DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I’m 16, hoping for a fresh start at a new high school after leaving my old one for being bullied. I’m pretty small for a guy and not very athletic. I mostly seemed to make friends with girls at my other school, which made everyone think I was gay, even though I’m not. Being picked on made me socially awkward at school, though I’m not socially awkward ordinarily and wasn’t before high school.

I’m paranoid about being a target at the new school. What should I do to start off on the right foot?

— “Gary” in California

Sarah, 16, Monclova, Ohio:People can be so mean. The boys soccer team started a rumor that I’m lesbian because I’ve never been kissed. I was really hurt at first, but I decided not to let it ruin my high school experience and I’m much happier now. Going to a new school is scary, but don’t go in thinking people will be mean! Just be your confident self and they will see that!

Carlos, 18, Fairfax, Va.:I also have slightly more female friends than guy friends. When I started high school I knew I needed to change some qualities about myself. Before, I used to let people say whatever they wanted and laugh it off. So I said to myself, “no more.” Make friends with people you know are nice. If someone does make fun of you, don’t let it bother you (or at least don’t show it). Instead stand strong and assert yourself.

Chris, 25, Washington, D.C.:Introduce yourself and remember people’s names. If you don’t do sports, get involved with a group or club, even a study group. People are attracted to those who are fun and happy. You can project this behavior by simply smiling and keeping your attitude light and buoyant. The trick is realizing that everyone is feeling a lot like you.

Breele, 19, Dana Point:Most people are insecure in high school and everyone is trying to fit in. The main attractive quality is confidence, so whatever type of person you are, be confident about it! Fake it till you make it. Conceal insecurities and vulnerabilities except to those who are kind.

The other top thing is personal hygiene. Having confidence means you have personal worth, which means treating yourself like you’re worth it.

Shower daily, clip your nails, wear acceptable styles. Don’t show up with greasy hair, food in your teeth, or yesterday’s smelly clothes. Go the gym and get some bulk on you. That’s part of taking care of yourself. Guys at the gym stand up straight and own their power — even small guys. Standing up straight makes you look and feel confident. Respect yourself enough to work on yourself.

Nicole, 23, Santa Rosa:Make eye contact. If someone picks on you, assert yourself the FIRST time. Forgiving those from your past will lift you out of “victim” mode.

Christina, 20, Marysville:Be yourself.

Don’t let people change how you would normally be. Make friends by talking with people, opening up (when the time is right), and forgetting those who bring you down. Join a club, go to games, get involved with student council. You have a brand new opportunity, use it to your advantage! Just stay true to your morals.

DEAR “GARY”:Please know, whether you are popular, bullied, or somewhere between, your core “self” is worthy, unique and important. People who know this get through anything.

Congratulations on putting yourself in a healthier situation — that shows a high degree of self worth. Take what works of the panelists’ suggestions and create a happier high school experience!

— Lauren Straight Talk is a non-profit that tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice. Go deeper in today’s conversation or ask a question by clicking or writing PO Box 1974 Sebastopol, CA 95473.