At eight years old, my best friend, Jenny, and I conspired to get rid of our fat. This was 1981. We barely watched television. We were entering the second grade. And, yet, we thought we were fat when neither of us was anywhere close to even being chubby.
At eighteen, I arrived on a college campus to find that I looked like no one else. That uniqueness caused a self-consciousness in me that was amplified when a friend told me that I would, at least, look exotic if I just had different colored eyes. In that moment, I internalized that I wasn’t different enough to be unique, just different enough not to be considered.
At twenty-four, I was a high school teacher, telling my students that they were brilliant and smart and could do anything. And, some days, despite the earnestness of my efforts, I couldn’t make them buy the truth that I was selling. I packed healthy lunches everyday for one of my soccer players who wouldn’t feed herself. When another one of my athletes regularly broke out into so much anger that no one could escape her derision, herself most of all, I would sweep her into my arms and hold her there, trying to calm her into believing in her own worth. When one of my mentees in a summer program said her boyfriend wanted sex, I reminded her that what she wanted was more important. When the last day of school came, and I called each one of my students, one by one, to the front of the classroom while playing a song that reminded me of just him or her—Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls, Pride by U2, Everything is Everything by Lauryn Hill, or A Wink and A Smile by Harry Connick, Jr.— a reverent silence fell over that space, each one of my students basking in being seen. In the front of the room, each would sit on a stool while I celebrated a trait that I most appreciated in him or her. Each trait was unique—inquisitive, compassionate, passionate, wise, patient—and my students relished in their brilliance being seen and spoken. This sense was affirmed recently when one of my students wrote to say that her boyfriend had recently found the note I had written about her gifts:
As I re-read it, it brought tears to my eyes. At the time I didn’t realize some of these things about myself and I’m still afraid to admit it even now. You said, “you are blessed with such uncommon wisdom and calm… You offer those around you such strength and assurance.” Such powerful words to say about a seventeen year old. But you are the first person that challenged me to look at myself in such a manner. I attribute a lot of who I have become to my experiences in Leadership that year.
Not long ago, I was having lunch with nine seventh grade girls at a local middle school when one of the guidance counselors, a woman in her late fifties who I know and admire, walked in to say hello. It was school picture day, and each girl had taken great care to get ready that morning.
“Are you getting your picture taken,” they asked the counselor.
“I hate having my picture taken,” she answered. “When I was in fourth grade, I was the tallest kid in school. When I went to pose for my school picture, the photographer screamed, ‘We have a big one here.’ I’ve hated taking pictures ever since.”
“Do you like your height now,” I asked.
For a moment she looked confused.
“I love my height.” And then, “and I shouldn’t mind taking pictures any more. I have given that man so much power over my life, and he’s probably not even alive any more.”
I have known what it is like to believe wholeheartedly in myself and then have episodes from my life lead me to question my own beauty and my own radiance, and I have known what it is like to try to help someone else galvanize her own power, realize her own brilliance. It is, by my nature, what I most wish to offer- whether I am spending time with a little girl in my life, a dear friend, an acquaintance, or one of my students. And it is what I plan to offer in my next book, tentatively title Beautiful You and slated for a Fall 2010 release.
I signed and mailed the contract on July 31st (true to Rosie form: I stopped by the gourment homemade chocolate shop in town and bought homemade peppermint patties and caramel truffles and brought them home for BF and I to have a celebratory toast with— some women want wine, I want chocolate or cupcakes). I am so excited to write this book that will walk girls and women through championing themselves in boosting their self image and body image. I’ve written about 20% of it so far and hope to finish up the first draft before the end of December. I’ll keep you posted on the progress, share the timeline for how I went from idea to contract for the writers in the bunch, detail how I am organizing and tackling the project with just a handful of work hours each day (and other work to do!), and ask your advice and insight on body image and self image issues as I go (since Monday is body image/ self awareness day and Wednesday is life as a writer day, look for those sorts of posts on those days). I might even have to poll you on title ideas if Beautiful You falls by the wayside, enlist some of you to help as first readers, and I’ll definitely need all the help I can get when the time comes to promote it.
**The picture is circa 1980– I think it was my 7th birthday. Laura and Jenny (Jenny shows up in Hijas and in the 1st paragraph above) were my first two friends when we moved off the military base, and they were my closest childhood friends. They remain in my life today and continue to be the sweetest, most genuine, uplifting friends that a girl can be lucky enough to have in her life. If you count the quality of one’s life by the quality of her friends, then I must say that my cup runneth ridiculously over.