Editor’s note: This is an adapted article in collaboration with Ro. Do check out Roberta’s blog of reflection and learnings.
TLDR: Growing up, we all have our little bits of insecurities. How do we let them go as we become ‘full-time’ adults? Shifting out attention inwards, taking cold showers, and being curious are some tools we can use!
When I was 10, I remember being really self conscious about my knees. It was the early aughts (2000s), and ripped denim mini-shorts and double-strapped singlet tops were all the rage.
My parents are pretty liberal and open-minded but I grew up dressing relatively conservatively. My outfits for most of my childhood were Jay Jay’s printed slogan tees and board shorts.
The most skin I would show was my calves (in said board shorts) or maybe the top of my arms on the rare occasions I wore a swimsuit to the beach without a rashy (a t-shirt made of swimsuit material to prevent sunburn).
So when I was able to finally get my hands on a long-awaited pair of sky blue Supré denim shorts, I distinctly felt so exposed and like everyone was staring at my knobby knees. They weren’t used to being in full sight during the broad daylight, you see.
Being self-conscious is a funny thing because you think the world sees what you see. Spoiler alert, they don’t.
Despite my insecurities, I would wear my “super trendy’“ mini-shorts out and about, happy to fit into the cool-kid club, simultaneously hoping that no one would notice my weird knobby knees.
I was a relatively lanky kid, tall for my age, so my legs were like cartoon tent poles and my knee bones kind of jutted out like the connectors between pipes. If I was walking down the street and I caught a glimpse of someone even looking in the direction of my knees (honestly, they were probably just scanning the environment),
I’d feel embarrassment radiate through my body. If I could cover my knees and exit stage B, I would have. I just wanted to fit in, and for people not to laugh… at my knees.
Being Self-Conscious is the state of being preoccupied with your own appearance or behaviour and unrealistically assuming everyone is judging or scrutinising you.
Age, life experience and maturity can help to reduce how self-conscious we are. The experiences and exposure that our lives provide, give us countless opportunities to see things in context and think less about ourselves. We begin to see the value of connections and prioritise what is important in our lives and in life (definitely not knobby knees). Hopefully through the process, we each become confident in ourselves and comfortable in our skins.
That’s not to say that we’ll eventually eradicate self-consciousness when we reach a certain milestone. We all go through periods of heightened self-consciousness at different stages of our lives.
Here are some tips to feel less self-conscious:
Remember (or remind yourself) who you are
We can all spend more time acknowledging our strengths and unique capabilities. Reflecting on what makes us special can help us to be okay with how others perceive us.
What are you good at? What makes you a good friend/ sister/ daughter etc? What are your priorities and values? What are your boundaries and how willing are you to communicate them to those around you?
The flip side of this is also reflecting on why you care so much about what these other people think or perceive of you? Is it threatening to your identity or ego? Why does it matter and how can you let it go?
Shift your attention inward
When I’m caught up in my head about what others are thinking, I’ll consciously work to shift my focus on the sensation of breathing or try a body scan exercise.
Shifting my attention from my mind to a fixed point allows me to quieten my mind and gives my brain a task other than recycling self-conscious and unproductive thoughts.
After a few moments of focusing my attention, the nature of the self-conscious thoughts will either shift or disappear.
Reframe the negative thoughts
If you’re jumping to conclusions about what others are thinking of you, ask yourself if that is the only possible option. (In the case of my knobby knees, maybe people were admiring my shoes or my shorts, or simply glancing at the footpath.)
If you notice your thoughts are filled with negative statements e.g. “Everyone is looking at me” or “I can’t do anything right”, consciously reframe the thought to “People are just looking around, and I’m looking at them too”, “These are the things I am good at…”.
Be more curious
There is a lot of power in having a full attitude change. Similar to reframing negative thoughts, this is more about changing the lens through which you interpret the situation and your thoughts.
Adopting a mindset of curiosity can help us to be more open and positive about any given situation.
Curiosity allows for space to consider different possibilities and for the reframing of existing thoughts.
Take a Cold Shower
If I can, I’ll try to take a cold bath/shower to ‘shift my state’ and reset.
Cold showers are shown to have many physiological benefits (reduce inflammation, improve circulation, reduce muscle soreness…), I find the act of shocking my system with cold water helps to think more clearly and by forcing a different lens on the situation.
Even the act of taking a cool shower (as opposed to cold-cold), or drinking some ice-cold water can have a lasting effect on your mood and ability to reset, by shifting us from being stuck in our minds to noticing our body sensations.
We all have our good and ‘“not-so-good” days. I still walk down the street sometimes and notice myself assuming someone is judging my insecurities.
Ultimately we are working to accept our flaws and just be okay with being different to others. Contrary to what’s often drilled into us in school and childhood, it is okay to stand out (and shine even with knobby knees).
Remember, everyone else is also in their own heads and many may be working through their own insecurities and areas of self-consciousness. And even if someone is making a judgement of you, their perception of you doesn’t impact you – if you don’t allow it to.