Monday, June 20, 2016

The Fingerprint Project

When I was a little girl, I was extremely protected in the best way possible. Today's society would call it sheltered. The world would call me spoiled. And you can call me whatever you want, but the truth is simple: I was so incredibly fortunate to have parents who loved me completely, wholly, and thoroughly. If there was a way to get me what I wanted for Christmas, I would have it. If there was a way to take me on that dream vacation, we would go. I suppose it would look spoiled to those who were not quite as lucky, but at its core, I was spoiled because my parents believed I was worth the effort, and they wanted me to believe it, too.

Let's stop right there and be clear. I was not taught to be entitled. I was not taught to be a brat. Quite the opposite, actually. I was taught manners through quiet humility and the occasional swift swing of the wooden spoon. But they didn't want me to grow up believing I wasn't worth any effort. I was not to bend my standards or act to please others. I was not to be trampled. My values were important. My thoughts were listened to. My dreams were to be supported, my body was to be respected, and my heart was to be cherished.

It's no secret that today's little girls and young women struggle with body positivity and self love, and I am no exception. As much as I would love to say my parents' efforts have saved me from all insecurity, I've had my fair share of struggle. In fact, my struggles are on opposite extremes of the spectrum. Sometimes, I feel as though I am so physically inadequate. Other times, I feel as though I'm nothing more than a pretty face because I was reminded I was beautiful every day when I wasn't always reminded of other things.

The bottom line is... There's just no way to win in this world. If you're given too much, you're spoiled. If you're not given enough, you're "less fortunate." If you're not reminded that you're a stunning, aesthetically pleasing creation of God, you forget; and if you are reminded, you begin to believe that "pretty" is all you'll ever be. If you believe you're beautiful, you're conceited, and if you don't believe you're beautiful, you're insecure. You're too much: too emotional, too needy, and too opinionated; or you're not enough: not thin enough, not smart enough, and not talented enough.

The only way to completely win is to accept everything you are and everything you're not, and then go ahead and love yourself anyway.

It's okay to accept yourself. It's okay to think you're smart. It's okay to love your body. And it is not wrong to count all the reasons you love yourself on one hand before you list all the things you hate about yourself.

And while you're listing those reasons, take a look at your fingerprint. It's easy to forget how special it is because everybody has ten of them, but take a second to look at it. The lines, the swirls, the circles, the curves, the miscellaneous lines that seem to not belong... That fingerprint is yours, and there's not another one like it in the whole world. There never has been, and never will be, another you.

My mother would remind me of that every day, and I never forgot it because the metaphor was always right at the end of my fingertips. I was unique, and it followed me around all day long. I was so undoubtedly special that it was imprinted on my body like a birthmark from God.

We celebrated my mom's birthday this past Friday, along with Father's Day this past Sunday, and my parents received a portrait sized poem that I wrote outlining my own personal fingerprint. Gasps escaped from my parents. Many tears were fought back. Suddenly, the most important lesson they had preached for the past twenty years was sitting in front of them, completed.

When I saw their reactions, I had to share. I so wish I had documented this process so I could share it with the world! But don't worry, it's super easy, and you can make as many adaptations as you want.

Press your thumb to an ink pad, or paint one fingertip with craft paint. Press the print to a small piece of paper or post-it note. If you can see the lines fairly clearly in the print, allow it to dry. If not, try again!

I brought my post-it note to school with me! When the kiddos left for the day, I threw my post-it note under the overhead projector and taped a piece of card stock on the board. I resized the image to fit perfectly on the card stock and traced the projected image onto the 8x10 card stock.

Not a teacher? No sweat! Before I had the idea to use the classroom projector, I simply planned to photograph the post-it fingerprint (just with my phone, nothing fancy...) and upload it to the computer. From there, I would resize it to fit an 8x10 piece of paper in Microsoft Word and print off the image on the card stock.

From there...
I laid a regular piece of computer paper over the card stock, aiming two fluorescent lamps at the paper to backlight the card stock. You could see the fingerprint right through the paper!

I wrote the poem following the lines from the card stock. Not a poet? Once sweat. It would be just as sentimental with a personal note, a memory from childhood, or a story the gift recipient never stops telling about you. Even writing out basic descriptors about yourself is enough to put your uniqueness onto paper.

Finishing Touches. 
It was important to me to keep it black and white, more like an actual fingerprint. I only used one other color to trace a line that seemed so out of place it looked as though it was an accident. That random line would hold the most important line of all, the last thing my mom would say to me every night before I fell asleep: I love you to the moon and back. 

Of course I still struggle with self love. I wouldn't have an entire blog centered around it if I didn't. The beauty distortion present in social media, advertisements, and an objectified society has taken its toll on me, but my mother's efforts were certainly not wasted. In a world where girls are constantly told they are not enough, I had an ever-present reminder that my creator's intricate design was printed boldly on the body my soul lived inside of. And it's printed on your body, too.

You were constructed by the fingerprints of God. Don't forget that, Princess.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Love Yourself(ie)

Wow! So much has happened since the last time I wrote a full post. So before we begin, allow me fill you in...

Last month was Mental Health Awareness Month, and my beauty distortion platform gained an exceptional following from multiple anxiety and eating disorder fighters and survivors. I am so humbled that I can reach such strong and captivating young women through this blog while also keeping up with their personal battles through their own blogging, instagramming, and tweeting endeavors. Throughout the last week of May, I decided that I would do something to honor these beautiful warriors and followers, pledging that June would be the month to tackle beauty distortion in advertisements and social media. 

So I want to give a huge shoutout to the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of readers and friends who took part in my "Selfie Survey" last week. Without your help, I would have nothing to say outside of my own personal opinions (which are plenty strong but not always particularly sound). Your responses made it clear that no one is fighting beauty distortion, nor cyber-shaming, alone.

What exactly is cyber-shaming, you ask? I'm sure you've heard of cyber-bullying: degrading comments, embarrassing photos, and slandering/impersonating others through fake profiles using technology. Just as cyber-bullying is the technological form of bullying, cyber-shaming is the technological form of body-shaming and beauty-shaming. And we set ourselves up for it every time we post a photo, especially a selfie.

So let's look at some of your feedback, shall we? 

What social media accounts do you currently have active? 
Facebook was a big hit. 100% of respondents had one. The next in line was surprisingly Pinterest, followed closely by Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. A few of you had accounts on other social media sites, but they were significantly less popular than the ones listed above. 

Why does this matter? Here's my theory. Most people have Facebook because Facebook has been around significantly longer. It was the social media site everyone had (right after MySpace, of course) before all the other more specific social media sites took over. On Instagram, you post photos. On Twitter, you post thoughts and quotes. On Snapchat, you send short pictures and videos with a little message if desired. Pinterest is where us women gain our creative ideas and really get our life together. On Facebook, you can do all of that, but it's losing its popularity because you have to be known. On Facebook, you have a profile that is all about you, but with Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Pinterest, you can fly a little more under the radar. Your handle or username may not hold your name at all, and you may follow accounts that are set up to feel personal without including a name or any personal information. It's a way to be active in the social media world without being active as a person. You can interact with others without having to assert yourself. That's problem #1 with social media. You don't have to be yourself.

In fact, most of us prefer not to be. One of my best friends is an avid Instagram user. She posts beautiful pictures of herself with even skin tones, dark lips, and amazing fashion choices. She posts photos of herself with her boyfriend, always doing something spontaneous, romantic, and adventurous. She posts photos of herself with friends, celebrating birthdays, attending weddings, and facilitating church conferences. But when you invite her for a sleepover, she shows up in a messy bun and an oversized t-shirt, with two Disney movies in one hand and a Walmart cake in the other. She'll be the first to tell you that her social media self is not her real self. It's a part of her; a happy, put-together, overly-social self that she decides to share, but it's not all of her. You don't see the anger she vents to the friends who love her most, the anxiety she has about events of the future, the battles she fights inside her own head, or the tears she shed when a family member passed.

Most of us are exactly like her. We post a lighter version of ourselves on social media. We share inspiration, encouragement, and beauty. We share moments we felt happy and events we found entertaining. It's no wonder we are disappointed when the guy we stalked on Facebook turns out to be more work than we bargained for. He only posted the "quality" parts of himself. Just like we do.

It is "tacky" to post statuses when we are hurt. It is "unprofessional" to post when we are angry. And I'm not saying we should suddenly start posting our whole selves, complete with our deepest secrets and strongest fears for the world to see. But we have to stop thinking we know someone because of the way they present themselves on social media. Whether they are depicted in a positive or negative light, that's only one side to the story. 

Have you ever taken a selfie in a group/by yourself using a digital camera and/or smartphone? 
These were originally two separate questions, but the same amount of respondents who answered "yes" to taking selfies in a group also answered "yes" to taking selfies individually. I designed these as two separate questions to determine if some people would only post photos of themselves in a large group to avoid the "conceited" misconception of posting selfies alone. Personally, I find myself far more likely to post a selfie if it includes another person and we are doing something together. Apparently, that's not an issue for most people. According to the survey, those who post selfies generally don't care how many people are present, and those who don't take selfies won't take them regardless. 

How often would you say you post selfies to the web? 
There was no middle ground here. We had a single respondent who had never even taken a selfie, much less uploaded one. But every other respondent was either an firm believer in selfies, or only posted them on rare occasions. "Once a month" was frequent for these rare selfie takers. "Maybe 3 times a year" and "Only on special occasions" were far more common answers.

If you do not regularly post selfies on social media, why do you think that is? Check all that apply. 
11.43% ::   N/A; I love taking selfies! 
5.56%   ::   I do not feel the need to document my life with selfies. 
5.56%   ::   I never know how to respond when people comment on my selfies. 
22.22% ::   I get tired of of seeing other peoples' selfies and don't want to add mine to the thread. 
27.78% ::   I think it is tacky to take photos of myself. 
33.33% ::   I do not feel confident in my appearance. 
38.89% ::   I feel like it is a ploy for attention.

Low percentages were present for indifferent answers like "I don't feel the need to take selfies" and "I don't know how to act when people respond." Significantly higher percentages were recorded out of annoyance, judgement, and poor self confidence.

Personally, I don't get tired of seeing other peoples' selfies, especially if they are announcing a life event (like engagement), or sharing a particular moment when they felt happy, beautiful, or loved. I did, however, find myself judging people pretty harshly. I always found it immature when girls posted selfies with a song lyric caption. I always found it tacky to post a photo of yourself with fixed hair and good makeup, giving a sly smile or worse, that stupid "duck face." And don't get me wrong, I am certainly not in support of young women who use their physical appearance to gain the attention of others. Nor am I supporting seductive or provocative photos to promote the "beauty" of a woman. No, no, no. That goes against the whole point of the Beauty Distortion Ban on this blog. But allow me to enlighten you about the second strongest statistic to this question.

I do not feel confident in my appearance. 

When I asked a few candidates that I knew personally to elaborate, one said, "Well yeah, how could I feel confident in my appearance when every selfie I see is a beautiful girl in beautiful clothes with beautiful makeup? I never look like that." Um, yeah. The girl that posted it probably doesn't either. Remember what we said earlier? People post a lighter version of themselves on social media, usually a prettier, funnier, smarter, more talented version of themselves, because that's what they want you to see.

But another said, "Honestly, I never want it to look like I'm seeking the validation of others. I know I judge selfies all the time. Either I think it's stupid when I see an unattractive or seductive one, or I think it's selfish and petty when I see one that looks good. There have been a few times when I wanted to post a selfie of myself, but decided against it because of what people would think."

She nailed it. I had never put my thoughts into words, but that is exactly what runs through my mind when I see someone who posted a selfie. I take a selfie on days I feel pretty. Who doesn't? But I never post it. Not because I feel inadequate compared to other selfie-takers on social media, but because I'm afraid of the judgement that will be cast on me from non-selfie-takers. In other words, it's too much to ask for a girl to share when she feels pretty because it is "arrogant," "petty," and "self absorbed." Her confidence is not allowed. 

Here's the most surprising statistic for this question. 
3.28%   ::    Other, Please Explain. 
And among the explanations:
"I feel as though it promotes narcissism."

Once again, we aren't allowed to be confident because it fuels narcissism. But take a look at the next explanation:

"I don't know how to take photos of myself well enough to."

Girls who take lots of pictures know the drill. Pop one knee if you're on the outer edge to make yourself look taller. Always leave on hand on your hip to draw attention to your figure. Twist your torso so you look more feminine. If you're in an awkward middle row, you have to squat. If you're in a sorority, you have to hug and lean forward. But no matter where you are or who you're with, always have the photographer hold the phone up high at a downward angle. That's what makes you skinny.

How dare we deny a woman the right to share her beauty and confidence with the world because she doesn't know the "right" way to take a picture. Scratch everything I said in that last paragraph. There is no right way to take a picture. That's the most absurd thing I've ever heard, and yet, it is so very real in today's society. So here's my personal advice to those who feel they don't have the talent to take a picture; here's the correct way to take a picture: 1) Pose the way you want, 2) Smile the way you want, 3) Aim the camera at yourself, 4) Press the button.

Oh yeah. And I forgot the last thing: 5) Ignore others' opinions. It's not their right to comment on your body or define your beauty anyway. 

If you do post selfies, do you alter/filter/photoshop these photos before posting? 
Now we're getting to what's important. 96.3% said yes. 

What body altering/photoshop apps or programs have you used? 
I expected Instagram filters, Snapchat enhancements, and VSCO edits, but those answers were mild.
Next came Photoshop. 
Just to name a few. And I know I'm fairly new on the beauty distortion platform, but these were photo editing programs I'd never even heard of. Because remember, if we're going to post it on social media, it can't be the real us. We need whiter teeth. We need smoother skin. We need better lighting. We need to be less like ourselves, and more like everyone expects.

Then, for some reason, I chose to include this question. And I'm so glad I did. 

What is your general response to males/females who take selfies? 
A lot of respondents skipped these two questions. Maybe they were acting out of respect for the recent gender controversy, or maybe they just didn't want to answer. But those who did respond gave answers that were particularly enlightening. 

Only two people were supportive of viewing female selfies, one of them having conditional support saying, "as long as it isn't revealing or seductive." Some were more likely to judge the selfie based on the caption that went with it, an understandable judgement considering some selfies are posted as announcements for major life events and others are coupled with dramatic song lyrics that applies to a current emotional situation. A few respondents answered indifferently and were not bothered unless selfies seemed to plague their newsfeed, but most respondents were majorly unsupportive. Respondents generally believed female selfie takers were "conceited," "self-centered," and "demanding attention." 

With regards to males, the responses were even more surprising. The first observation I made was that more people excluded this question than they did the question regarding females, and those who did respond noted that they really didn't see many male selfies at all. However, the ones that did see a lot of male selfies were generally supportive. A few gave reactions such as "girly" and "arrogant," but many responses centered around reactions such as: "I admire his confidence." "He looks good!" "Glad he's happy/having fun." And my personal favorite: "It looks like he has fun sense of humor." 

So the content of this post dramatically shifted my original intent. I was prepared to defend confident female selfie takers as I did, however briefly, above. However, I was prepared to defend male selfie takers even more. But it looks like I don't have to. 

I was prepared for selfie-hating. As were you, probably the moment you opened the post. So what's with all the female hating? 

Maybe some of it is that most of my respondents were females, which would make sense that they enjoy looking at men more than they enjoy looking at women. But that's not my strongest guess.

My guess is that we typically have an immense amount of jealousy for the social-media "It-Girl." Sometimes we think she's prettier than us. Other times, we feel as though she's self-absorbed. Sometimes we wish we could be just like her, and sometimes we wish we could possess her confidence despite what others are saying about her. Either way, we are generally intimidated by her, because she looks prettier, her friends look funnier, her boyfriend looks stronger, and her life looks better.

What we neglect to recognize is that she probably feels the same way about you. She isn't posting pictures of herself in sweatpants, but that doesn't mean she doesn't wear them. She isn't posting about the drama between her friends, but that doesn't mean there's not some present. She isn't posting about the fight she had with her boyfriend, the heaving ugly-cry she had last night, or the extra 1,000 calories she consumed. But that's what she's thinking about when she sees you on your best day, just like you're considering your biggest flaws when you see her.

Moral of the story... This isn't really about selfies. In fact, it's never been about selfies. It hasn't really been about confidence either.

It's about perception.

It's about the way you present yourself, and the way you identify with others. So present yourself well, with a selfie or without one; that much is your choice. But above all, be quick to compliment, be slow to judge, and never value comparison over confidence. My theory is: if we spent half as much time trying to build people up as we do trying to tear them down, the world would be in a much better state. And so would everyone in it.

Again, special thanks to everyone who participated in my survey over the week, and I look forward to seeing your selfies in the future. Oh, and friends? It's okay to post the picture of you eating the cake that's not a part of your diet. It's okay to post the picture of you in a t-shirt rather than your best dress, and it's okay to mention your lows in the midst of all your highs. It's okay to post the parts of you that you're afraid everyone will judge. It's certainly not like you're the only one who isn't perfect. And who knows? You just might be the trendsetter that makes everyone else fall a little more in love with themselves.

I don't care if you've got on makeup or not. I don't care if you're having a bad day. I don't even care if it's an old picture you've debated posting for a long time. Let's see that beautiful face of yours.