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.
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.