I Achieved My Dream Of Becoming Pretty & Popular…And It Didn’t Fix Anything


By Casey McQuillen

My name is Casey McQuillen, and I have a secret; I have always been insecure. In middle school, when I shakily stood up to the bullies who laughed at me and my friends; in high school, when I finally had the “look” and friends I always wanted and yet felt at any moment it all might slip away; on ‘American Idol’, when I laughed off the tweets from the “mean girls” who exclaimed they’d rather kill themselves than see me succeed; and even now, though I’m a 23 year-old pop artist with a brand built around self-love. I’ve always seemed confident because I’m really good at standing up to bullies; unfortunately, I’m not very good at being kind to myself.

See, puberty hit me hard. When I was in middle school, I had braces, acne, glasses, and really bushy eyebrows (unfortunately, bushy eyebrows were not “in” like they are now). I remember the boy who came up with the cruel nickname ‘Casey Cankles’. Luckily, despite the alliteration, the name didn’t stick.


I remember another boy who loudly proclaimed I was gross and that he refused to be my dance partner in front of the entire 7th grade and the laughter that followed. I remember having spit balls shot at me during student council presentations. It wasn’t all bad; I got good grades and participated in a bunch of extracurricular activities and had a fun group of friends. My vulnerability was my appearance.

This ate at me; no matter how well I did at everything else, my overall worth seemed so explicitly tied to something I couldn’t control, couldn’t fix. I remember, as I would be falling asleep at night, I would make a mental checklist of all the things I would change, starting at my feet and not stopping until I reached my head.

Things began to improve when I attended boarding school for high school. I waxed those bushy eyebrows, learned to apply makeup, and seemingly everything changed overnight. I left my middle school social status behind; it was a fresh start with new friends. I remember during orientation some cute boys came up to talk to me and I tensed, waiting for the punch line that never came. I ate lunch with the popular girls, swapped numbers with the athletic kids. I remember feeling like I was masquerading as something I wasn’t; that sooner or later I would be exposed as a fake. But as the weeks went by, I adjusted to my new role. Long awaited, I was finally on the inside.


But while others saw me differently, I still saw the same old Casey. I couldn’t leave behind the words spoken to me at thirteen; they burrowed in my head and affected the way I saw myself. In my mind, where others had natural beauty, I had makeup. I meticulously applied it each morning and carried more with me to school to reapply before dinner. Every day I made sure to curl my hair. My mask of popularity required continuous monitoring and upkeep. It all felt so tenuous; like if I let my guard down, everyone would see me for what I truly was, and the world would treat me as it had before.

One day I was seventeen, a junior in high school, and on my way to the gym. Like usual, before I left my room, I put on makeup. This time, however, it struck me as very sad. I had grown so ashamed of my own face that I wasn’t even comfortable exercising sans makeup. I had spent so many hours curling and straightening and applying and primping. I was exhausted.

In that moment, I sat down and wrote a song called “Beautiful”. The words poured out of me. The song followed my relationship with my appearance; from being thirteen and just wanting to fit in, to being seventeen and wanting to be wanted, to projecting into the future, and thinking about what it would be like to watch my daughter go through this same cycle. The unifying thought was the secret belief that my life would be better, if only I were beautiful. When I finished the song, I cried.


I’d like to say in that moment, I realized my self-worth wasn’t tied to my appearance. I’d like to say this song changed my life and I’ve loved myself wholeheartedly from that day forward. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I grew up and had new experiences. I went to college and left behind some toxic friends that brought out my worst insecurities. I made new friendships based on shared passions and compatible personalities. My new career both challenged and fulfilled me. Most importantly, I learned to identify my own damaging thoughts and behaviors. For the first time, I tried to love myself. I got better at it.

Now, I try to help others get better at it, too. I run a program in schools, called The “You Matter” Tour, which uses the original songs I wrote when I was in middle and high school to talk to students about bullying and self-confidence. At every show, I tell the students the story behind the song “Beautiful”.

I’ve performed for over 100 middle and high schools around New England, spreading a message of self-love to over 25,000 students. Through this performance, I try to explain to the audience, in embarrassing detail, the difficulty I’ve had loving myself. The inspiring part, I hope, is that I’ve gotten better at it.

I tell my journey of self-acceptance during The “You Matter” Tour and I imagine some young girl trying to fall asleep at night, listing all of the things she’d change about herself. I hope that after hearing my story, she might have some competing thoughts instead:

“Beauty doesn’t buy happiness; everyone feels insecure sometimes; your worth isn’t based on your appearance; You Matter.”


Casey McQuillen is a 24 year-old singer/songwriter from Boston, MA.  A graduate from Berklee College of Music and Phillips Academy Andover, McQuillen founded The “You Matter” Tour, an anti-bullying program that uses her original music to engage students in a conversation about bullying & self-confidence. Casey established her fan base as a contestant on American Idol, and her newest EP, “Beautiful,” set to hit stands this fall, highlights her emotional and starkly honest songwriting.

Website http://www.caseymcquillen.com/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CaseyMcQuillen
Twitter https://twitter.com/CaseyMcQuillen
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/caseymcquillen/?hl=en
Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/user-712872444

One Comment

  1. Casey I love how you shared your experiences, insecurities & coping in such a candid story. Your spirit has grown in such ways to inspire, nurture & comfort those you care about. I wish you the best in your success to bring your music, your smile & your strength to continue to grow & inspire. Well done~be good to you~ you deserve it!

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