Trent: Duncan, on a scale of one to ten what do you think you are?
Duncan: I don’t know, a six.
Trent: I think you’re a three.
~ The Way Way Back
Last night, my family went to see The Way, Way Back upon the recommendation of my brother. He said it was the best movie he’s seen this year. We kinda laughed because back in the day he told us we had to go see I Am Legend because it was “the best movie ever.” Now, it was a good movie but best movie ever . . . ? I guess it was to a seventeen-year-old male. But his taste in movies is usually close to my own and I’d seen the trailer so I figured it’d be a good flick. I was wrong. It was way, way good. It had an authenticity to it, yet remained funny and hopeful. That’s a rare combo these days. I’d highly recommend it.
In the opening scene Trent, Duncan’s mom’s boyfriend, asks Duncan what he thinks he is on a scale of one to ten. That’s a weird thing to ask. It’s an even weirder thing to ask a fourteen-year-old boy. When the poor guy is finally forced to give an answer, he settles on a six. Six is a safe answer. It’s not trashing yourself. It’s not cocky. And Trent just nails him with his reply, “I think you’re a three.” To quote Duncan later on, “Who says that to somebody?”
Seriously, who would say that to somebody? It’s awful. It’s mean. It’s demeaning. It’s outrageous.
But how often do we think something similar when we look in a mirror?
Think about it. Think about all those voices that have echoed in your head over the years. Take those snide comments, failed expectations, the horrible pictures we’re so quick to delete, comparisons to “better” looking people, the media assault assuring us that we’d be those “better” people for 3 easy payments of $19.99! Mix that with a bad hair year, cooky glasses, braces, an acne breakout on the day of yearbook photos (again), several dressing room meltdowns, one too many rejections, one too many failed diets, and one to many sighs in the mirror of that isn’t what I thought I’d see.
Is it any wonder that in 2012 Americans underwent over 10 million cosmetic procedures, spending upwards of 11 billion dollars?* I love this quote from Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants:
“But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyoncé and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have: Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes. Everyone else is struggling.”
And the struggle is real my friends, isn’t it? Don’t you feel it sometimes, that you’re not enough? That you’re not beautiful. It’s okay, this is a safe space. You can take a deep breath and admit that at some point in time you’ve felt like- maybe even believed- you’re a three. (And if you haven’t, all the more power to you but, I’m not sure we can hang out. Clearly, your confidence and incredible good looks will make me want to crawl back in bed, pull the covers up over my head, and never come out.)
Have you seen this camera shy commercial from Dove? It’s worth a minute of your time.
“When did you stop thinking you’re beautiful?”
This girl certainly isn’t camera shy:
This girl clearly thinks she’s hot stuff. Let the camera flash away:
But I have this photo of myself taken in 7th grade for a Sunday school class. It’s awful, no really, it is, I’ll prove it to you:
I look miserable. I was miserable. My hand-me-down sweater was not my most fashion-forward moment. Those bangs are something else. But what kills me is that forced smile and the sad eyes of a girl who definitely thinks she’s like a three. She’s the epitome of camera shy. She’s stopped thinking she’s beautiful. Unlike so many others that have been destroyed or untagged, I kept it. It’s my things-can-only-get-better-from-here photo. It makes me laugh. I want to tell that sad, lonely girl who just moved to town that it’s going to get better. I want to tell her she really is prettier than she thinks. I want to show her this picture to give her hope that she’ll shortly make some incredible friends who help her realize she’s not a three. Let her see how she looks with light in her eyes.
Because that light is where true beauty lies. And while I, unfortunately, can’t tell the super awkward thirteen-year-old me that she’s honestly more of a six, I can tell the twenty-six-year-old version I see every morning in the looking glass. In honor of her, I can fight those voices that say, “You’re not enough ______. You’re too_______. If only ________.” I can try to look for the hints that I was made in God’s image. Smile at my freckles, be grateful for my dimple, appreciate the way my legs look in heels, and look for the light in my eyes. I can stop hiding when the camera comes out. Lord knows I won’t always win that struggle, but I can try.
And I can do her one better. I can tell you.
You are not a three.
You are beautiful.
These aren’t empty words. I really do offer them wholeheartedly. Maybe you’re not a supermodel or A-list actress. Maybe you’re not a ripped, stone cold fox. Maybe you don’t even feel like you’re in the neighborhood of close. But trust me, you’re still not a three. And you really are beautiful.
I know that might sound like a platitude or a Hallmark card. But I want you to think about the people you know and love. Is it their stunning good looks that make them attractive? Not usually. It’s the laugh lines when they smile, a crinkled nose, hands with skin worn thin by years of hard work, scars that tell stories, sturdy arms that have comforted and protected, a goofy laugh you recognize across the room. Possibly it’s a nervous tick, how they manage to trip over their own feet, or how they turn bright red when they’re embarrassed. More likely it’s the way they approach life; their attitudes and quirks; the way they can catch your eye and you know exactly what they’re thinking, no words needed. It’s their heart, their kindness, their light leaking out from the inside:
“[. . .] their face just sorta becomes them. Like their personality’s written all over it. And they turn into something so beautiful.” ~Amy, Doctor Who “The Girl Who Waited”
Did you think of such a person? Can you see how sometimes it’s those little imperfections that endear them to us?
Could you do me a favor? Could you dare to believe that’s true of you too? That like Christopher Robin told Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Today, when you see your reflection, instead of finding one hundred things wrong, could you look for one thing right?
And know that you are beautiful. No, you really are. Deep down inside, I just know it’s true. And more importantly you are most definitely not a three. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, even the voice in your head that sounds a lot like you.