Archive for December, 2011
Over the past few months I’ve come to a major realization, I finally feel comfortable with the way I look. Yes, I could still afford to lose a few pounds around the middle, tone my arms, etc. but when I look in the mirror I stare back at a face, body and personal style that I’m comfortable in. What makes this all the more self-affirming to me is that my “look” is not the traditional, American image of beauty, femininity, or style. I have not found my confidence and comfort by trying to mimic images from Hollywood, fitness magazines, or even the Hipster counterculture that seems very prevalent these days. In other words, I’ve developed my confidence mostly on my own and I’m damn proud of it.
The reason I bring up this new bout of self-confidence is that as a student affairs professional I have been educated, trained and encouraged to recognize and respond to the need’s of underrepresented student populations. Students can be underrepresented for a host of reasons including but not limited to ethnicity, nationality, ability levels, sexual orientation, age, and/or socioeconomic status. No matter which factor(s) are at play, underrepresented students are not as likely to look in the mirror and feel comfortable, “in their own skin” as college students or pending college graduates. They haven’t seen countless university or job ads with faces, bodies, and abilities like theirs represented. They haven’t been told consciously or subconsciously that they should see themselves as smart, studious, or college-bound and so much like I had to tune out society’s warped view of beauty, students have to tune out the equally outdated and narrow view of what a college student looks like. Most campuses have offices on campus that provide support, guidance, and mentorship for underrepresented students. The staffs of these offices are dedicated to helping improve the accessibility to higher education, but it is still up the student to put in the personal hard work, reflection, blood, sweat and tears that often take place before they feel comfortable in their college student identity. And it is this effort that should be acknowledged more often than it is.
The cause for this lack of acknowledgement may have something to do with how hard it can be for outside entities to see, feel, or really understand the inner growth that students and others face as they shed off society’s images and accept themselves more thoroughly. It may also be due to the fact that it is hard to rationalize acknowledging something that someone else has done for themselves. They had the intrinsic motivation to do it and so external praise may seem unwarranted or unwanted. Lastly it can be a bit unsettling for the mass’s (those that still hold to society’s images) when others acknowledge in subtle and big ways how ridiculous, outdated and unfounded our “majority rules” views are. In other words, there are many good reasons why self-confidence, born from external factors and achieved through intrinsic suffering, reflection and enlightenment are hard to celebrate openly. I know that the greatest celebration for me comes everyday when I look in the mirror and feel proud but offer up this post to get you thinking:
Have you faced a similar challenge in gaining self-confidence and shedding a preconceived view of what it meant to be in line with society’s expectations of you? How did you feel before, during and after the challenge? And is the challenge ever really over?
Did someone ever help you celebrate this accomplishment? Have you ever celebrated someone else’s accomplishment in this arena? What did that look like?
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A few weeks ago, I went to the optimist office to order some glasses, a pretty standard errand and therefore no obvious pitfall to watch out for, or at least in my opinion. There I sat patiently waiting for someone to help me and then WHAM out of the blue I hear it: Christmas music. And I’m not talking about your “red nose reindeer” or “holly jolly” stuff, but the full fledged “little baby Jesus” variety. My feelings went from surprise (after all it’s not even the day after Thanksgiving yet), to anger (why are they choosing to play this stuff- another example of the majority culture being obvious), to a feeling of not being welcome and lastly to disappointment in myself for not feeling empowered to say or do anything about the situation.
Basically I went through most of the stages of identity development in the span of about a minute. Of course, this could happen because I’ve already experiences this model through many identities (white, women, GLBT, Jewish, upper-middle class, to name a few) and been through the stages at a much less blazing speed, but all the same it was a bit disorienting. Ultimately what matters is that I ended up feeling marginalized and unable to respond in a way that explained my feelings and left me empowered. Despite all my work in the identity development arena, I still find myself puzzled at times. I also think that any opportunity where I am marginalized is an opportunity to think about where else this occurs both for me and for those I work for and with and how I can speak on not only my but others behaves when it comes to these feelings.
So I leave you with these questions:
What are you doing to create welcoming environments for students, co-workers, and visitors?
Is there a point where trying to make everyone comfortable become generic, uninviting, sterile?
When was the last time you felt marginalized and how did you respond?
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