Redefining Beauty: Liberating your inner 14-year-old

We’ve all been there. Or at least, those of us who didn’t miraculously sprout model-grade, grown-up body parts overnight. Like Eddie Izzard so vividly (and albeit, crudely) recounts in Dress to Kill, puberty, and its plague-like symptoms, leaves few of of us unaffected. He says, “Puberty came and destroyed my confidence… It is such a hell of a gear change….you think, I want to get off with some of these people, so I better look my best! Then Mother Nature says, ‘No! You are going to look the worst you will ever look in your life!'”

We all laugh at that skit because we all know that terrified feeling of thinking you are unattractive and unwanted. And at 14 or so, this feeling is amplified, not only because of the general greasiness that characterizes that special time, but because at that age we also succumb to believing: “No one understands. I am alone.” In retrospect we shake our heads at our younger selves, because since then, we have learned a lot, or at least we have met enough people to realize that self-consciousness is a near universal temptation.

What would you, in all of your maturity and wisdom, tell your 14-year-old self? It’s a fun question to ponder. I think my answer would be somewhere along the lines of “Shut up. You are smarter and prettier than you think you are and people like you so just STOP IT.” Unfortunately, I can’t tell this to that younger me. Even if I could, I doubt she would believe me. Telling is not the way to teach most things. The best way to believe new truths is to discover them for ourselves. But, practically, if we could do something to help the current 14-year-olds through this nasty time, what would it take to trigger those epiphanies?

Enter the Selfie Project. I stumbled across this story the other day and I experienced the next best thing to confronting my 14-year-old self. This project, sponsored by Dove (I know, it’s a giant marketing ploy, but bear with me), shows a photographer challenging a group of middle school girls and their mothers to take pictures of themselves and specifically feature the things they don’t like about themselves. The purpose of the project was to challenge their understanding of what beauty meant, specifically to expand it beyond the narrow mold into which few human beings, and even fewer without Photoshop, fit. As you will see, the video captures the acute pain a poor self-image creates. You can see it in the faces of these girls. You can hear it in the voices of their mothers. But the story takes a creative turn. The photographer displays the selfies in a swanky photo exhibit and encourages onlookers to stick post-it notes next to the pictures calling out what they liked about the faces. As one girl was shocked to discover, the things she disliked about herself were things that made her stand out for others, the things that made her beautiful.

“Beauty is being strong, being brave, being happy with yourself.” I love this. I’ve watched this video twice now and cried both times. My inner-14-year-old really needed this. And so did I.

What other kinds of experiential learning can we devise? What other epiphanies can we trigger? This is our quest. Go now and create!

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Filed under Inspiration and Creativity, True Stories

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