BY JASMINE MILLNER
Last week, I was babysitting this group of 7 year olds. This is entirely ridiculous since I usually dislike children and they usually despise me. Anyway, there were three little girls and one boy. We were sitting on the hardwood floor of their house, having a mini discussion about the super exciting life of a seven year old. Somehow we got onto the topic of beauty, which is apparently dangerous territory around a bunch of seven year olds.
One of the little girls pipped up and said that she didn’t think she was very pretty. When I asked her why, she responded simply that she was “not like the other girls.” I pushed her to tell me more; eventually she said that she was not "as pretty as her friends." because she was bigger than they are. My jaw dropped. How could such an adorable little girl ever feel like she was less than someone else, because of her size? This made me sick to my stomach. I said to her, “You don’t have to be skinny to be pretty.” Staring up at me with seriously confused bug eyes, she asked me how that was possible. SHE ASKED ME HOW YOU COULD BE BOTH “FAT” AND BEAUTIFUL. I was on the verge of tears, but I choked them back because I didn’t want her to know how much that upset me.
I thought for a couple of seconds as the kids all stared at me, wide eyed and curious. Finally, I was able to speak with a steady voice, “You are not fat; you have fat. Having more fat than someone else does not make you less beautiful.” The two other little girls nodded in agreement, but were still slightly confused, while the other girl stared at the floor. I asked her who was making her feel this way. She responded, “Well, my friend Ariana is prettier than me. She’s prettier than me, she’s skinnier than me, and she’s awesomer than me. And she can do a backbend into a split so that’s cool.” I felt like I was going to implode. She refused to answer anymore questions after that, so I just stared at her with the look you would give a newborn puppy.
Growing up, I always felt this way. Being a mix of both African American and Caucasian descent, I was always a little bit curvier than most of my friends. I was never actually big, but in my head, all I saw were flaws and fat. In my junior year of high school, I was so desperate to change this that it began to consume my life. I cut my calories nearly in half, I overworked myself at the gym, and I refused to eat anything with sugar on the label. This made me sluggish and weak, but I refused to give up. I wanted nothing more than to be like those other girls, even if it meant hurting myself.
I became underweight and absolutely exhausted. Even at my lowest weight, all I saw were more flaws. I was still depressed and filled with self-hatred. I couldn’t see that this was a problem, because my looks had been validated by everyone around me. Everyone told me that I looked great, that they were jealous of how much weight I lost. Society had taught me to equate being skinny with being beautiful. When I finally reached my breaking point, I was 5' 7" and 105 pounds. I couldn’t survive on 1,000 calories and 2 hours at the gym everyday, so I quit. I switched to a vegan lifestyle and I gained most of the weight back. I learned to love my body and everyone else’s, despite the size on the tag of my jeans.
I feel like we can learn a lot from the minds of children. They can reveal so much about the world in such a simple statement. Once I finished babysitting, I ran home and started writing. What is wrong with us, where we can so easily make care-free children so consumed with our biggest societal flaw? There, I said it. This is our biggest problem. Not our unrealistic standards of beauty, which is absolutely horrendous, but the underlying issue. We, as humans, love to make people conform to what we feel is best. We always feel the need to make others feel left out. All social issues stem from the desire to control. You can disagree with this if you want. In fact, I want you to disagree, because that’s the beauty of a functional society: Everyone has their own unique opinions and beliefs. When we try to strip people from this ability to think freely, we lose that key sense of societal understanding. We lose innovation and passion. A society that conforms to one belief and way of thinking is not a society at all. In fact, it’s dangerous. Most of all, we need to stop letting others tell us who we are.
Here’s a lesson they should be teaching in all schools: You are beautiful despite what anyone else says. I know I sound like a broken Christina Aguilera record, but it’s true. We shouldn’t have to conform to other people’s ideas of beauty, of brilliance, or of love. I say no more feeling down on yourself, because you don’t love who society says you are supposed to love. I say no more feeling down on yourself, because your skin is too dark to ever be considered society’s version of beautiful. I say no more feeling down on yourself for not being considered “plus-size.” It’s a flawed system that promotes nothing but insecurity and competition for the male gaze among women. We should be building each other up, not telling everyone to adapt to our standards of beauty.
We have ingrained these terrible concepts into society of what is good and bad, ugly and pretty, smart and dumb, and countless other oppositions. The world runs on these black and white oppositions, and leaves very little room for a grey area. A seven year old girl knows what we, as humans, find “beautiful.” To her, she feels like she does not fit into that category of beauty. She’s right. She doesn’t fit perfectly into what we deem as perfect; so what? Why are we making her feel like she has to change herself to be accepted. We are treading on dangerous territory ,because a world without diversity is a world clouded by judgment.
Sometimes, we forget that we are all human and that our uniqueness is what makes us so special. Whether black, white, straight, gay, happy, sad; we are all human. It’s time to let go of this hatred for difference. Embrace a world overflowing with innovation, passion, and love. Let's top teaching the next generation that they are not good enough exactly the way they are.
Jasmine Millner is a vegan activist, writer, feminist, and coffee enthusiast. She’s taking a semester off from college to learn about the world and hopefully do some traveling. Follow Jasmine @Jmillie_24 on Twitter or @jasminemillner on Instagram. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.