By Stephanie DuBois
"Shyness is a strength to build on, not a character flaw to be stamped out." -- From "Shyness Is Not A Character Flaw" The Malvern School
It's almost a month into the new school year, yet there's some child still sitting alone in the corner of a cafeteria at lunch somewhere, meandering the halls at recess or trying to attain invisibility at the outer reaches of the playground. A crippling shyness prevents that child from stepping out of the shadow, much less into his or her own limelight. Which makes it all the more fascinating that so many high-profile celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Jim Carrey, Alexis Bledel and Courteney Cox Arquette were once wallflowers.
"American Idol" singer Clay Aiken revealed in his book, "Learning to Sing," that he was a bully's delight as a child -- shy, nerdy, poorly dressed --and consequently spent a good deal of time wishing he were invisible. In a recent People Magazine interview, Aiken revealed that after being thrust into the post "Idol" whirlwind he began having panic attacks. "I'd walk into a room and say to myself, 'I am not going to have a problem when these people stare at me.' But then (in) that situation, my heart would start pumping, and I'd start sweating and looking around nervously and shaking. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack."
Aiken opted to eschew therapy and deal with his problem by taking the anti-anxiety drug Paxil.
Time and maturation is what eventually made life easier to deal with for Oscar-winner Julia Roberts. "I've been able to overcome what for me as a young girl, was an incredible shyness, which I think people often took as aloofness," Roberts has said. "I think I have always believed things are what you make them. They're as bad as you want them to be, and as good as you want them to be. I think as I've gotten older, I've been able to articulate it better."
Former "Friends" star Courteney Cox Arquette recalls a childhood quite void of friends. "I was shy and people always picked on me. There was a group of girls who I thought were pretty terrible. I was part of their clique at one point, and then I fell out of it. High School is pretty brutal, so instead, I put myself on a strict program. I got out of school early and worked."
Harrison Ford may have been the most intrepid of adventurers in such films as the original "Star Wars" trilogy and the "Indiana Jones" sagas, but he professes to having been painfully shy as a boy. It took all the courage the still press-shy Ford could muster to join the Belfry Players for summer stock back in 1964, but he was hooked immediately and the rest, as they say, is history.
The often maniacal Jim Carrey was a shy, quiet kid as well, who discovered early on that making people laugh opened all hearts and doors. Living a life of poverty with his family in Toronto, it was Carrey's one-boy shows that kept the family's spirits alive during the worst of times.
"The Gilmore Girls'" Alexis Bledel told Twist Magazine that she still hasn't gotten over her shyness. "I'm still who I am, so it's not like I got over it, but I think in an effort to become, like a professional person, a lot of times you just have to put that aside and do your job and my job just happens to be one where you can't be shy."
Heather Graham says she too found the doorway out of "brainy geek" hell to be acting. "It was a way to come out of my shell," said Graham, who's confessed to having "bad hair and braces" on top of being painfully shy. However, she adds candidly, "I'm a dichotomy, very shy and insecure, but I also have a brave, 'I'll try anything' side. When you don't feel good about yourself, you have more to prove, so you work harder."
When one chooses to free oneself of the shackles of shyness completely it can be most liberating. Just ask Jennifer Connelly.
The Golden Globe-winning actress of "A Beautiful Mind" says she didn't think twice about baring her breasts in "Waking the Dead" or doing a full-frontal nude scene in "Requiem For A Dream."
"I don't regret anything. Those were formative experiences," said Connelly. "I used to be shy and timid. I was a good kid and I wanted to be one, but it can lead to a reserve that can be a little hampering. It's been a gradual unleashing."
Roberts, Carrey, Bledel, Connelly et al have proven indeed that shyness is a strength to build on... Aiken may want to take a tip and unleash the dragon.