Every female should be the girl of their own dreams.
Becoming the girl of my dreams is a status that took years to claim, but despite the heartache, heartbreak and agony, it’s a journey I wouldn’t change.
I’ve been in my number one happy place – my own skin – for a while now, and I don’t take a moment of this feeling for granted, because I remember what it was like before...
I dedicated the entirety of high school to wishing I was anybody but myself. I venomously despised every atom that made me who I was.
If you think I’m a geek now, what with my ‘clothes for hamsters’ campaign and affiliation for National Trust properties, you should have met me at high school. I classed Jacqueline Wilson as one of my ‘BFFLs,’ FFS. I ballroom danced, I rode ponies, and I wrote poetry about meadows. I was still putting Sylvanian Families at the top of my Christmas list in year eight.
Think William McKenzie from The Inbetweeners, but with a ‘witty’ I Like Big Books & I Cannot Lie slogan satchel instead of a briefcase.
I didn’t exactly set myself up to rocket into midst of the ‘cool crowd,’ did I?!
It wasn’t just my drippy extra-curricular hobbies that made me a high school outcast.
How I looked was something I painstakingly battled with during my every waking second.
I wasn’t exactly ugly, but while the rest of my class looked their age, I resembled a baby in a blazer. With a brace. Christ, the brace. 😑 My finest hour, it was most certainly not!!
And don’t even get me started on the pre-brace teeth. They were nothing short of haunting. It’s no wonder I still wear my retainer, twelve years later. I live in constant fear of the return of my previous gnashers.
I was absolutely tiny. Even in year 11, I don’t think I was any taller than 4’10, and about five and a half stone piss wet through.
At the age of 16, I really did still look about 10.
People used to tell me – endlessly – that I’d ‘be glad of it one day.’
Hm, maybe, but one thing was for sure: I certainly wasn’t glad of it now.
It would have been nice to have been asked out by a boy in my year rather than have teachers wrongly presume I was a lost year seven and offer to escort me to my bloody GCSE drama lesson. 🙃
I felt as though my life had been frozen in permanent childhood, while my classmates all matured and blossomed around me.
“You’re just a late bloomer,” my Mum would assure me. “Your time will come.”
I agonised over it constantly.
I’d spend an unhealthy amount of time visually dissecting the other girls in my year; the girls the lads regularly branded ‘fit.’
As shallow as it now sounds, all I wanted was to be crowned with that flimsy title. I wanted to be fit and desirable. I wanted to be asked out by boys like the rest of my peers. I wanted to be the ‘snog’ option in Snog, Marry, Avoid. I wanted to dip my foot in the waters of teenage-hood, experiencing parties and boys and rebellion.
At the grand old age of 28, I am now fully aware that there is more to life than ‘looks,’ but just you try telling a high-schooler that. During those excruciating few years between childhood and adulthood, appearances are everything.
At high school, how you look can make or break you.
A guaranteed shortcut to being ‘fit’ at my high school was to have either blonde hair or boobs. Or both, if you were especially blessed.
(Lest we forget that this was era of My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas. Katie Price was in her prime.)
I got blonde highlights and subsequently wrecked my natural dark-brown-almost-black hair.
I still recall the almost hot-cross-bun-esque stench that filled my bedroom every morning as I used my GHDs to forever sabotage my curly locks. The whiff of burning and the sound of hair legit crunching between the flat irons didn’t startle me as much as it perhaps should have.
Apparently, I was quite at peace with ruining my hair, so long as it was sort-of blonde-ish and poker straight.
Boobs, however, were harder to obtain. I know a lot of women who claim to be ‘flat-chested’ while they proudly wander around sporting C-cups. No. That is not flat-chested. When I say that I was flat-chested at high school, I mean, if you’d covered my head with a bag, you wouldn’t have been able to tell what was the front and what was the back. In fact, I think I might have actually had bigger back humps.
Somehow growing a pair of boobs of my own became my ultimate mission.
My dad point blank refused to fund a boob job for my 14th birthday (cue the whole, dramatic, ‘You HATE me!!! You’re trying to RUIN MY LIFE!!! I bet I was ADOPTED!!!!’ fandango), so I became inventive in my quest.
Oh no, I didn’t merely stop at the old ‘socks down the bra’ technique!
I reckon I wore two bras – one on top of the other – for about three years straight. I still have faint shoulder scars to prove it! It didn’t look convincing in any way. In fact, the result of this weird phase simply resulted in a baffling number of straps and a three year inability to wear boob tubes.
I experimented with make-up, pouring over Shout and Bliss magazines, raiding them for tips.
Let’s be honest; I was a teen during the Juicy Tubes lipgloss and Dream Matte Mousse saga - what chance did I have of looking peng, really? 😩
There was one particular girl – a truly stunning girl - who was often labelled the ‘fittest in the year.’ The lads were obsessed with her. The girls were in awe of her – none more so than me.
She wore her hair swept up in a large black hair clip, so I went out and bought a large black hair clip.
A few weeks later, I saw her sporting a ponytail embellished with a red rose bobble, so obviously I had to have one of those, too.
It really was like bloody Mean Girls! 🤣
‘I saw Regina George wearing army pants and flip-flops, so I bought army pants and flip-flops.’
I didn't know it at the time, but her most attractive feature was, quite simply, her confidence.
Without sounding dramatic or depressing, I distinctly recall crying in-front of my mirror most evenings after school, wishing and wishing that I could be somebody else.
I wasn’t cool and I definitely wasn’t ‘fit.’ So that pretty much made me a loser at high school. And as trivial as it all sounds now, that really was a crushing realisation.
In a world of teenage dreams, I was invisible.
The courage to be oneself comes with age, which is a sad fact really, when you think about it.
We waste some of the best years of our lives wracked with the longing to be somebody or something else; cooler, more attractive versions of ourselves.
We’re too young to appreciate that it is our uniqueness that sets us apart and makes us who we are. The good, the bad, the self-perceived ugly.
I, like many, many others, was swept along by society’s cruel hand. I was tossed into conformation - brainwashed. Drowned by the rising tide of ever-changing trends and ‘perfect’ ideals.
Blonde with boobs and perfect make-up. Clothes from Topshop. A Jane Norman bag.
What was wrong with dark brown curly hair? A naturally petite frame? No make-up? Tammy Girl tartan skirts? A Pineapple bag?
No wonder I was always so sad. The life I was trying to achieve was unobtainable in so many ways.
If I could go back in time and tell my high school self one thing, it would be this: YOU DO YOU, CAZZA. I mean yeah, you are a MAHOOSIVE geek, but you know what? WHO GIVES A SHIT. Stop trying to be a version of yourself that you don’t even like. High school might seem like the absolute pinnacle of your life right now, but it really isn’t! Mate, you’re going to be living in Ibiza in five years time and you’re gonna pull a right fittie, so ya’ know what, SCREW ‘EM. Screw it ALL – NONE OF IT MATTERS! YOU DO YOU!!
I guess in a way, college was the beginning of my journey towards self-acceptance.
I fondly dub this period of my life as my ‘glow up,’ but actually, I’m not sure whether this is strictly true. At the time, I thought I’d had some sort of supernatural ‘I Feel Pretty’ style transformation the night before I started college, whereby I suddenly woke up ‘fit.’
The evidence definitely mounts up: right from my very first day at college, boys actually noticed me! But did I really change that dramatically in the mere weeks between high school and college? Looking back at photos now, I don’t think I actually looked much different.
What was different, though, was my confidence.
Finally free from the shackles of my unhappy high school existence, I was able to reinvent myself.
I knew only two people at my new college. Besides them, nobody else was aware of the tragic fact that I’d had a model horse party for my 13th birthday, or that I'd entered the school’s version of Britain’s Got Talent and read out a poem about my hamster...
I used to roll my eyes and inwardly cringe at the expression ‘fake it till you make it,’ but that was exactly what I did. I lived by that mantra. I started to believe that I was beautiful and worthy, and as a result, I started to feel beautiful and worthy. I started to radiate beauty. That beauty was essentially powered by a rupturing, overwhelming contentment that had previously escaped me. It manipulated the downward slump of my mouth and prised it into a smile, and dragged my eyes from the floor, where they had been trained for so long.
I learned that beauty is not always necessarily aesthetic.
Confidence, a humble self-assurance, and inner happiness are without a doubt the prettiest features anyone can possess.
I vowed not to hide any part of myself. No more pretending. I was curious to get to know myself after years of masquerading who I really was.
What did I really like?
What did I want to do with my life?
How did I want to dress?
Which make-up looks suited me, regardless of ‘fashion?’
What did my hair look like away from the straighteners?
Did I really fancy Justin Bieber, or did I just say that to fit in? Actually, was I more of a Wentworth-Miller-in-Prison-Break kinda gal? (YES!)
Becoming Cara has been a truly beautiful expedition and I’m still learning.
Anyway, to cut a very long story short... College was a bloody blast; a three-year whirlwind of ‘cheeky’ hotpants, parties, nights out, boys and a whole new extensive and ever-growing group of treasured friends. I LOVED every single minute of college and often blog about the good times I had there. College changed my life and I will forever want to give my 16 year old self a huge giant SQUEEZE for having the bollocks to enrol at a brand new college and leave behind everything she knew in the name of self-liberation.
Being a high school loser eventually instilled me with the confidence to be myself, which, to this day, is one of my favourite assets.
It's this confidence that has allowed me to be fiercely independent and self-sufficient. It's this confidence that has allowed me to solo travel, to rock up to concerts on my own, to get up and do things - just me, myself and I. And to be at peace with solitude.
When you accept yourself for who you are, you stop looking to others to validate you. And that is a simply wonderful state of mind.
Again, I’m sorry to hit you with a terrible cliché, but life really is too short to be anything other than happy.
Having an illness like anorexia – a foreign attack on your safe place, your body – makes you revaluate everything. I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been terrifyingly dark times with this illness. Being at war with yourself and regularly having to tear your mind and body off one another as they viciously fight to the death is exhausting and yeah, scary. But the moment you start to come out the other side, your life will never quite be the same again. You and your body will forever be bonded over the battle you have so valiantly fought, together.
Anorexia could have destroyed me. It could have so easily taken an already fragile mind and shattered it into a million shards of loathing. But, no.
It only made me stronger, more in awe of my incredible body.
So when I say that I love my body, I am not speaking aesthetically. I mean I LOVE my body for standing tall. I love for my body for loving me, even when I didn’t love it back.
I am the biggest geek I have ever met.
My idea of a perfect weekend is getting up 5:30am for a 13 mile run, followed by a day spent by myself rambling around the countryside, armed with a notepad and an alarming back stock of salted pretzels. Then maybe a one-woman disco at home, twerking to Busta Rhymes on top of the dining table.
I like books, horses, long walks through buttercup fields, and weeping sentimentally over old school R&B because ‘they don’t make them like this anymore.’
I’m 28 and I’ve never tried alcohol (apart from ‘that’ chocolate liquor, but please God let’s not talk about that fiasco when I’ve just had my tea...). Yet you can guarantee that I’ll be first on any dance floor, dramatically lip-synching to No Scrubs and slut-dropping.
I am always myself.
I’m not everyone’s cup of tea (or bottle of Fruit Shoot, whatever), and I know there a lot of people who don’t ‘get me’ (‘Why would anyone CHOOSE to go to a concert/on holiday on their own?!’ / ‘How can you go on a night out and dance without having a drink???’), but it really doesn’t bother me.
I’m far from perfect, but I like me. I like the person I am and the way I look.
Most of all, I like being the artist of my own self. I love to dress my body in ways that compliment it. I’m obsessed with my long hair (THAT’S WHY HER HAIRS SO BIG, IT’S FULL OF SECRETS!!!). I enjoy using make-up to enhance my features, instead of totally changing my appearance. I love to communicate and work alongside my body every time I go for a run.
Making friends with myself after a tumultuous few years has been such a dazzling revelation.
We’re so quick to judge others for being confident, which is totally baffling. We brand confident people ‘full of themselves.’ Shamefully, we often take an instant dislike to them.
Why aren’t we celebrating the people who are comfortable in their own skin?
How many times do we raise our eyes at girls on our socials as they post another selfie – her fifth this week, and it’s only Tuesday. She totally loves herself.
You know what? GOOD.
I have blogged about this before: we really eradicate the need to judge people based on unsubstantiated opinions masking our own insecurities.
Happy people don’t tear others down. FACT.
The girl of my dreams – the girl I have always longed to be – doesn’t have blonde hair, immaculately contoured cheekbones and perky boobs after all. The girl of my dreams smiles back at me when I look in the mirror. She is bursting with impurities, flaws, adult acne...
And happiness. 💗
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©