They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And let’s be honest, you probably like that little tingle of validation you get when your mate asks to borrow your nail varnish because they like the colour, or when they ask you to style their hair for them because they like the way you do yours. It’s a great self-esteem boost.
But what happens when they copy everything you do, all the time? Whether they’re copying your style, mimicking your mannerisms or declaring their undying love for your fave band which they’ve only just heard of, it gets tedious fast, so it’s perfectly normal to feel upset and annoyed.
In some ways, it even feels like a betrayal. Friends are supposed to admire each other’s uniqueness, not steal their self-expression. You put the time and effort into finding your own style, so when someone comes along and straight up copies you, it’s like identity theft – like they’re cheating. Grr!
So you’re pretty pissed off, but you’re not alone. Almost everyone we asked has had a copycat friend at some point, ranging from the fairly tame (“she got the same coat as me – her mum agreed to buy it because she thought I was a good influence”) to the downright bizarre (“I was a model and my friend contacted everyone I’d ever worked with and recreated all of my shoots”). One girl even told us her friend dressed up like her and tried to steal her boyfriend! “I felt like she was trying to replace me with herself,” she says. “Everyone else would just laugh it off, but I felt like I was going mad.”
But as infuriating as it is to be the copied, it’s likely that things for the copier aren’t that great either. Being a teenager is really hard and everyone is trying to figure out their place in the world, but the chances are, your copycat mate is struggling with their self-identity, insecurities and self-esteem more than most. Copying you is their way of ‘borrowing’ the self-esteem they imagine you have.
“I’m not proud to admit it, but I copied my best friend constantly when we were in school,” says Sarah. “She was so cool and confident and I felt like such a loser compared to her, so I figured that if I wore the same clothes and listened to the same music I’d be cooler, too. The fact is that it didn’t make me feel any different inside – I was kind of just clutching at straws. What’s worse is that in hindsight I can see that how I behaved made me look even lamer.”
It’s a tricky situation, then. If your mate is copying you because she’s feeling low about herself, you don’t want to make things worse by making a big deal about it, but at the same time, your identity is yours, dammit! So what should you do?
Once you’ve noticed your friend copying you, wait it out for a week or two – your mate is probably going through a phase on the way to developing their own style and it might not last that long.
Give them lots of positive reinforcement about the things that make them unique. If you’ve always liked their hair or love their shoe collection, tell them! This will help them realise they’re making good choices on their own without having to copy you.
Keep a few things to yourself
We’re not saying you should clam up completely, but if you’re a bit vague about the things she’s likely to end up copying, she’ll have to look elsewhere for inspiration. For example, if she rings you to ask what you’re wearing at the weekend, just say you haven’t decided yet. If you’ve got a public playlist you’re always adding new music to, make it private for a while. This way she’ll have to try things out for herself (and complimenting her choices will help too, no need to be mean about it).
Enlist the help of a trusted friend
It might be tempting to get another friend on board for a good ol’ bitchfest, but that won’t change things in the long run – in fact, it’ll probably just make things worse for everyone involved. Instead, confide in a friend you trust and ask them, next time the copying crops up, to gently highlight it: ‘Isn’t that the same jacket as Gemma’s?’ or ‘Didn’t Sally tell that joke last week?’ Sometimes, copycat friends get a kind of tunnel vision, so a nudge from someone outside of their bubble can give them the jolt they need to change their ways.
Confront your friend
If the copying continues, you’ll have to talk to your friend, otherwise the bubbling resentment could ruin your friendship. Have a conversation in private and keep it light-hearted – they might be a little defensive at first. Try something like: “I noticed you’ve been wearing and buying a lot of the same things as me lately. Sometimes it’s okay, but the whole point of these things is to highlight your own unique style. That won’t happen if you’re getting everything that I’m getting!”
Take a break
If the copying continues even after you’ve spoken to her about it, it might be time to take a step back from the friendship. That doesn’t mean ditching her completely, but spending time around other people will help her expand her style horizons and give you the chance to cool off.
The way you express yourself through fashion and music is important, but you’re so much more than your outfit and favourite bands – you’re completely unique without them as well! Just keep doing you. Your friend will find herself eventually.