What 21 Looks Like

Wow, what a week it has been. In the midst of coming to terms with the fact that my little brother is a high school graduate, I turned 21! I had been anxiously awaiting my birthday for a while, simply because I wanted to be able to accompany my husband at the bars; however, once the day finally arrived, I found myself sitting on the couch after dinner feeling petrified about going out. My mind kept telling me that people would stare at me and think to themselves, “What is this 12 year-old doing at a bar?”. I don’t think I had ever been more self conscious about my baby face and chubby cheeks. The negative thoughts consumed my mind, and I almost definitively decided not to leave the apartment. Only when Noah reached out his hand and told me that I would regret not celebrating my birthday did I attempt to put myself back together. Thank goodness I listened to him.

Before I get too much further, let me explain the catalyst for my anxiety. On my birthday, I spent the morning and afternoon with my mother-in-law and my family out of town while my husband was at work.  Everything was amazing until I let a stranger’s words break my confidence. At the register of the first store my mom and I went into at an upscale mall, the woman checking us out asked if I was enjoying my summer break and what grade of school I was in, implying that I was still in high school. My heart sank. I had just been to my little brother’s graduation, and here I was being labeled a high-schooler myself.  Almost as if lightning had just struck, negative thoughts quickly flashed across my mind. Was it my blonde hair? Was it my outfit or chubby cheeks? Could it be the way I presented myself? She had no idea that with one simple question, she was able to slip through the cracks of my esteem and chip away its foundation. For the rest of the trip, I was careful to stand up straight, build up a wall to prevent any more damage, and sample (and eventually buy) a dark-colored lip stain to hopefully add some years to my appearance. I didn’t know what 21 was supposed to feel like, but this didn’t feel like what I imagined; I knew that I wasn’t what 21 was supposed to look like.

Now flash forward to me finally agreeing to get up off the couch. I grabbed my purse and made sure my driver’s license was easily accessible, because I was more than certain I would be carded and probably questioned about the legitimacy of my ID. I was not prepared for the wonderful night that was about to unfold. All of the workers at the bar treated me with utmost respect. People didn’t care that I looked young; all they and my husband cared about was making me feel special on my birthday.


All of my anxiety was washed away. I still can’t comprehend the thought that I almost let one random woman’s comment destroy one of the biggest checkpoints of young adulthood. I can’t blame her, since she only was trying to make conversation. Rather, I blame myself for letting another person’s opinion of me affect my frame of mind. Everyone has insecurities, and when other people highlight them, they can bring us to our lowest points. It’s important to realize that other people cannot read minds, and thus they have no way of knowing the possible effects of their words. In this, we need to stand up to our insecurities and prevent them from interfering with our happiness.

It boils down to this: We are always told not to judge a book by its cover, but we should also be told not to judge ourselves by the cover. What really matters is not how old we look or how our skin looks, but how we present ourselves and treat those around us. I had this false idea in my mind that to be 21 I had to have a certain look, a look that I couldn’t have. Now instead of letting 21 define me, I am defining what it means to be 21 year-old me, and it has nothing to do with how I look.

Next time you are in battle with negative self-talk, equip yourself with these three thoughts:

  1. Your insecurities are more obvious to you than anyone else.
  2. Your happiness is far more important than what a random stranger thinks of you, especially your appearance. Nobody should be able to steal your joy.
  3. Your insecurities make you the unique individual that you are. For instance, I wouldn’t be myself without my chubby cheeks and curly blonde hair.

It’s not easy, and I struggle with this myself all the time. Each day presents a new battlefront. My wish is that my armor, and hopefully your armor too, grows stronger with each fighting day.

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5 years ago

Oh wow.. I recently shared a post about what 18 looks like.. It’s called ‘Decide your own age’. I’d love if you read it. Also… I enjoyed reading this.. And you look beautiful! 🙂