I have worked with kids for close to a decade. I have worked with them in classrooms, on playgrounds, and at a crisis nursery (yes, it was as heart-breaking as it sounds). One thing that always bothered me was when a kiddo would come up to me complaining about some terrible thing another kid called him– “Mrs. Blair!! So-and-so said I was bad at baseball!” (I know, terrible, right?)
I knew the kid expected me to say, “Oh, honey! You’re great at baseball! Don’t listen to that mean old so-and-so!”
Or, the kid wanted me to march right over to that pesky so-and-so and tell him (or her) that saying such things was “bad” and he (or she) should apologize right this minute. (Don’t get me started on forced apologies)
But I got tired of these responses. I thought they were empty. And ultimately, they just re-inforce the idea that so-and-so has the power to define who you are and how you should feel at any given moment.
So, I started asking, “Well, are you bad at baseball?”
“NO!!” the shocked child would say.
I would act relieved and encourage the kid to think how they would feel if so-and-so had called him a feather, or a shoe, or some other thing that he so obviously was not. He would think so-and-so was crazy, right? Maybe even delusional. He would probably not mind because so-and-so obviously had no idea what he (or she) was talking about. Sometimes it seemed to work. Other times, the kid just kind of wandered away in a stupor.
I realized that the greater our idea of our SELF is, the less the words of mean old so-and-so impacts us. And I got to thinking about labels, and how interesting it is that we will readily accept the “positive” labels others put on us (like smart, funny, or beautiful), but feel so affronted when we hear “negative” labels put on us (like stupid, fat, or bad at baseball). When we accept the positive labels, we are putting our trust into an other and allowing them to define who we are. The danger here is that their labels might change. And if we believe them when they call us beautiful, we just might believe them when they call us stupid. And that is not ok.
So my goal with OperationalizeBeauty is to encourage a dialogue whereby women and girls think about what being beautiful really means. If they can see truly beautiful traits in other women, maybe they can recognize them in themselves, too. And then maybe, just maybe, the mean old so-and-sos of the world won’t be so powerful after all. And that will be beautiful.