I’ve been coaching a 17-year old girl the last few weeks. She’s wonderful, but has been doing some self-harm type behaviours for a few years.
I asked her to write down why she wanted to be free of these behaviours. Here’s part of what she wrote:
“Being a teenager and growing up in the ‘social media generation,’ I feel, and I assume most teenage girls feel, that we have to meet these unrealistic standards to be accepted for who we are.
We realise celebrities are no longer famous because they are talented. It’s all about the looks. These are our role models, the people we look up to, the people we want to be like. We’re almost brainwashed to believe if you don’t look good, you don’t do well, no matter how much work you put in, no matter how talented you are, if you don’t fall under societies category of ‘beautiful’, you don’t make it. You can’t avoid it. All these girls in school, and then when I’m at home there is the TV, the internet and magazines to make me feel bad, but as I said earlier, these are unrealistic standards. I’m tired of constantly feeling self conscious. I want my confidence back.”
So sad, isn’t it?
And just another example of the innocent misunderstanding about where confidence, happiness, or any other feeling comes from. I wish she could see that it is her uniqueness, not her ‘sameness’ that makes her interesting and precious. I hope she begins to realize that feeling self-conscious has NOTHING to do with the way she looks, but is to do with her thinking about her looks. That her confidence, or lack of it, has NOTHING to do with the way she looks. I know it really looks to her, right now, like the two things are connected, but they’re really not.
“There’s nothing you need to do, be, have, get, change, practice, or learn in order to be happy, loving, and whole. You are only ever ONE thought away.” Sydney Banks
So this week, I came across this wonderful blog from Dr Kelly Flanagan, a clinical psychologist and happy father of three.
He has made a habit out of writing letters to his young daughter, to help teach her about the world. But not only his daughter could benefit from reading his wise words. Tomorrow I am going to read this to my client!
As I write this, I’m sitting in the makeup aisle of our local department store. A friend recently texted me from a different makeup aisle and told me it felt like one of the most oppressive places in the world. I wanted to find out what he meant.
And now that I’m sitting here, I’m beginning to agree with him. Words have power, and the words on display in this aisle have a deep power. Words and phrases like:
Instant age rewind,
Choose your dream,
Nearly naked, and
When you have a daughter you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house—a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man.
But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy.
And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence.
But words do have power and maybe, just maybe, the words of a father can begin to compete with the words of the world. Maybe a father’s words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakeable sense of her own worthiness and beauty.
A father’s words aren’t different words, but they are words with a radically different meaning:
May your strength be not in your fingernails but in your heart. May you discern in your center who you are, and then may you fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.
Choose your Dream
But not from a department store shelf. Find the still-quiet place within you. A real dream has been planted there. Discover what you want to do in the world. And when you have chosen, may you faithfully pursue it, with integrity and with hope.
The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. But take your gloves off. Pull no punches. Say what is in your heart. Be vulnerable. Embrace risk. Love a world that barely knows what it means to love itself. Do so nakedly. Openly. With abandon.
May you be constantly, infallibly aware that infallibility doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion created by people interested in your wallet. If you choose to seek perfection, may it be in an infallible grace—for yourself, and for everyone around you.
Your skin will wrinkle and your youth will fade, but your soul is ageless. It will always know how to play and how to enjoy and how to revel in this one-chance life. May you always defiantly resist the aging of your spirit.
Your finish has nothing to do with how your face looks today and everything to do with how your life looks on your last day. May your years be a preparation for that day. May you be aged by grace, may you grow in wisdom, and may your love become big enough to embrace all people. May your flawless finish be a peaceful embrace of the end and the unknown that follows, and may it thus be a gift to everyone who cherishes you.
I will surely understand if someday makeup is important to you. But I pray three words will remain more important to you—the last three words you say every night, when I ask the question: “Where are you the most beautiful?”
Three words so bright no concealer can cover them.
Where are you the most beautiful?
On the inside.
From my heart to yours,