Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pretend Perfection

It is frighteningly awakening; to suddenly be aware of how your life can change in a matter of moments. Seconds, really. One moment, you are healthy, and the next, you are on your way to have surgery on a tumor you didn't even know you had. One second, it's a normal Christmas morning, and the next, you're scrambling around the kitchen because your Grandmother was always the entertainer during the holidays but this year, she isn't well.

One evening, you waltz out the door for a movie with a guy you recently reconnected with after five years and return home a girlfriend. His girlfriend.

It's a long story really. Those who remember our history completely understand, and those who don't probably never will. Honestly, the two of us can't really believe it either.

Suddenly I found myself post-surgery, cleared for a trip to Nashville on the condition that I wouldn't partake in any strenuous activity for about 10 days. Nashville; a far cry from my original plans but not at all disappointing, complete with the city atmosphere I required and an artistic community that I preferred. A baby New York City in its simplest form, and I had found my future home; one I never would have considered a week prior to my visit.

Sounds romantic, to say the least, so it was time to think logically. But jobs were wide open, salaries were appealing, and living situations had ten times the amount of options I had been previously considering. All roads essentially led to Nashville. God truly works in mysterious ways, and I am so thankful I was listening.

So there I was, in route of boarding a flight to Nashville, when I noticed her: a little four-year-old girl in a costume dress made like Princess Sofia, complete with a plastic tiara and purple dress-up shoes; likely the only way the poor mother could get the girl out of the house that morning.

"These kids better not make noise on this flight," I overheard the male voice from the row behind the little girl. I'm certain the mother heard it, too. I turned to face the overwhelmed momma who was balancing a baby on her hip while she instructed her pre-school daughter on proper flight etiquette. The baby wailed. The mother sighed. The men in front of me groaned. Loudly. The mother looked frustrated. The little girl looked sorry. 

A girl never has to be very mature to learn when she is being an inconvenience.

The little girl stood up, attempting to get out of a man's way (as many girls quickly learn to do), and her little bag spilled out all over the aisle. Picture books, colored pencils, and the girl's Barbie doll scattered across the row. Everyone in the immediate area moaned with annoyance.

The little girl looked up slowly, her lip quivering ever-so-slightly. Oh no, I told myself, I've seen that look before. And I had, though more often than not, I was the one living it rather than interpreting it. The growing burn in her throat coupled with damp, stinging eyes was all too familiar to me; a sign of weakness triggered by the rotten emptiness of inadequacy. After all, her mother was clearly counting on her to be a grown up today, and she was miserably failing.

It wasn't a moment later that another male thirty-something came crusading down the aisle, knocking the poor girl off her feet as she tried to gather the lost materials. As if watching the man's accidental push wasn't enough, the little girl's crown clattered on the floor of the aisle and the first tear was shed; a hopeful princess losing her crown due to her own disappointing failure.

No one even looked up to help. In fact, everyone seemed to turn away, as if ignoring it was the answer and oblivion would make it go away.

I couldn't take it anymore. Two steps behind the little girl, I dropped to my knees.

"Your Highness!" I exclaimed, "Be careful! You almost lost your crown."

The little girl was surprised. Her mother was touched. Those selfish men behind them were stunned.

"Thank you," the little girl practically whispered as she had likely been taught to do. I placed the little tiara back on her head.

"Of course," I told her, "Being a princess is hard sometimes!"

I kept walking, but I was likely impacted more than the little girl or her mother. There is a theme to every fairytale story; a dreaded point in the plot line where the Princess genuinely wishes she wasn't royalty. When she doubts that she's doing a good job, making a difference, or will ever be loved the way all the stories tell her she should be.

Being a girl in today's society is truly no different.

I would've been honored to be a member of that little girl's kingdom. Despite her youth, her innocence, and her incapabilities, she was doing exactly as she had been told. She was following directions; being quiet. Being polite. Being good. Trying her best to stay out of the way. It was not her fault that the odds were against her, as they are against all of us sometimes.

I can't help but notice that we should have more realistic expectations of people. The way people are asked to look, the way they are required to act, and the things they are expected to accomplish are not always possible, and may not be done exactly the same way you would do them. And that's okay. For whatever reason, it is generally acceptable for us to tear each other apart with the idea that we have to fit a standard model; that our thoughts and actions and opinions are to be executed and received in one way; specifically our way.

How selfish. Why are earth are we more concerned with pointing out everyone's struggles than we are recognizing things we do well? When I compliment a perfect stranger, they are stunned. Nine times out of ten, they look at me like I'm absolutely crazy, and I am no exception when I'm on the other end. I find myself fighting before receiving a compliment, rather than recognizing my worth and humbling myself to just say "thank you."

People often roll their eyes after they hear me say that we have just as much, if not more, to learn from children, but I see it every day. Our younger generations are losing confidence in themselves before they even have the capacity to gain it, and it is our fault. If we spent half as much time encouraging others as we do pretending to be perfect, we might all be a little stronger, and if our imperfections were recognized and accepted, would we still feel the need to pretend?

It isn't likely. Adults who doubt their own significance in the world are inevitably raising children who are unable to recognize their own. We cannot expect future generations to become more accepting if they are not shown how to do so, and it is our job: as parents, as educators, and as general role models, to be that confident example.

There is always a younger pair of feet dreaming of following in your footsteps. Make sure the life you are living is worth following.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: A Year In Review

New Years is the strangest time for me. Everyone else is celebrating a new beginning, but all my life, I've been in school.

I am a teacher. My life begins in August, ends in May, and provides an awkward break in June and July. Too much time to consider it a long weekend, but too little to establish a new routine. January is just a necessary middle.

Not to mention, the blog (for whatever reason) began in June. So all the updates and big announcements are usually announced on the blog's birthday on the 24th.

But people often review their past year during the transition from December to January, when the last number in the date we've been writing for 365 days can finally change. So I called in your feedback in a survey...

What were some of your favorite posts in 2016? 

So here are the responses from my beautiful readers, with the most popular post from each category included. Enjoy taking a look back at 2016!

What was your favorite post from our newest movement (#CrayonsToConfidence) battling insecurity in young children?
Don't Let Her Think This Way (published September 9)

The #WarriorPrincess movement is an aspect of #CrayonsToConfidence, encouraging girls to be their most powerful and beautiful self. Which post was your favorite for women? 
Perspective (published October 17)

The #AdventureHero movement is an aspect of #CrayonsToConfidence, encouraging boys to be their best and strongest self. Which post was your favorite for men? 
The Bikini Challenge: For Men (published May 16)

Strong teachers (can be) just as influential in a child's life as his/her own family. What was your favorite post regarding my education world? 

What was your favorite project / challenge we completed on the blog this year? 
The Photo Recreation Project (published December 25)

Thank you so much for your loyalty as a reader in 2016. I certainly wouldn't be writing if not for you!

I, however, am signing off for the evening to celebrate with friends, a little bubbly, and the live televised event in New York City. I'll see you back here in 2017 for more inspiration and confidence... This one (as always) is our year!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Photo Recreation Project

I noticed it the very first time I opened a magazine.

I must really need those pants, I thought to myself, I don't look like that. A page later, I thought I would need some lash blast mascara, too. By the end of the magazine, I was looking for a way to ask my mom for a new eyeliner pencil, two facial cleansers, toning spray, high waisted pants, new leather boots (I already had two pairs), and a hair coloring because mine clearly wasn't cutting it anymore. I found a pretty convincing advertisement for a diet pill, too, but I knew my parents would never go for that.

I was twelve back then.

Since then, I have been haunted by those magazines. I self check-out at the grocery store so I won't have to look at them. And I'm not sure what bothers me most... The fact that they photoshop their models to distort true beauty, or that they openly promote sex appeal rather than the heart of a woman.

I avoid Victoria's Secret at all costs. And if the skimpy angels weren't bad enough, I saw a Dove Chocolate commercial once where a girl was wearing lingerie, eating chocolate covered strawberries (in slow motion of course). Her chestnut hair was chopped at her shoulders (as any Dove girl would have her hair match her chocolate), and her brown eyes would roll into the back of her head as she would indulge in the treat, licking her firetruck red lips while groaning toward the camera. Ahh yes. Eat Dove chocolate, and you can look just as glamorous as her. 

Every Cosmo girl knows that if you eat that much chocolate, you will not look like that. And besides, most girls I know eat chocolate in their sweatpants. Not in their bra.

That's when it hit me. These girls didn't just look fake because they were enhanced, filtered, altered, and distorted. They looked fake because it was only one aspect of their identity. And a lesser known aspect, at that.

It used to burn me up inside that women were expected to be so sexy. Like I said, I was twelve back then, and such a thing never occurred to me that I would one day be desired. I also grew up in church, which didn't necessarily help. Please understand: my faith is a huge aspect of who I am today, but women found in the southern churches I grew up in (much in contrast to the alluring women in advertisements) were tired women in thick stuffy sweaters and long denim skirts. I didn't want to be objectified, but I didn't want to be so conservatively trapped in my own turtlenecks either. Do I agree with the ideals of modesty and purity? Absolutely. But do I agree with diminishing the natural beauty God gave you and wrecking the feminine charm automatically instilled within your soul in an effort to remain "pure?" Gonna have to draw the line there.

Why are we only given two options as women? We are either sexy or ugly. We are either hot or unappealing. We are slutty or we are unfashionable.

Ladies... There is so much more that we could be.

What about happy? What about fun? What about enchanting? Is that even really possible? And if we are pure and stylish, if we have somehow managed to accomplish both together; why must we remain boring? 

Why can't we be modestly fashionable? Why can't we be whimsically appealing? Why can't we be both positively happy and powerfully sexy? 

It bothered me so much that I sought help to prove my point. A woman is not generic. She is not a standard model; there is no such thing. Therefore, she should not be portrayed one way. She should have more options than to be a seductive temptress or a goodie-two-shoes. She should be allowed to be completely and unapologetically herself. She should allure. That is an aspect of her identity. But she should also motivate, inspire, and encourage others around her.

I find those magazines plenty alluring. (Ehh, more like toxically addicting.) But I can't say I've ever found them motivating, inspiring, or encouraging.

Model Rachel Boekhaus agreed, and we partnered right away. Joined by photographers Nulifar Zaifi and Jamie Napier, we sought to create the same photo shoot two ways: one representing the alluring, captivating beauty of a woman, and the second representing the whimsical, playful side of a woman. The ending result was absolutely astounding, and we feel we were able to fully capture the identity of a woman, as so many advertisements and enhanced photos do not.

See for yourself...

Standardization is not possible. Not for politics, not for education, and certainly not for human beings. Don't buy in to the lies you are fed. (Or force fed.)

You are so much more than what you are told to be.

Be sure to tag us {@taxistotsandpolkadots} in your own photos of unfiltered beauty with the #PhotoRecreationProject. 

More photos by Jamie Napier can be found at Napier Portrait Collective
More photos by Nulifar Zaifi can be found at Zaifi Creative
More work by Rachel Boekhaus can be viewed at RachelBoekhaus.