Lynette Fay: I was crippled with insecurity as a teen – and that's without social media

I am glad I don't have to go through adolescence again, especially not in the 2019 world of social media, of ‘likes' and documenting everything with a photo. That would have been my worst nightmare and it is the living nightmare of many teenagers today

Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston in the Netflix film Dumplin’. Picture from Netflix
Lynette Fay

THE Christmas holidays are now a distant memory. We’re nearly in the middle of January, I can almost sense spring in the air and I’m delighted to report that I have finally left the couch, am back to wearing clothes instead of pyjamas during the day and am slowly but surely reading more. Life is getting back to normal.

I’m ‘doing’ Dry January for the first time. I can’t be bothered going out through the door at weekends so hibernation continues, to a degree.

Over Christmas, I did indulge in films and box sets. I jumped on the bandwagon and watched the whole series of You. Billed as a psychological thriller, starring Penn Badgely of Gossip Girl fame, it started out with great promise but descended into absurdity.

You did not leave a lasting impression on me. However, the film Dumplin' did. It was made for Netflix, is based on the novel by Julie Murphy, and stars Jennifer Aniston, with a soundtrack by Dolly Parton.

It starts with the main character, Willowdean Dickson, and her aunt Lucy singing along to Dolly’s songs. They are obsessed with Dolly Parton and her music and this love of music, leaves Willowdean or ‘Will’ as she’s known to everyone, with a very attractive sense of self-confidence.

Will’s mother is a legendary figure of the local beauty queen circuit, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston). She is quite the celebrity in the small town and still obsessed with beauty pageants. Rosie is the only person who calls WIll ‘Dumplin’ – a nickname hated by Will. I would hate it too.

Will is often faced with confused reactions to the fact that she is Rosie’s daughter. Why? Will is ‘heavier set’ than her seemingly perfect, self-absorbed mother. Will has absolutely no respect for beauty pageants or anything that they represent.

Will’s character reminded me of myself growing up. The teenage years were torturous! There is so much going on. Our bodies are changing, we’re dealing with hormones, we start developing crushes and romantic feelings. It can be a lot to understand and manage.

For all the participation in debating teams, public speaking, choirs and music groups, I was crippled with insecurity. I shied away from going to discos. As for boys, I ran away from them and would do anything to avoid engaging in conversation with them. Having to sit beside a boy on the bus to school every morning was something I dreaded. I just didn’t know what to do.

To say that I was self-conscious is an understatement. I came up with every excuse possible to get out of attending PE class because of the uniform of a polo shirt and a very short skirt. I honestly think that I only got over this self-consciousness when I started running three years ago – many years later.

Suddenly, it mattered what you looked like. Was I pretty, attractive? I certainly didn’t think I was. I would hazard a guess and say that there are only a handful of photos of me as a teenager in our family albums. I took an allergic reaction to seeing myself in photographs.

I am glad that I don’t have to go through that again, and especially not in the 2019 world of social media, of ‘likes’ and documenting everything with a photo. That would have been my worst nightmare and it is the living nightmare of many teenagers today.

I have heard horror stories about teenagers who need counselling because they aren’t getting enough likes on social media. They feel that the virtual world doesn’t like them, so in turn, this devalues their own sense of self-worth.

This is a very serious issue and if not addressed immediately can take years to resolve. Sometimes it goes without resolution, with disastrous effect.

Instilling self-confidence in teenagers is invaluable. Finding it and keeping it isn’t as easy as it may seem. That’s exactly what we see in Dumplin’.

The biggest battle the main character has in this film is with herself. She goes through a period of becoming obsessed with how she looks. She doesn’t like herself, instead of seeing what others see: a beautiful, intelligent, fun-loving, kind and brilliant young woman.

When she finally gets it, so does everyone else.

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