When I was 15 I had to write an autobiography for an English assignment. I started it off by describing my appearance in a way that only someone with serious body confidence issues would. I described my greasy skin, very wobbly bits, big nose and lank hair so vividly and with such rawness that I recall it still. It was part of my defense mechanism to criticize the way I looked before anybody else could.
I have written before about the struggles I had to accept my appearance and how it blighted my life for many years -if you like you can read about it here A letter to my younger self…. Essentially, I would compare myself to others who I encountered in real life and through the media and I came to believe that I was a hideous mess. I limited myself and walked away from leadership and job opportunities because I was so convinced that my appearance would be mocked if I drew attention to myself. I was so convinced that shop assistants were talking about me and my weight that I would sweat and flush bright red when paying for anything other than diet pop and chewing gum.
Gradually I got better as I grew older and learned to manage my own thinking. I became more at ease in my own skin and started to appreciate myself for who I was rather than wishing to be somebody else. However, over the past few days as I face the return to work and have been getting my work wardrobe out of hiatus, I have been struck by the reality that I have gained a few pounds over my summer of total relaxation and just letting myself be. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this has caused me some stress. I know it doesn’t really matter (I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with students over the years about this type of thing not mattering) but at some level I still fear being mocked for the way I look as its a hard habit to break and I worry that in this climate of criticism and ridicule I am not the only one.
As educators we aim to give our young women a strong message: your value is not in how you look. You are far more than your appearance. Be strong and believe in yourself. It concerns me though that this message is not what they are getting in their real world. We all know about the danger of magazines that highlight airbrushed, unrealistic versions of beauty. But I think there is a more serious danger that needs to be addressed that is clear in the media coverage of Donald Trump and his family.
Most of the jibes leveled against Trump include some reference to the way he looks: his skin, his hair, his nose. I have lost count of the memes that have popped up on my newsfeed in recent months that base their ‘humour’ on this type of mockery. People have been laughing at his appearance ever since his campaign for the presidency was announced and in recent times this has been extended to his wife and son too.
I don’t agree with Donald Trump’s policies and ideas and I see the world very differently to him, but I also don’t agree with those who mock his appearance and write hateful banners which they parade in protest. I don’t agree with those who see Donald Trump’s ten year old child as a target to be ridiculed or those who mock his wife. I worry that millions and millions of young people will be observing this hate and mockery and will be retreating into their own boxes, terrified that if their appearance is ‘imperfect’ or different they will be a target for abuse too.
As a mum and as a teacher, I also worry that young people will be learning from all this that it is okay to be cruel to others, that if someone looks different or acts differently to you it makes them a fair target for ridicule and hatred. I believe strongly that despite what we might say, children learn from what we do. How can we tell them it is wrong to bully or mock others when they see this behavior from adults on the news, in their communities and in their homes? If we don’t agree with what people say then surely we should stay focused on that rather than descending into mockery and abuse. I was reminded of this quote the other day when it popped up on my newsfeed via MINDFOOD.
There is so much darkness in our world, but I really believe that the way to bring more light in is through love, kindness and respect rather than through mockery, abuse and hatred and this is what I am hoping and praying for.