Ongoing Conversations: What the Mirror Says

First things first, I apologize if any of this doesn't make sense. I'm on coffee number three, and the sun coming through this coffee shop window is about to give me heatstroke, so the circumstances are conspiring against coherency.

This morning, I was invited to a friend's graduation. It was an interesting experience, in part because it was my old high school, and I had the opportunity to sort of relive my own graduation. But things are so different from the other side of the platform. Between the series of epiphanies inspired by the setting and the fantastic address by the commencement speaker, I was wrestling with what to write, but the thing that immediately struck me as I sat there was that every single one of those senior girls up there on that stage was beautiful, and most of them probably don't even realize it.

Thanks to a recent encounter with Beachbody's "Insanity" workout program, I've had a lot of conversations and read several articles recently on the topic of body image. There was the Dove Real Beauty campaign video, which - regardless of motivations and continued adherence to beauty norms - starkly highlighted the break between how women see themselves and how they see others. There was the awesome blog post, Strong Is the New Skinny, that talks about the difference between being emaciated and being strong. There was an Existentialism class discussion of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex that led to Iris Marion Young's "Throwing Like a Girl" and the ways that girls are taught to relate to their own bodies versus the ways that boys are taught to relate to their own bodies.

But it doesn't take all those ideas and conversations to know that most of those girls probably fall somewhere between dissatisfied and deeply unhappy with the way they look. Not a single one of them looked unhealthily overweight, but I'm willing to bet that they poke and pinch themselves, lamenting imaginary fat and secretly hating everything they put on because every time they sit down, their belly roll is visible. I know these things, because I sat where they're sitting. And the part that broke my heart is that these insecurities don't just magically disappear as high school girls become college students and transition into adult life. Often, in fact, they just become worse. And it's so, so unimaginably stupid.

One of the hardest things for any woman to do is to stand in front of a mirror, look herself in the eyes, and say, "You're beautiful." It took me a month to get up the courage, and then I burst into tears and ran away. Why? What am I so afraid of? Why is it that when I look in the mirror, I find it so hard to see what you see?

When you see so much promise and so much possibility standing in front of you, if you're anything like me then you're filled with a lot of hope. Hope for the best of all possible worlds, filled with love, laughter, joy, and all of the rich experiences that life has to offer - yes, even the ones that hurt. Hoping all of this for others, who have yet to crack open the book of their lives beyond the introductory pages. And amidst all of these things, my hope for the women of the LCCS Class of 2013 is that they realize how beautiful they really are - not because their faces are pleasingly symmetrical or their curves fall in exactly the right places, but because the hearts that they've cultivated within themselves shine through in their expressions, their gestures, and their words. Who they are fills up the flat image of what they look like and gives it meaning, animation, brings it from two dimensions into four. It doesn't matter whether they go on to become world famous or never leave Lancaster County. In the end, they are, each and every one, the imprint of something special and inimitable, and I hope that they learn how to celebrate that, even if takes them the rest of their lives.

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