Dear teenage girls,
Many of you that I come into contact with each week have low self esteem. Your concept of your appearance is skewed by the images that are forced on you by an airbrushed society. You feel your bodies too fat, your hair too lank, your skin to acne ridden and your clothes too plain. You set standards for yourself you cannot meet. You talk about how you intend to cut carbs from your diet to lose weight. You get up early to prepare yourself for the catwalk that secondary school has become.
And then, when I stop you in your tracks, when I dare to say the thing that your world has failed to tell you, that you are enough as you are, you cannot believe me. You quote your weight and tell me that it is far too big. I tell you that weight is no marker of who you are. This is still not enough and so I find myself crunching numbers to show you how perfectly your BMI is poised in the “healthy” range, even though internally I am cursing myself as I know the number is bullshit but this reaffirmation in number form pacified you.
What surprises me most about all of this, and what has taught me most also, is how you criticise your own body yet celebrate mine. Whilst this could be seen as general politeness were you anyone else, but the frankness and honesty of our conversations let’s me know otherwise. You tell me I am perfectly proportioned. It’s okay that I’m a little wider because I am also much taller than you. I am not saying that my body is a monstrosity – in fact I love my body, it is awesome! – but I only wish you could see that to look at mine with contentment but yours with disgust is ridiculous. It is no fault of your own, but you have evolved to see error in yourself that you could never see in another human being. In fact, as I quote my own weight (currently 17st 9.5lbs – class 2 obese in BMI terms), you stop and understand that there is a reason for my weight loss – if you weighed that much, so would you. But it is about so much more than that number I see on the scale each Thursday.
Here’s the truth: that person you are trying to look like doesn’t exist. No matter how much dieting you do, how much make up you apply and how much your jeans cost. Follow your heart, follow your dreams and realise that you are enough as you are.
Do not be governed by the number on the scale. Do not delete photos of yourself because you don’t like how you look. Do not turn your face and hide from the camera. There are many things in this world we cannot control. But many others we can. Number one on the list? Happiness.