We live in a world that tells us we aren’t enough. Daily.
So we strive to be perfect. Some of us are even relentless at it… And we fail. Daily. Of all the things to choose to be relentless at…
We say yes to things we should say no to, we compromise who we are to fit in, we go on crazy diets and physically harm ourselves in a multitude of ways all in the name of beauty and the pursuit of perfection.
But the real truth is that we will always fail at being perfect. So why even try? It’s exhausting. And who are we even trying to impress?
Over the past 6 seasons as a high school dance team coach, I have seen it time and time again. I have seen the tears fall from their eyes… Mascara stained… like dirty rain dropping from the sky. Eventually it stops. Eventually. But only for it to begin with a different girl, on a different day, but almost always for the same core reason. Why do we constantly feel like we aren’t enough? Pretty enough? Smart enough? Thin enough? Worth enough? Six years of wiping away tears, six years of confidently and strongly telling teenage girls that they are worth so much more than what some boy calculates, or what their ex best friend says. In many ways I feel like their other mother. Constantly being a voice that mimics their own mothers words of encouragement and love. But, our world isn’t perfect… Which means that sometimes I find out I am not reiterating what their mothers say. Sometimes I am saying the opposite. And that breaks my soul. Not just my heart, but my whole entire soul.
Sweet child, you are enough. You are perfectly imperfect in this world, but Perfectly made in Gods eyes. Perfect.
I give my girls a speech every season and it always begins with “You are not defined by a number. Not by a score on a piece of paper, not by the number on your scale, not by the number in your bank account.” Mostly this takes place before we leave for a competition. I NEED them to know that I don’t create their value based on their scores and I NEED them to know that they shouldn’t either. Ever. Heck, I’m also reminding myself that my own success as a coach doesn’t hinge on my terrible transitioning scores. I get them every year. I’ve learned to accept it. There are other things I am good at. Coaching isn’t always just about the sport. It has so much to do with their life after they leave the my gym or the studio. I would be doing an injustice to them by not sharing this truth with the most impressionable kids that bravely venture into my dance program. You are defined by your integrity, your dreams, your work ethic, your laugh, the things you are passionate about, and your joy for life. You are defined by things that make you – YOU. You are not made up of numbers.
And some crazy politically correct sciencey person might beg to differ and is rolling his or her eyes at this very moment… But I don’t care. You are a soul. A living and breathing beautiful soul. Not a number. And you are beautiful too.
So when I hear a high school student call herself ‘fat’, my heart breaks into shreds so small that it feels like it turns to dust. And then I breathe, and it hurts again. It hurts for days. I lose sleep. I pray that I can find ways to be a positive role model, to be a living and breathing example that we do not have to be perfect. That perfect doesn’t exist. That beauty is in the way you talk to and treat people, how you love, and who you are….. and not about how well you know how to contour, the brand or size of your jeans or the amount of likes and followers and retweets you collect. Is this really what defines us? When I hear a dancer say “I’m not pretty” I want to cry. I want to scream, “STOP IT!” but I don’t. Because I know that isn’t what they need. So I whisper “you are…. in a hundred million ways.”
Each year our team chooses a theme to dance to. Each year we choose some crazy dark theme and we enjoy every second of it because we are acting. Its hard work but it is our comfort zone. Probably our comfort zone because it allows us a season of not being who we are. A season of pretending to be someone we aren’t, because in their minds, being themselves was never enough. It’s a good thing that greatness doesn’t come from comfort zones. So today, and this year we are going to get uncomfortable. We are going to simply be ourselves and we are going to have to be ok with it. We are going to fight our own demons. Break down the barriers that keep us from feeling worthy. And if we are lucky we are going to help others along the way. Reminding them what beauty is, what it means and that they possess so much of it that we can’t even measure it.
A few weeks ago, I asked my brave and beautiful team to invite a person to come to a photo shoot with them. Because if I have learned anything from teenage girls, it’s that a photo holds so much power. Power to destroy under certain circumstances… Which I have seen. But it also holds the power to lift a spirit and to boost confidence. To help the hearts of girls with low self esteem heal. If I had to guess, I would venture to say almost all teenagers struggle with this. I know, because I sat in a gym one morning with my team and with their heads hung low, and their eyes closed, they all raised their hands when I asked them “who here struggles with self worth and body image?”.
What a gut punch. I sat their and cried at the sight of that. Just like a teenage girl. Because I remember what it felt like to feel what they feel. And to be honest, it never really completely left. Adults struggle too.
But I also hold a small power… I have the power to show these girls how beautiful they are through my eyes and my lens. I think it’s why I love that I am in both the business of coaching and photography. And it is here, in the chaos of body hate and insecurities, where my purpose is found. I know why I was born. And it only took 31 years. Some never pay attention to that and live their lives never knowing. I feel so blessed and so overwhelmed.
So here is our beautiful HHS Dance team, and in their own words, reasons why they think the person they brought to our shoot is beautiful. The entire gallery will be available on my website soon. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed creating it. And if you are feeling extra ambitious today, find someone or three someones, and tell them why you think they are beautiful. Maybe if we all hear it enough, we will start believing it about ourselves.
“The person I brought to the photo shoot is my best friend. Abby’s personality shines through her no matter what. Abby is perfectly her. No questions asked, hands down, herself. Abby is my smiley, funny, outgoing, loving, best friend.” -Mikayla
“My first impression of Robin was that her freckles were super cute and she had perfectly curled eyelashes. I know girls who watch youtube video after video trying to get their eyelashes to curl like that. Robin was one of the best players on our volleyball team. She has a killer serve and could always be counted on in the back. I don’t think she realizes how important she was to our team or how beautiful she is. Those cute freckles, beautiful bright blue eyes, and killer lips! You may not see it yet, Robin, but the team did.” -Scout
“My girl Saray was perfect for our beautiful campaign.I thought this because she truly is beautiful inside and out. She is always willing to put others before herself. Although Saray never complains about her look, she does not admire it either. She has the biggest and kindest heart I have ever seen. I felt it was important for her to see her beauty as everyone else does.” -Madison
“I found my person, Brittney, beautiful because she has never really been out to impress anyone. She has always had her own defiant style. She has always been a great friend, no matter what and I beleive that she is truly beautiful. I wanted her to have a gift that shows her beauty the way I have always seen her.” -Ashlyn
“I found my person beautiful because she has one of the most caring hearts I have ever seen.She’s always putting others before herself and shes such a beautiful person on the outside and even more beautiful on the inside. Rebecca is such an amazing person, and anyone would be lucky to have her in their life.” -Aristea
“I chose Lorena as my person for the YAB shoot because I have known her since elementary school. And we’ve been close friends ever since! She is full of laughter and happiness and she is great friend. She is beautiful inside and out, and she is very fun to be around!” -Mayra
“I chose Maddy to come to the shoot because she has a good sense of humor. She can light up an entire room as soon as she enters. And she can rap *really* good.” -Emily
“I chose Bailey for the photo shoot because I felt that she could use this confidence builder. She is absolutely gorgeous inside and out with a kind and loving heart. Not many people know that about her. I am lucky enough to have her as a cousin and a friend. Stay fierce girl! Love ya!” -Alex
“Ashley is a good hearted girl who has a great sense of humor. She is kind to everyone she comes across and always has a smile on her face. She is beautiful, not just on the outside but on the inside as well.” -Shyla
“I chose Lucy as my buddy because she is loving, caring and kind. She is beautiful inside and out and should never let anybody tell her different. She is very generous with others which is special because you wont find a lot of people like that now days. But most importantly, I’m glad to call her my best friend.” -Yatziry
“The person I asked to do the shoot is actually my best friend. Shes hot stuff, the kittens mittens, but I know she doesn’t always feel that way. She’s beautiful both inside and out. I’m really hoping these pictures will help her see just how beautiful she truly is, because she is undeniably awe inspiring.” -Jancee
“My person I chose was Catrin. I chose her because she is truly amazing! Her spirit is very carefree and she is special to the world because she makes people feel special for being unique. She helps others when she knows they need it and even though she has encountered her own obstacles in life, it has never stopped her from living her life to the fullest. She is an inspiration to the world.” -Ayanna
“When I think of you, I know you are the person who will always be there for me even when I can’t be here for myself, who will cheer me to my greatest heights and who will console me when I’ve fallen down , she will stand up for me and lie down besides me. She will forgive me when I’ve hurt her, and will occasionally even bite her tongue when she could have easily said “I told you so”. you are so beautiful I love you, Vianey.” -Mayleni
“Belle is very beautiful, intelligent, and a wonderful girl to be around. I love when I get to spend time with her, and how close we are when we get the chance to see each other. She is such a beautiful person because she is very loving, very fun to be around and will always make your day.” -Makena
“Zz is beautiful because of her unique fashion, her dazzling smile, and her unbelievable kindness. Not only showing beauty on the outside, but beauty on the inside. Dancing to her own beat of the music and being an amazing friend makes her the best kind of beautiful.” -Samantha
“I didn’t actually choose Kimberly, but after getting paired up with her I realized why she was selected. A gorgeous girl who needed a little push to realize it herself. You are beautiful kimberly. I hope you love your pictures.” -Megan