Critics can prevent us from seeing our true selves

o her teen years, I fear she will increasingly fall victim to the opinions of others.

Younger kids do a pretty good job of allowing each other to express their own individuality. But many kids, as they get older, feel a need to follow the prescription of how they should look and act. Right now, it’s trendy to be a VSCO girl, clad in an oversized T-shirt with Nike shorts, Crocs and a shell necklace, carrying a Hydro Flask and wearing a scrunchie around your wrist.

We all had popular looks when we were growing up. When I was in high school, the must-haves were Members Only jackets, Swatch watches, acid-washed jeans and Ray-Ban Wayfarers. My mom wore poodle skirts and pedal pushers.

But it’s more than just pressure to wear “the uniform” that troubles me. I worry about the unkind words and the cruel comments that adolescent and teen girls seem to hear so often, typically from the “mean girls” in their class. No matter what the specific words are, the message is loud and clear: “You are not good enough.”

I’ve heard plenty of these comments myself. You don’t fit in. You’re not smart enough. You’re too smart. You’re not very good at that. Why are you here?

These messages have come from classmates, to be sure. But they’ve also come from well-meaning adults who thought they were offering valuable feedback. And they all hurt.

I hope Ainsley will realize that we all struggle with criticism from others. I’ve come to believe there really are only three responses. You can accept it as true and be crippled by it. You can ignore it completely. Or you can examine the comment to see if it holds any merit and then learn from it. This last option works best if the critic is someone you love and trust and who holds your best interest at heart. Otherwise option 2 is probably in order.

It’s easy to believe that if you just make this or that little change, people will like you better. I think of what Alicia Keys said on a recent podcast: when you continue to make slight, almost imperceptible shifts to try to be what someone else wants you to be, eventually you won’t recognize yourself anymore.

Critical comments can weave together to form a veil that prevents you from seeing yourself how you really are. That veil will cling to you, if you let it, distorting your self-image. It can feel suffocating and debilitating, but all you really need to do to escape its influence is push it away.

Of course that’s easier said than done.

So I will continue to remind Ainsley of the way I see her: funny, smart, talented, with a big heart and a compassionate soul. I will try to help her recognize the gift she has of being a goofy kid one moment and a poised young lady another. I will try to help her focus less on the times she has felt weak and inadequate and more on the times she has felt brave and strong.

There is a beautiful prayer her father discovered recently called “The Knots Prayer,” which asks God to untie the knots in our minds and our hearts. I find its conclusion particularly powerful.

“And most of all,

Dear God,

I ask that you remove from my mind,

my heart and my life all of the “am nots”

that I have allowed to hold me back,

especially the thought that

I am not good enough. Amen.”

That’s my prayer for Ainsley. For myself. And for us all.

— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean