getting invited to dance class sleepovers. Three times a week, the Bad Advisor had to go hang out in a room full of mirrors with a bunch of assholes who hid her shoes, poked her glasses and made fun of the Beatles pins on her bag.
But then, during a month-long break between competition seasons, the Bad Advisor resolved to change all of this. The Bad Advisor convinced her parents to let her get contact lenses and wear makeup. She started listening to “cool” music like All 4 One and Real McCoy. She bought only name-brand leotards and got her mom to buy her a pair of Limited Too jeans. The Bad Advisor got a perm and shaved her legs!!!!!!!! The Bad Advisor could not wait to go back to dance class and show those assholes JUST HOW COOL AND CONFIDENT AND JUST LIKE THEM SHE REALLY WAS!1!!111!!!
Can you even imagine how excited and nervous Bad Advisor was for the first day back to dance class!?!? SHE WOULD SHOW THEM ALL!!! THE SLEEPOVER INVITATIONS WOULD LITERALLY POUR IN!!!!!
Can you even guess what happened next? The Bad Advisor bets you can. As soon as the Bad Advisor’s buttbag bully classmates saw her new Limited Too jeans, and heard her talking about that hot new Real McCoy song, and caught sight of her sparkly pink lip gloss, the Bad Advisor’s buttbag bully classmates decided that Limited Too was for babies, Real McCoy was like soooooo two months ago and lip gloss was not nearly as cool as lipstick. There were no sleepover invitations forthcoming. Bad Advisor’s buttbag bully classmates just found new shit to make fun of Bad Advisor for.
But then another thing happened: a new girl joined the dance class, and she liked the Beatles and reading paranormal YA and pretending to understand the political commentary in Rolling Stone. With her new friend, the Bad Advisor gave herself permission to like all the stuff that she really liked, and permission to surround herself with people who really liked her and really liked stuff she liked with her. Instead of worrying about being the wrong person for other people who would forever find new reasons to be dissatisfied with her, the Bad Advisor learned to try to be the right person for herself and the people she really respected.
The Bad Advisor eventually quit dance class just before her freshman year of high school—the bullying never totally stopped, but once the bullies perceived that the Bad Advisor was not as invested in making them happy as they were in making the Bad Advisor miserable, it did subside somewhat.
But Bad Advisor went into that year of high school knowing some things about herself, much of which came out of making that new friend with shared interests who she could learn and laugh with: what kind of music she liked, what kind of jokes she liked, what kind of Telnet chat rooms she liked (did Bad Advisor mention this was BACK IN THE DAY?), and what kinds of things she was interested in learning about and trying, and what kinds of people she might like to learn and try things with. That allowed Bad Advisor to find groups at school she really loved (theater, newspaper), and to recognize bad bunches of apples that were going to make her sad (why was media club so weirdly full of jerks? YMMV!). It also helped her to not be afraid of all new people. All new people are not bullies.
But look, school might always be a place where people are asshole bullies to you, Letter Writer. The Bad Advisor cannot promise you a magical way to be that will keep the bullies at bay. However, the Bad Advisor can tell you that when you get to talk about and experience the things you love with friends and family members who care about you, the specter of bullying looms less large. The Bad Advisor recommends feeling out some potential teachers/activity sponsors who you can trust to confide in for a few minutes at lunch or after school—because you need an adult ally if shit really gets unmanageable, specifically an adult ally who will believe you and not tell you to "just ignore it and they’ll go away" because that is not a sustainable option—and get yourself invested in some extracurriculars where you can feel out some potential allies.
Don’t worry about walking into school on the first day with your COOL CONFIDENT PRETEND MASK on. Pay attention to your teachers, get to classes on time, and listen to and watch the folks around you. You don’t need to make 10 friends the first day, or even the first semester, or ever. Think about things you like and are interested in: programming? engineering? film noir? playing music? sewing? the rise and fall of communism in Eastern Europe? Look and listen for people who share those interests, and ask them about them if you get a chance. Smile at people when you talk with them, and look them in the eye every once in a while. Ask them questions you are genuinely interested in knowing the answers to. Shower regularly and brush your teeth.
It’s not about making yourself “seem like someone with confidence,” it’s about trusting yourself and caring for yourself and giving yourself permission to do the things you want and love to do. That, LW, will read as “confidence” to anyone who meets you.
And go watch all of My So-Called Life and Freaks & Geeks.