One of my fears as a parent is that my kids will grow up and want to be someone different than the beautiful, unique people they are today. After all, it happened to me. What's stopping it from happening to them?
Despite being raised by wonderful parents who regularly said things like "I love you for you," and "you're perfect just the way you are," I spent intermittent weeks and months during my teenage years and 20s wishing I could be someone else -- someone who was better at calculus... someone who had perfect skin... someone who was rooted and not restless... someone with a ballerina's thighs rather than a gymnast's. I spent time and energy dreaming of what could be different rather than simply finding joy and pride in what was. I wasted that incredibly precious, fragile, and irreplaceable time.
Well, maybe I didn't waste it. Maybe wanting things to be different rather than living with gratitude is an unchangeable part of growing up, a rite of passage of sorts. But what if it's not? What if it's less about nature, and more about nurture? I hope that's the case, because if it is, I'm filled with hope for my children. The world they're growing up in has immense promise to be different than the one I grew up in.
Countering the media's obsession with perfection, there is beginning to be a groundswell of messages about how important it is to be yourself and to live a life that is true to who you are. Social media is giving people the chance to find and use their voices, expressing their hopes and dreams and fears and failures, building confidence and resilience along the way. Marketers are facing more intense pressure to be responsible in the way they position and reach young people with product messages, inviting a dialogue versus preaching a gospel. Even at work, leaders all the way to the top are talking about the value of bringing your full, authentic self to work everyday -- the truth that bringing our full selves everywhere we go makes our lives better, our companies better, and our world better.
Perfection is out, authenticity is in.
I recently heard Caroline Casey, an advocate for people with disabilities, give a moving speech (you can hear her full story in her TED talk). She talked about labels, and how we grow up every day surrounded by other people's labels for us, and for themselves - dividing the world into black and white, us and them, in and out. At a young age, we begin to identify as the "athlete" or the "nerd" or the "short girl" or the "poor girl" or the "rich girl" or the "skinny girl" or in Caroline's case, the "blind girl." But the reality is, we all have lots of labels -- we are all so many things that the only single label capable of defining us is our name. She is Caroline. I am Brynn. My mother is Ann, and my daughter is Zoe.
Not just Caroline Casey, but all of the speakers and writers who are covering the important topics of inclusion and confidence and image are shining a bright light on the issue of identity. This tide is turning, and if we can reinforce it in schools and at home, our kids may be lucky enough to grow up wanting to be no one other than their beautiful selves. We can help them by encouraging them to fail, and hugging and kissing them after they do. We can teach them curiosity about the world and show them that difference is the one thing that makes us all the same. We can stop talking about our thighs and start talking about our lives -- our wild, adventurous, full lives. We can share our own joys and sorrows with them. And of course, just as my parents did, we can tell them when we tuck them in at night that we love every single part of them... that they are perfect in their imperfection.
I heard what I think was some sort of a public service announcement earlier this week that stuck with me. It was on a random Irish TV channel, and I have no idea who made it or why, but I know that the message was strong and true. It featured a bunch of women answering a question about what they'd like to change about their bodies if they could change one thing, and all of the women listed the usual suspects -- their wrinkles, their stomachs, their necks, their hips, their hair. It then featured a bunch of little girls answering the same question. "If I could change anything, I'd grow wings so I could fly," replied one little girl.
That's what this is all about -- creating a world in which women are as sure of who they are as they were when they were little girls, and a reality in which people are focused not on what's broken, but on what's whole. May all of the little girls and boys growing up in this volatile, unpredictable, spectacular world believe in their hearts today and every day that indeed, they can fly. And may they take their messy, beautiful, full selves everywhere they go.
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