To a thirteen-year-old girl in the twenty-first century United States, the concept of beauty is something that she has likely been bombarded with for over half of her life. I was certainly one of those thirteen-year-old girls. I was a girl who thought the epitome of beauty was in ads for Maybelline, Covergirl, and Victoria’s Secret. I was a girl who did not wear makeup, did not straighten her hair, and normally did not buy the hottest brands or deal in the latest trend. I was a girl who could not see myself as beautiful even when others did. I was a girl who did not understand.
â–º SEMI FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
In 2009 I thought that a trip to New York City (to be hackled by these haunting standards) with my peers was exactly what I didn’t need, but maybe I was wrong. We ventured out to help with a phenomenal organization called “New York Is Calling.” And, as we visited the World Trade Center Museum, Statue of Liberty, United Nations building, 30 Rock and so many monumental attractions, everywhere you looked, every nook and cranny, every crook and crevice, seemingly every space that physics would permit, another standard was being set, broken, or re-applied
Just into my teenage years, five feet and ten inches, 106 pounds, brown hair, and green eyes, average by many estimations: that was me. And there I was, standing in Times Square, unable to see hardly more than an inch not covered in some sort of advertisement or occupied by some individual pleading their standardized case. I could look to my left and be accused of being bulimic, teased about “when I was going to throw up my last meal,” or harassed about whether or not I had even eaten that day. Taking one small step to my right could then take me into a realm in which I was told to stop eating, drop a few pounds, or engage in some other form of physical self-alteration.
But this coin was not one-sided, flip it over and it told the complacency and mediocrity with which the general public addresses, understands, and interacts with the concept of beauty. A few days into our trip, we once more ventured beneath the streets to make use of New York’s extensive subway system. Once beneath the light of the LEDs and taxi headlights, the shadows cast by that underground network cast a pall over the glory and ambience of Broadway’s never-ending act: that of the jaded citizen, the overworked, overtired, under-zealous “average Joe.” As I rode alongside the withdrawn faces and demeanors of the people of NYC, I wondered how many of them knew what they were worth. How many of them knew that, regardless of banner ads and the airbrushed societal norm that they were familiar with, they were beautiful. Few people would think of their tired, restless souls and form the opinion that those tired, restless souls are truly beautiful.
Leaving the subway one day, I was approached by a woman in her late thirties who, after asking what a big group like mine was doing, proceeded to turn and tell me that I should go into modeling. Her son, she continued, was in the business and there was more than a good chance that I would encounter success there. Instances such as these have reared their heads in my life on numerous occasions, but that one in particular sticks with me, a sort of flashbulb memory, I suppose. In answer, I have made it my goal to realize that beauty does not change; mindsets and presuppositions do.
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