Helping Teens See Themselves (and Perhaps Helping You and Me too?)

I see it in their eyes sometimes.The quiet uncertainty that ripples out from quick side glances and downward gazes, to the way they walk and hold themselves some days.

“Do you see me?” “Am I visible, beautiful, interesting?”

This inner longing to be known, to be seen, to be captivating –we all wrestle with it, teens and adults alike, some days.

And so I purposefully reach out, speaking their names aloud as I see them, pass them in bus aisles, and sit beside them, across from cheeseburgers and sweet southern teas.

Speaking a teen’s name aloud to them, looking them deep in the eyes, asking questions and listening hard, I strive to show them they are seen, cared for, valuable. And they have value, not because I see them or another person sees them, but because they were created by an Artist God who loves them and delights in them.

Saturday night in our hotel room, halfway through a weekend-long youth retreat, ten of us senior high girls and leaders gathered round. On beds, cots, couches, and carpeted floors, we curled up cross-legged.

“Have you seen the sketch-artist Dove experiment that has been blitzing facebook this week?” I asked my girls.

In the experiment, women in a waiting room were told two things: 1.) they were here to talk to a sketch artist, and 2.) to be friendly with the women around them, getting to know them. As their turn with the sketch artist arrived, the women entered another room and were asked to describe themselves to the sketch artist behind the curtain. Haltingly, shyly, the women listed their own features. “A rounder face, stubby chin, turned up nose…” and a picture formed from the words they uttered. Afterwards, almost as an afterthought, the sketch artist asked each woman to describe someone by name they had met from the lobby. In glowing warm words, each woman spoke of their new friend’s eyes, cheerful smile, cute nose and dimples, and flowing hair. Dismissed, the women left the room.

In a gripping finale, the women were invited back into the artist’s gallery to see two portraits hanging side by side for each of them. On the left was the artist’s rendering of the woman describing herself. Each woman’s insecurities amplified the features they were shyest about. Noses or chins were exaggerated, disproportionate.

Hanging to the right, however, was a second portrait, drawn from descriptions by friendly new acquaintances in the lobby. Suddenly, tears fell and silence dropped as women saw their own beauty through the eyes of others. A truer, gentler picture emerged for each woman through the eyes of strangers in the waiting room.

 My girls and I, we sat curled up and crossed-legged on couches, cots, and carpeted floors, as I told this story. And then with torn notebook paper and pens, we scribbled until our hands hurt, sketching images of beauty for the women beside us, telling them how we really saw them. Written words traced beauty in them; drawing a line around kind eyes, generous spirits, and fierce loyalty towards others; highlighting the skills and talents we saw in them. Our words erased the imperfections they hung onto –exaggerated in their minds– and drafted sincere beauty.

Silence fell afterwards, once papers circled the room to arrive back at their owners. Each young woman read looping lines that traced her value and beauty from the new friends in the room.

Have YOU seen this newest Dove video, “Real Beauty Sketches”? Take a moment to watch this now. It’s worth the three minutes, I promise you. Share it with your friends and families, will you?

Then, pick up a pen and perhaps trace some words of beauty to someone around you too? Let them know they are made by an Artist God who delights in them. 

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience Emily at Imperfect Prose on a Dare to Love the Mom in the Mirror.

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  1. Anonymous on April 23, 2013 at 12:15 am

    What an awesome exercise! If we could only see ourselves as God sees us as well as the others in the waiting room. I also agree whole heartedly with your words about speaking a teen's name aloud when you great them. It means so much.

  2. Unknown on April 23, 2013 at 1:11 am

    It's been all over my Facebook and I haven't had a chance to stop and watch it so thanks for the moment! And how impact full to share this with your daughters, I hope I parent like that.

  3. Jennifer Dougan on April 23, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    Hi V,

    Oh, yes, I agree. Trying to see other people as God sees them is revolutionary. Nice to talk with you again. Thanks for stopping by.


  4. Jennifer Dougan on April 23, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Court Dan,

    It's a great video, isn't it? I'm glad you could pause and see it through me this week.

    I bet you're a great parent! It's nice we can all learn from each other through these online forums, huh?


  5. Floyd on April 24, 2013 at 1:17 am

    Awesome story. All of us are too hard on ourselves and for all kinds of different reasons.

    I coached girls lacrosse at the high school varsity level for seven years. I made friends that are more like daughters for life. I shared with them the truths you shared here. And how winning isn't measured by a number, but but by integrity and honor and can only be measured across a lifetime.

    Beautifully written.

  6. Lorretta at Dancing on the Dash on April 24, 2013 at 3:27 am

    Oh…I DID see that video and it was shattering. I so wish I'd had some of this "reality check" going on in my world back then but I'm often reminded that God is sovereign in EVERYTHING so that even the timing of my understanding things now, is PERFECT. Bless you!

  7. Cheryl Barker on April 24, 2013 at 5:10 am

    What a great exercise to share with your girls. Bet they'll never forget it. So true how we magnify our own faults and insecurities. Thanks for an important reminder, Jennifer.

  8. starla on April 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    I have seen the video…
    I love how you have taken this and brought it so personal into your own home. Wonderful!

  9. Unknown on April 24, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    This is beautiful, Jennifer. I'm sharing this post with my Moms of Teens group! Thanks!

  10. Mommy Emily on April 25, 2013 at 3:04 am

    It's incredible. I'm so proud of Dove. ๐Ÿ™‚ God is using them.

  11. cabinart on April 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    What an interesting experiment, both from the point of view of an artist and that of a woman who dislikes photos and the mirror. Thank you for sharing this! (Just saw that Michael Hyatt also refers to it – he is another of my blogging/thinking/leadership "gurus".)

  12. Anonymous on April 25, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    I like what you did with the "sketching with words" activity! And now I am making my brain hurt trying to remember WHO it was I saw among my facebook friends who was trying to figure out a way to use that video as an activity she could do with her girls group. That is a great idea though! ๐Ÿ™‚ ~Frances

  13. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 1:44 am

    Floyd, thank you.

    I'm so glad you worked with girls' lacross teams. Winning through integrity and honor and over a lifetime– yes, good truths. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jennifer Dougan

  14. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 1:49 am


    Nice to meet you! Thanks for stopping by. Sorry for my delay in getting back to you.

    Yes! I too wish that I had seen a video like this when I was younger, but am so thankful for chances to pass on messages like these to the people in my life.


  15. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Thanks, Cheryl. It's so interesting to watch our daughters grow up to be the women they are, huh?


  16. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 1:58 am


    Thanks. Have a lovely week!


  17. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 2:00 am

    Thank you, Shannon!

    Jennifer Dougan

  18. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 2:03 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Emily. Yes, this is Dove's second great commercial like this.


  19. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 2:09 am


    Have you tried that drawing trick too? That would be interesting as an artist, I bet. Do you like to do faces? I see more landscapes and still-lifes on your site.

    How are you? I miss talking to you.


  20. Jennifer Dougan on May 3, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Frances (eggthoughts),

    Hi, nice to meet you! Yes, it's a great activity. I hope you remember who on fb needed it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Have a great day. Thanks for stopping by.


  21. Rebecca J Rose on May 3, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Love this! What an awesome story! Sounds like you are a blessing in these girls' lives!

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