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How Not To Be A Wall Flower

Stop blending into the background and learn to participate now.
illustration by Ben Deluyas

For all their passivity, wallflowers tend to be extremely stubborn, and getting them to budge from their comfort zones is as challenging as taking candy from a baby T. rex. They keep a rigid mental list of things they CAN'T do, and this is usually far longer than the list of things they CAN do.

Sometimes, it's okay to be a wallflower. Take one look at tabloid regulars Lindsay, Britney, Paris, and Nicole (or simply at the most popular girl in school who has to fend off nasty rumors every other month), and you'd appreciate the fact that the spotlight chooses not to shine on you too much. But most of the time, wallflower-ism prevents you from being passionate about things, taking risks and huge leaps of faith, and yes, even making mistakes-all essential components of the wonderfully unpredictable experience that is life. Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower says it perfectly: "Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective... but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor."

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Here's how to inch away from safety—without having to be sorry afterwards.

The Scenario: It's 7 am on a Friday, and Fridays mean you get to choose your own outfit for school. You're standing in front of your closet, trying to decide what to wear and wishing you had Gossip Girl's stylist on speed dial.

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The Wallflower's CAN'T: There's no way you're wearing anything other than a shapeless white shirt and your trusty jeans. You have a pretty new dress from your tita, but you don't want to look like you're trying too hard. You're more than willing to steer clear of making any fashion statements, just so nobody will even think of calling you a fashion victim.

The Participant's CAN: Your clothes are an expression of your individuality. If you want to wear your shapeless white shirt and trusty jeans, do it because they're comfortable, not because you don't want to attract attention (although looking sloppy attracts attention too, you know). It's fashion. It's supposed to be fun. And come on, admit it—you know you'll be totally gorgeous in that dress. If you still think it's too much for school, then compromise with a nicer, girlier top and better-fitting jeans. (Don't forget to accessorize with a smile!)

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The Scenario: You're walking to class when you spot Martin at the other end of the hall, headed towards you. Rewind to fifth grade, when you first realized you had a major crush on him and started running away at the mere sound of his footsteps. Fast forward to present time, and any indicator of his proximity still sends you into serious panic mode.

The Wallflower's CAN'T: You going up to him and actually letting him know you're alive? Not happening anytime soon. Instead, you delight yourself in staring at the back of his head in class. Or imagining his face as you stare at the inside of your locker, where you always manage to shove your head whenever he passes you by in the hallway. You concoct precious little fairytales in your mind; but to actually do something to make these daydreams come true, and risk rejection, heartbreak, and buckets of tears? No thanks, you'd rather die a slow and painful death.

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The Participant's CAN: If you really like him that much (and you obviously do, as you've been carrying a torch for him since The Stone Age), you owe it to yourself to make things happen. If you can't come up to him, then at least try to catch his eye and smile. You don't have to profess your undying love for him (heck, you don't even have to ask him out!). The only thing you have to do-for now-is to make him aware of your existence. It's not much, but it's a start. Pretty soon, you'll be turning his thoughts from "That girl who's always stealing glances my way is intriguing—and kind of cute," to the much more promising "Wow, she smiled and said hi to me—and hey, she IS cute."

The Scenario: You're in English class when your teacher asks a thought-provoking question. You actually know the answer, and you're pretty sure you're right, but nobody else seems to have the slightest idea.

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The Wallflower's CAN'T: Because no one's speaking up, you choose to keep your mouth shut too; you rarely recite in class anyway. You cringe when your teacher ends up saying, "I can't believe nobody's even trying."

The Participant's CAN: Start by raising your hand when faced with simpler questions: those that simply ask you to identify something, and those that won't require you to talk for more than 10 seconds. Remember though, that keeping your brilliant ideas to yourself doesn't just make you shy—it actually makes you selfish. You're smart and you have something to say—believe it, own it, and share it.

The Scenario: You're on the way home when Christina and her pals walk by. You and Christina were seatmates last year, and although you've never been super close, you've remained friends. She asks you to join them for an after-school snack, and you hesitate. You know you and Christina like each other, but what about her barkada? What if they secretly hate you? Or what if you do something wrong, which leads to them hating you?

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The Wallflower's CAN'T: Accept their invitation and risk being called FC or being OP the whole time? Forget it. You'd rather stay in your room and knit. Or whatever it is wallflowers are supposed to do on Friday afternoons.

The Participant's CAN: If you're uncomfortable being a part of their plans on such short notice, it's okay to decline. Make it clear, however, that you're definitely not refusing their company—or their potential friendship. Say, "I promised my mom I'd be home early today, but how does next week sound? We can stay at my place. My yaya makes the best peanut butter brownies in the world." Let them know that, yes, you like spending time alone, but you also enjoy hanging out with other people. Of course, there's still a chance that they might not end up liking you (or you might not end up liking them), but sometimes, you just have to have faith—that things will work out, that beautiful possibilities lurk at almost every corner, and that to the people who truly matter, you are worth so much more than you think you are.

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About the author
Marla Miniano
Former Editor in Chief, Cosmopolitan
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