Most of you know that one of my many jobs is as a certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter currently working at an elementary school. I work in a 4th grade classroom when my students are mainstreamed (educated in the general education classroom) then help out in the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) classroom as needed. Sometimes I get to go into the 5th grade classroom which is a particular joy for me. Not because I love the DHH students in there, although they are great. Not because I love 5th grade academic content, although it is interesting. Not because it is nice to get a break from the regularity of my schedule, although it is. The main reason I like to go in there is because of a hearing student named Jenna. If you asked the kids in the classroom about Jenna they would describe her as weird, annoying, funny, loud and strange. She is all of those things but I also think Jenna is incredible. She comes to school every day in different multi-colored, crazy print leggings that most students make snarky comments about and she just rocks them like it is her job!
On the day I noticed my admiration for Jenna, she struted into class wearing doughnut printed leggings, a neon green top and a white My Little Pony hoodie. This hoodie had big eyes on the front and the hood had a glorious purple mane. Of course she walked into class with her hood on, whinnied like a horse, shook her head causing her mane to whirl and told the few students that were watching her to check out her “cool” new sweatshirt. They didn’t seem impressed, some of them giggled, most of them at her not with her, but she didnt seem fazed by it and I was in awe. I wanted that sweatshirt, because purple is my favorite color and I loved My Little Pony as a child. I wanted those leggings, because DUH doughnuts! But I also wanted the confidence that this 11 year-old child was exuding. I wanted it for myself now as a 35 year old woman.
Confidence is something I have been able to gain over the last several years as I changed from a loss to a gain perspective, read about it here, but I wanted that confidence for myself at her age. I wanted 10, 20 and 30 year old Natalie to feel comfortable in her own skin. I know this is not possible unless I can find a Delorean and get it to 88 mph! I want that level of confidence for all girls and women at any age! I wondered when Jenna would start to be influenced by her peers. When will the media’s perspective on what is right take this free-spirit and ruin her love of self? How do we, as a society, stop that from happening?
This moment took me back to a time in my past. I remember sitting in my third grade classroom wearing these hot pink stretch pants with an Esprit sweatshirt that I was so proud of. All the cool kids had Esprit sweatshirts so I obviously I felt like I was one of them. I took my super cool and fashionably “it” sweatshirt off because I was hot. A boy sitting next to me pointed to my stomach and asked why I was so fat. I am sure I made some smart-ass remark, because that is what I do, but I remember feeling shocked and a bit bewildered by his comment. At the time I wasn’t aware that mid-section fat is a sign of blood sugar regulation and as a Type 1 diabetic that is par for the course. Up until that point I had never thought of myself in those terms. While at the age of 8, I was already to the point where I wanted material things that others had, I never compared my body to others or defined myself by my size and body type. That one comment had me reeling and ultimately effected my self-perception for many years to come. Still to this day I look at that mid-section fat and cringe It had such an impact that up until about a year ago I wouldn’t wear stretch pants although they are back in fashion, and even though I have killer legs and an ass that wont quit….ask anyone!
We have all become so influenced by media, now more than ever. How do we end that? How do we stop it from influencing our children and even our adults? There are a lot of people in this community that talk about weight loss and looking a specific way. But there are also a ton of people that reinforce the concept of being you, inside and out. These people spread ideas of self-acceptance and self-love. We need a lot more of those people in control of the images and ideas that we are inundated with on a daily basis. How do we create that sense for everyone? How do we ensure that girls like Jenna don’t lose their sense of self? I want to keep Jenna in this bubble of innocense. Where she is free to be herself without any worries of how the world will react. I want that for all children, but girls especially. I want everyone to be able to walk in a room, shake their mane and strut their stuff without a care in the world.
To a nourished life,