I spend my days working with middle school students. Each day, I am reminded of how egocentric adolescents are. Egocentrism does not equal egotistical. Developmentally, adolescents are hyper-aware of themselves and they are certain that everyone else is too. I often reflect on my own experiences as a middle schooler when I plan for and reflect on my own interactions with adults when I was a middle schooler. I have some incredible examples to emulate, and some that I want to make sure that I embody the antithesis. One such example is from a lesson on symmetry.
In my seventh grade year, I sat in my math class during a polygon lesson. We were learning about lines of symmetry. The teacher threw in a fun, cross-curricular fact when he said, “Did you know that a perfectly symmetrical face is the only way to say for sure that someone is beautiful?” The kids in the room started feeling their faces and asking their neighbors if they were indeed beautiful. I, on the other hand, didn’t need to feel my face. Months prior, I had endured a long, painful, and extensive surgery and recovery to gain a modicum of facial symmetry. He probably didn’t think a thing about it, but to me, at 12 years old, I was certain my teacher meant to finish his sentence, “So, Emily Garner, you’ll never be beautiful.” Egocentrism.
As I progressed in my teen years, my egocentrism faded, but my teacher’s words did not. No matter what great make-up tricks I learned, how fantastic my clothes were, how high my toe touches were, how sparking and bubbly my personality was, my face and body would never match on both sides. My right side is smaller, it droops, it hurts, and despite three reconstructive surgeries, my face doesn’t have the capacity to be symmetrical. I was in my thirties before I realized that my teacher is a jackass and symmetry is boring.
In the Garner family, beauty is almost never discussed in physical appearances. Maybe it’s because they had a daughter with a messed up face, but probably it’s because they’re the best people on the planet. My parents taught us to see the hearts and souls of people to know their beauty. Molly learned this better than anyone. I only knew Molly as a child, a preteen, and a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. However, she appreciated and honored the value of intrinsic beuaty more deeply than many adults. What a radical thing to teach your kids! Beauty isn’t skin deep, it has nothing to do with skin at all! Beauty is the guts and the soul and the heart that the skin protects.
This week, Miss Colorado shocked the beauty pageant world when she skipped the fancy gowns and instruments to display her talent. Instead, she meekly emerged in scrubs and wearing a ponytail. She spoke of her career as a nurse and how her patient had affected and empowered her. To me, that showed the true essence of what beauty is. She is passionate, compassionate, humorous, kind, intelligent, and her talent is one that is rare and more important than singing or dancing. Anyone can train for years to look good in a bathing suit, sing opera, and play the piano. (Keeping it real: I took piano for 12 years and can barely plunk out Fur Elise and the chorus to The Circle of Life.
Bringing it back to MollyROCK…. Tell your kids they’re beautiful. Don’t tell them that when they’re in a fancy dress or suit. Tell them that they’re beautiful when they open the door for a stranger. Tell them they’re gorgeous when they cry for a friend who is hurting. Tell them they’re stunning when they use their manners. We live in a world that is obsessed with outward appearances. I admit that I myself adore makeup and fashion and fancy things. But, the fancy and beautiful things are fleeting. You can dress up a turd in Tory Burch shoes and give it a Chanel bag to carry, but eventually, people will smell past the fabulous accessories. My asymmetrical face isn’t classically pretty, thanks 7th grade math teacher! But the hell I’ve been through to keep that crooked face 5 feet above ground instead of 6 feet under has been a beautiful story. The nurses, like Miss Colorado, that have been with me along the way, have made me believe it. It’s radical to think that a woman in scrubs was the most talented in a national beauty pageant. But let’s be open and start the conversations with our young people, they should all want to be like Miss Colorado.
More than meat loves salt,