It begins as admiration. Her hair just falls nicely. Her teeth are naturally straight. Her skin is clear. Come non-uniform day, you notice with a slight pang of jealousy that she has the coolest outfit – and she’s not copying anyone.
You start to look more closely: not in a stalkerish way, you understand, but to find the cracks in this seemingly perfect version of a girl. Problem is, the more you look, the more you find perfection. High marks? Check. Without really working? Check. Musical and/or acting ability? Check check. Is fancied by everyone?
You don’t even need to ask. People are all over her – not that she cares about or even notices the attention of course. She’s too busy being, well, cool in a billion other ways with which thanks to the joys of Instagram, you are well acquainted. Her account – a beautiful stream of cupcakes she’s baked, parties she’s been to (or rather, her cool parents have hosted) and plays in which she’s either playing the lead female role or making the Wicked Witch of the West look sexy – is addictive, for all that it fuels a simmering, growing, growling sense of discontent.
One day something shifts. Maybe your crush takes a shine to her. Maybe she gets a better mark than you do at the subject you’re supposed to be good at. Maybe you see one of your best mates laughing with her. At this point it can go one of two ways. You’ll either hate them, with the sort of pure hatred that flourishes on the green ground of envy OR… you will suddenly and entirely – to your mind, explicably – want to be them.
And I mean be them, literally, from your hair to the tips of your toes. You want to inhabit, not just their body, but their entire existence. You want their looks and abilities, as well as their confidence, family and friends. You google ‘personality transplant’, then shut the window hurriedly in case someone notices.
What is happening to you? “This is weird! No one else in the world has felt this way about someone they don’t even fancy!”, you think-panic. Well, I’ve news for you: in case you’ve not guessed from this article, I did.
I still do: less now I’m older, but that all-consuming feeling of wanting to shed my skin, crawl out of it and into someone else’s is well known to me. Indeed, to judge by the behaviour of many of my friends at school, they often felt similarly. Some would even go so far as acting like their ‘idol’, for want of a better word: speaking, dressing, laughing and walking like them. One girl took it further still. When Jenny started her period, she full on pretended she had hers at exactly the same time, every month, laughing manically “it’s like we’re, like, sisters!!” Think of this cringey image next time you’re embarrassed about wanting to be someone else.
You’re not that bad. At least, not yet. And here’s the most crucial thing about this feeling: just like a chest infection, if you leave it untreated it will probably get worse. There’s no guaranteed cure but there are ways of making the feeling stop growing and start to disappear, at least partially.
So if you’re suffering from ‘I want to be someone else syndrome’, take the following steps.
1. Delete her on Instagram
Ideally, you’d delete Instagram entirely, but I get that this is a form of social suicide. Delete her, though – the old adage of what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve is an old adage precisely because it’s true
2. ‘Comparisons are odious’
So said the author John Lydgate in his 14th century essay on the relative merits of horse, goose, and sheep. In other words, be the beast you were born as. Wishing you are someone else is as ludicrous as John wishing his goose, whose eggs he needed for breakfast, were a horse, which he can use for transport but not (ideally) eat.
Got that? Basically: you’re you and nobody else can be, so quit comparing yourself.
3. Look at what you do have
Your skills, your abilities. Remember what people admire you for, or value in you as a person. If you’re struggling with this, ask your friends and family for their contributions – and write them down so you don’t forget.
4. Hang out with your best mate
Your real best mate, who hangs out with you because you’re who you are and she is who she is, and that particular and unique combination goes together like chocolate and caramel, cheese and spag bol. She’s not hanging out with you in the hope that one day you’ll turn into you know who. She’s not their best mate. She’s yours.
5. When you feel that feeling coming on… LOL
For as long and as loud as possible. Preferably with said best mate, but if not with her then with someone, or at something else. Not only does science suggest laughter a stress reliever, but reports also suggest it is source of emotional support and stability. Basically, it’s impossible to really belly laugh if you’re thinking about someone else’s nice hair.