The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Pretty Beautiful
How I stopped comparing myself to sexy celebs

As I entered my teens, I noticed I didn’t look anything like the teenage girls on TV. For one thing, most of those girls weren’t even teenagers. The actress who played 16-year-old Quinn on Glee, for example, was actually in her 20’s. This meant that not only was her body more developed than an actual 16-year-old’s, her face was too. People aren’t completely out of puberty at that age, and they may still have growing left to do.

I’m close to her age now and I still look nothing like her. I am shorter and rounder, as are a lot of girls I know. Like Quinn, many of the other female characters on the show are more developed and also sexualized.

These actresses and others influenced how I felt I should look, and I’m not the only one. Most of my friends are just as self-critical. They make frustrated comments like, “I’m too fat for this, why do I even own it?” “Why doesn’t anything suit me?” “No, don’t take a picture of me! Delete it, I look so ugly!” They think being “sexy” is the only way to be beautiful.

Quiet the Inner Critic

One morning after I slept over at my friend Sahara’s house, she and I were getting dressed. Suddenly, she groaned and threw the dress she had been wearing across the room.

“You know, some of my clothes might actually look decent on me if I weren’t so blocky.” She pulled a T-shirt from a drawer and sighed as she sat on her bed. “Why did I even buy that?”

“You’re not blocky at all,” I said. She was tall and thin, but not blocky. She had wide shoulders; yet they were the only thing about her that could have made her think that way.

“You don’t get it,” she said, “I try to look pretty but I just can’t. I have no curves, I’m just straight up and down.”

Sahara and my other friends are the people I think of as being the prettiest I know, so it was a sad surprise to learn what she thought about how she looked. My best friends are kind and that makes them beautiful to me. One is a talented artist and gives sound advice. Another is always there when you need a shoulder to cry on.

In fact, there are few people I’ve met that I consider ugly. Maybe they don’t look like models you see in magazines, but once I get to know people, I’ve found they tend to have characteristics that make life more beautiful when I’m around them. Each of us has something about herself that makes other people consider us beautiful. It’s your inner qualities that make you who you are.

How Others See Me

I was able to see my friends as whole people and not compare them to media images, but it took me longer to do this for myself.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been described as “chubby” and teased about my shape. Over time I started to believe it. Even my mom would tease, albeit playfully, but it still got me down. I began to feel like I wasn’t good enough to fit anyone’s image of beauty. I wished I was thinner, prettier, more developed, and taller, just like my friends did.

None of the clothes I thought were stylish suited me. I wanted to wear dresses and skirts that would make me look little and delicate. But none of those clothes looked right on me.

My stomach pressed up against the waist of everything I tried on, and no amount of “sucking it in” helped. The cute dresses I loved made me look bloated and out of proportion even though they were my size.

Getting Stronger

image by YC-Art Dept

One day in middle school, I sat in front of a computer in the science lab, staring at a web page that our teacher had us look up. Based on our height, weight, and other factors, it helped us determine our body fat percentage. I plugged in my information hesitantly. It told me I was overweight, just like I was sure I’d be.

“Hey,” I heard someone say as I opened a new tab. “What did yours tell you?”

I turned around and saw a boy named John with a few of his friends watching him from their computers a few feet away. “Did it say you were fat?”

I wanted to tell him it was none of his business, and that I couldn’t care less if he thought it was funny that I wasn’t thin, but I couldn’t manage to say more than “I don’t know” before he reached over me and yanked the mouse back to the tab with my information on it. He grinned and said,“That’s what I would have guessed.”

Soon after that I started becoming more concious of what I was eating and how often I exercised. I went to the gym to start walking and running, and I gradually lost about 10 pounds, and have kept it off. That computer program might still tell me I’m overweight, but I feel physically stronger and that makes me feel good about myself.

I still continue the same healthier eating and I exercise whenever I can. I wanted to get in better shape because I thought it would empower me to like myself even if I didn’t look like the media ideal and without validation from other people. And it did.

Now I am content with how I look and how much better I feel, and I stopped caring about what kids like John think. I realize that I don’t have to let it get me down if someone doesn’t like how I look, because the only opinion that matters is my own.

Ditching Media Expectations

Feeling better about myself by letting go of others’ expectations let me look at myself the same way I look at my friends: I appreciate people not for their physical beauty, but based on who they are and their actions. I can be as beautiful as I want, and it doesn’t have anything to do with comparing myself to the girls and women on TV.

Once I realized this, I wanted to emphasize the things I liked about myself physically by expressing what I thought was beautiful about my personality through clothes. So Sahara and I went shopping together.

“I doubt this is going to fit,” I said through the fitting room door. I was struggling to get a dress I loved over my chest.

“Just try it on, it’ll look good! I promise!” Sahara said, leaning on the other side of the door. I pulled the hem of the dress down over my stomach and looked in the mirror.

“I think I actually like this,” I told her as Sahara rattled the doorknob on the other side.

“Well if you like it, then let me see it!”

When I opened the door, Sahara said, “I’ve been telling you the whole time, you are pretty. You just didn’t listen,” she laughed.

Even though other people may joke about my weight and shape, I think I look good in the clothes I choose for myself now and as long as I don’t try to live up to what the media says is the body type I’m “supposed” to have, I feel confident in them.

No one body type should be held up as a standard. So many of us think that there’s something wrong with how we look, and I think that it’s these standards that set us into these beliefs in us early on. I’m grateful to my friends for helping me change the standards of beauty I held myself to, and allowing me to see the beautiful qualities I have both inside and out.

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