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.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Measurement Queen

Hey lovely reader! It's been awhile, has it not?

I'll admit... It's definitely my fault. The busier I get, the less observant I become, and the less I observe, the less I have to write about. This busy-ness also somehow makes me feel as though my life is becoming increasingly more uninteresting; therefore, I feel as though I have nothing of importance to share with all of you.

The trigger to all of this is the dreaded magic word: busy. The busier I become, the less I write. And I must say... I've never been very good at not remaining busy. I'm always doing something; working somewhere, rehearsing sometime, etc., etc. I don't even remember the last time I fixed dinner in my own apartment. I'm usually picking something up while on the way to a guard rehearsal, to babysitting, to a student teacher meeting... You get the picture. I'm busy.

But chances are, I'm no busier than you.

So learn from me today, because God loves to send major curveballs my way when He wants me to slow down a little. And I miss a lot of them. Like the second flat tire I've had this year, and that time my printer stopped working right before my teacher certification assignment was due. (Don't worry. It miraculously fixed itself after all my finals were turned in.) So when those curveballs didn't work, God sent me terrible sickness accompanied by a serious health scare; three unrelated things that hit me all at once and rendered me practically useless until I had healed.

Learn from me. If He wants you to slow down, He will let you know. And if you ignore Him, He will make you slow down.

And, it comes as no surprise, that once I dedicated some time to myself to heal, I began to notice things again. Not just about the kids in my class, but about the women who seemed to struggle just like me.

It started at the doctor, when the nurse walked into the room and said, "It looks like you've lost weight!" It was completely innocent. I pretended like I didn't know I'd gained any. Of course she looked at the chart and read the weight that had been taken a few minutes prior, 133, and verbally compared it to my weight last May: 128. I should've been glad it looked as though I'd lost weight even when I'd gained it. Of course, me being a woman, all I could notice was that I'd gained five entire pounds.

Oh, what I'd give to be like some of the other women I see every day, I often think in these moments, To be effortlessly thin, effortlessly fashionable, and effortlessly beautiful. 

The next day I was in line at a sandwich shop (much similar to Subway) when I stood coveting the young woman in front of me. She was clearly fresh out of the study room; it was finals week and she was in yoga pants, a sweatshirt, and her hair was in a messy bun. And she still looked gorgeous. You know those people? Yeah. Well anyway, there I stood in what I considered to be a cute outfit before I had to put on my rain boots that didn't match, hair that had been straightened to perfection before the rain curled it back up again, and no makeup/contacts because I was still recovering from pink eye. I'd woken up that morning with full intentions of looking fabulous, and this girl, who was effortlessly in sweats and messy hair, looked much better than I did.

I watched her closely. She picked spinach and balsamic dressing to go on her sandwich (of course). I was about to lather mine with pickles and mayo. Lots of mayo. Bring on the mayo. And then I watched as she picked up three bags of chips. I almost rolled my eyes. I mean, how typical. The effortlessly beautiful sweatpant girl was putting down a foot long sandwich and three bags of chips and maintaining a figure I would've killed for.

But I'm glad I didn't roll my eyes, because I would've missed what was so important. She wasn't eating those bags of chips. She wasn't even buying them. She was flipping them over and comparing them, reading their nutrition labels carefully. She had a preference. I know she did, because she picked up the Lays bag first. But she walked out with kettle chips, since they were less calories. I know that's why she made that choice, because I have done it too.

She was not effortless. She was just like me. Striving to make every little calorie count (or not count), completely oblivious to how beautiful everyone watching her thought she was.

That probably sounds familiar. It probably sounds just like you.

The next morning, I attended church. The sermon was literally about how important it was to not take a single snapshot of a moment, of a person, or of another church, and make assumptions about that moment, person, or church based on that small observation. The conviction was strong, and not even an hour after, I was called in to take measurements for the competitive winterguard teams at Missouri State. As the measurement queen, I take the specific numbers of waist, inseam, etc., and then the girls are asked about their ballpark estimate for their height and weight. It never fails. They always know their height, and they hesitate on their weight.

Some girls truly don't know it. Some girls live in a world of oblivion I would kill to know, a world where they don't weigh themselves except when they're at the doctor. I remember those days. I used to not even own a scale. Now it would probably give me an anxiety attack to not have one.

But some girls do know the number on that scale, and they don't share it because they don't want me to know it. They don't want me to write it down. They don't want others to know it. And so it happens every year; they are forced to give a weight, so they give the lowest possible believable number. Some give me a number that is completely inaccurate, because there's no way those measurements could match that weight. And our guard instructor warns us each year not to give an inaccurate weight because it makes things harder for the design company, but in those moments, it's hard to care more about the design company when you are too worried about how something as emotionally impactful as your weight was just scribbled down in ink next to everyone else's for some seamstress's records. Their designs. Their comparisons. 

As the measurement queen, I have begun to understand how frustrating it must be for the design company. But as the girl who's against the tape measure, I totally get it. Because I, too, have asked the measurement queen to write a weight slightly lower than the one I know to be true.

So I watched closely this year. Who really looks at those measurements? Because I always thought the measurement queen knew my measurements. Turns out, she measures quickly, jots them down, and forgets them in the next two seconds.

As for the design company, they only use the weight to ensure the generic sizes and the specific measurements taken by the measurement queen add up. They want to make every costume correctly the first time. That's good business, and having the height and weight as a backup plan helps them ensure this satisfaction. (Satisfaction... if given the correct weight.)

But what about the other girls? you ask, Can't the girl being measured view the others' measurements? 

I suppose she could... But she doesn't. Why? Because she's too busy looking at her own numbers, making verbal comments like, "That's two inches bigger than last year," and "Oh my gosh, I knew my thighs had grown, but not like that!" and "After the holidays, I'm hoping there'll be less of this region in existence." The girls usually motion to their hips with such a statement. Turns out, we all miss the days of curvy figures being socially acceptable.

So no one really looks at the numbers. The measurement queen sees them, but she will soon forget them. The guard instructor will see them, but only briefly before he sends them to the company. The design company sees them, makes the uniform, and then forgets them.

The only one who's still thinking about those numbers twelve days later is the girl herself.

WHY. Why do we live in a society where we genuinely feel that everyone is looking at us and judging us, when the truth is that we're all too wrapped up in our own appearance because we're worried that everyone is looking and judging. 

It's an endless nightmare that causes us to be so foolishly selfish. Did that girl at the sandwich shop really gain (or lose) anything by saving herself the extra 30 calories in the bag of chips she really wanted? No. All she did was talk her way out of something she really wanted. Because of what? 30 calories.

30 calories is a little less than a third of an apple. About 4 Cheez-Its. Maybe 2 M&M's, if you're lucky. Is that really enough to make a difference? No... I was impressed with the way she looked so effortless, but was immediately saddened when I saw that it was not for lack of striving.

I've come to realize that us women are a lot more beautiful when we aren't striving. When our head is tipped back and we're laughing so hard we're crying. When we're piling seven girls at a sleepover into one car for a pizza run, or when we're dancing around our kitchen with our roommates fixing breakfast at 2am. We're most beautiful when we're in our element; writing, singing, teaching, healing, leading...whatever it was God created us to do. When we're using our heart to build people up, rather than tear them down.

But when we are confident and comfortable in who we are? Man. That's when we really shine.

A tape measure is not to confine or define you. Nor is a scale, a skirt size, or a bag of potato chips. You are far too special, and have far too much to do, than to waste your time making yourself smaller. So take a deep breath, don't criticize yourself in that mirror, and whatever you do.... 

Eat the chips.