“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
-Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
Have you noticed how hungry people seem to be for authenticity? In a world in which we tend to present our most polished, Instagram-worthy selves, it’s no surprise. We want the real deal– the raw, the uncensored, the messy. As in the quote above, “once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
When people are authentic, they are magnetic. They are comfortable in their own skin because they are unapologetically themselves. They like what they like, no matter how unpopular their tastes may be. There’s a consistency to them, since they’re not chameleons constantly changing themselves to accommodate every situation. It’s okay if you’re shabby or your hair has been loved off.
In many areas of life, “fake it until you make it” can be a good approach. Act happier, feel happier. Act confident, feel confident. By definition, authenticity can’t be faked. So, what does it mean, then, to be “authentic”?
- Know yourself better. When I was growing up, adults often gave the advice to “just be yourself.” At the time, I found this to be utterly useless advice. In fact, I still do. As an adolescent, I really didn’t know who I was. My identity would shift as I moved from one social group to another. I wasn’t yet aware of a distinct “me,” so telling me to be “myself” didn’t help at all. Plus, it implies that we are done and that our personalities are set in stone. While we may have some traits that tend to be static over time, we, and life in general, are a work in progress. I mentioned before that research suggests that our personality at age 77 has almost nothing in common with our personality at age 14. This means that we become completely different people over time. The best we can do is be true to who we are right now.
We’re always working on becoming, and moving into whatever comes next. But knowing yourself better, including your likes and dislikes, values and beliefs, can help you to feel more comfortable in your own skin at this moment.
- Publicly claim your likes and dislikes. Sometimes we are afraid to express our opinions when we expect others won’t share them. Maybe we’re afraid of feeling embarrassed or of being laughed at. But, honestly acknowledging your preferences is an important part of authenticity. Few things will make you look like a fake faster than changing your likes and dislikes based on whom you’re surrounded by. It can be hard at first to express unpopular opinions. It gets easier.
- Pay attention to your body. We often think of our minds and bodies as separate entities, but they’re really not. There is a constant feedback loop happening, that keeps the two constantly connected. Our brains are part of are bodies; our bodies are not just vehicles for carrying around our brains. But sometimes our bodies seem to “know” things before our brain catches up. Try paying more attention to your body and the sensations you feel. These sensations offer clues to our true feelings and help us tap into our intuition. Do you pull your shoulders up by your ears with tension? Do you have butterflies in your stomach, telling you that something is not quite right?And what are you telling the people around you through your body language? Our bodies often communicate our true feelings. Sometimes we’re not aware of how we’re holding our body. Are you unconsciously communicating discomfort or hostility by crossing your arms across your chest? Or are you exhibiting shyness by hunching your shoulders or looking down? Try paying more attention to the way you feel and the way you’re carrying yourself. Stand up tall, shoulders back, chin up. Simply doing this can change the way you feel. Building an awareness of your body is one way to become more comfortable in your own skin, allowing you to be more fully who you are and who you are becoming.