As each semester draws to a close, I wonder if I have done enough. Have I helped my students at all? Are they better prepared to face the challenges in their lives around body image, self-esteem, and self awareness? Are they equipped to be soliders in the beauty revolution? Do they know that they are enough, just as they are? Did they feel like it was time well spent, energy well invested?
As this semester drew to a close, the standard questions surfaced. Did we get to the crux of the matter? Did we make work of what’s going on in society? Did we figure some things out? Did we take apart paradigms and create new, brighter, wider, more dynamic lenses through which they can see the world?
And then I get my answer in the form of their final papers- called process papers- where they share their expereinces in the seminar and what they have learned. There are moments in teaching that are so incredibly satisfying. It’s when a person gets it, when you feel like what you wanted to take root in someone really transcends communication and finds it’s place in his or her soul. When I read these papers, my heart bounces. I feel hopeful that each one of these young men and women are out in the world, fighting the good fight, hopefully slaying body image demons because when we are paralyzed by our body image, we are paralyzed from doing the work that we are meant to do. And when any one of us is paralyzed from doing the work that we are meant to do, our growth and our world are stalled. And there is too much that needs to be done for us to be stalled by our weight or hair or nose.
Body image. It can seem like such a superficial topic on the surface. But it can paralyze by keeping you from reaching your best self, by inhibiting your possibilities, by keeping you at home instead of being out in the world doing what you were meant to do- teach, heal, legislate, build. If it keeps you from being able to pay attention to everything that is before you besides yourself, then it is most definitely not superficial. The reason why body image matters is that it can keep so much else from mattering. And so much else matters. So much depends on each one of us being able to get up each morning and fight the fights we were meant to fight.
Here, wisdom for the journey from my students… who I know are going out to fight the good fight:
From Katie Whitehead:
On January 15, we wrote down the question, “What is body image?” and then followed this question with your brief definition, “Your perception and judgment about your body.” Under these two lines, I wrote another line that reads “A very personal thing!” To me, those three lines in my notes were the significant words of the entire class and served as the foundation upon which our learning would be built. Up until that day, I had always based my feelings about my body on the thoughts of others. What I did not know, but quickly realized was that body image is… “a very personal thing” one that you form and although there are many outside influences that “help” mold this image, you and you alone should be the final sculptor.
And, later, Katie wrote this…
“No one can be perfect and no one should feel that their self-worth is based on this idiotic notion that if you’re not perfect, you’re not anything. I still push myself and strive to succeed in every aspect of my life, but I have gained a set of tools that help me cope with the realization that I cannot do it all and that is ok.”
Then these two thoughts from another student:
Beauty is more than just looking good to the naked eye, but beauty is being able to pull out the best potential and the best qualities in someone and composing for them their individual beauty definition… There is nothing that we have to amount to- we just set our own bar.
And, later, the same student wrote this…
I will no longer try to sing the same song someone else’s body is singing but have my own solo.
And then these words from Carly Short
People (including myself) today are bent on perfection. We pick ourselves to pieces physically, pointing out our “flaws” and “imperfections,” wanting to fit into the mold of perfection. The funny thing is this mold of perfection is all in our head. Everyone’s mold is different, there may be similarities, but your idea of achieving perfection is not mine and mine is not yours. Speaking from personal folly, I believe some of us are too critical of ourselves, way more critical of ourselves than anyone else is about us. We try so hard to be that perfect person, but we end up losing who we are.