The week before Christmas, I had an awesome opportunity to speak to 45 teenage girls at Frederick Douglas Academy VII in East New York Brooklyn. I speak to young people pretty frequently but typically around professional development topics or when sharing my own personal career path. Given my role as a My Black is Beautiful brand ambassador, I was presented with the opportunity to tackle a different topic—beauty image.
Conversations around beauty can be challenging for any audience, but discussing it with teenagers presents its own challenges. There can be growing pains, daily feelings of social awkwardness, relationship/friendship drama that can seem life-altering, and regular doses of society telling you that you don’t match the definition of beautiful via magazine covers and TV casts. I remember those days well and I don’t miss them.
For this engagement, I started with a quick anecdote about myself. Not feeling confident or beautiful can have a lot to do with setbacks in life. I wanted the girls to understand that what seems like a setback can actually be a SET-UP for success. Trials in life make us resilient and creative when it comes to problem solving and creating our own opportunities. When we reframe our perspective, we can focus on empowering ourselves to accomplish our goals.
We then watched the really inspiring Imagine a Future documentary that My Black is Beautiful created. It follows a young girl’s path to redefining how she felt about herself. What better way to get through to young teens than to let them hear directly from another young teen? The girls were fully engaged and applauded when it was over.
Following the documentary, I led the students in a discussion about womanhood, confidence, and supportive friendships. The girls called out qualities they thought were beautiful about some women they admired. I shared with them that many of the qualities they called out were character traits and not physical attributes. I watched them glow as they determined for themselves that beauty really is more about what's on the inside.
What made this day meaningful for me was leaving not only feeling like I had an impact on the girls, but also knowing they inspired me. We did some exercises to break down their definitions of beauty. I asked the girls to journal 3 things they felt were beautiful about themselves.
There was a heavy silence as some girls furiously penned “my hair,” “my body type,” “how I look out for my friends...”, while other girls' pages remained blank. I started to intervene to help the girls with blank pages, but before I could, their peers had already noticed and were jumping in. “Girl, you have nice eyebrows! Put that on your paper RIGHT NOW!”
Seeing the other girls enthusiastically uplift their classmates was one of the best things I’ve seen. I said to them, “This is the point. Feeling beautiful and confident is a process. Some days you wake up and feel it and others you don’t but when you feel it (or even if you don’t) and you see a fellow woman doesn’t, help her pick up her head and tell her why she is.”
The bubbly, witty, and warm girls made quite an impression on me with how they treated one another. If teenage girls can get the basic concept of the need to uplift others to be their most beautiful and confident and powerful self, we all can do our part. I hope you have an opportunity encourage someone in need today!