(Wo)man in the Mirror
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college-bound and so much like I had to tune out society’s warped view of beauty, students have to tune out the equally outdated and narrow view of what a college student looks like.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?