Assure teenagers of anonymity and ask them to name their most wretched peccadillos.
Their lists will break your heart. Besides profound depth and astonishing diversity, the lists will confirm teens’
distorted views of their beauty. Unfortunately, only added maturity facilitates reconsideration of this fact.
Imagine if young people could see their own beauty. I’m not talking about photographs of artificial, airbrushed and manufactured beauty. I mean the kind you might find in the aisle of a store where a teen is immersed in naturalness. The flowing, shiny hair, the unique profile, the healthy glow, the trim and fit frame and the quiet presence all fit together to demonstrate a picture of soul-jarring creation. Catching a glimpse of this type of unaffected human radiance creates a wave of welcome for any artistic eye.
As I try to not stare, my desire to feed their confidence puts a fire under my common sense. Is it appropriate to don my cool, older-aunt persona? Can I speak my truth and not come across like some scary person? It’s risky. Sometimes I have to settle for passing an inane comment – like teens give to me at times: “Great shoes!”
It’s hard to accept such beauty hosts unwelcome peccadillos. Sometimes all it takes is the appearance of another teen and quiet confidence is secretly pulled back into the clutches of perceived imperfection.
For me, all it took was a five year old.
My peccadillo was acne. Having been plagued throughout my teens, nothing worked better in riding through a fresh outbreak than a couple of friendless days at home with good music. I’d tell friends, “On some days, instead of applying makeup, I do surgery.”
They’d groan and claim they never noticed. They insisted my personality would overshadow any perceived flaw. I didn’t believe them.
At nineteen, on a hot summery Saturday morning, I entered my favourite record shop in downtown Calgary. I wished I had a veil over my face. Regardless of my friends’ claims, I hoped my cover-up attempts were working. I’d find some great music and dash back home.
As I fingered through the various LPs in the Blues section, a lively child wiggled past me several times, skipping and humming as she twirled a “rope” of licorice. Finally, she stopped beside me.
She patted my purse, “Hi.”
I looked down to an expression that belied her previous demeanour. She seemed to be studying me as though the answer to an age old mystery was dawning. I said, “Well hello. What are you up to?”
“I was wondering…do you wear perfume?”
During those years, no woman left the house without a solid squirt of Chanel, Arpege or White Shoulders. “Yes, I do. Can you smell it?”
“I thought you did. I want to wear perfume too, but my mom won’t let me.”
“Did she say you have to be just a little older?”
She began twirling her licorice again as she prepared to leave, “No. She said it would give me pimples. Guess she’s right.”
As I walked to the cashier, I realized I had just encountered my worst nightmare. Who knew it would arrive in such a tiny package? I laughed as I walked home rejoicing over a powerful lesson in survival.
A lasting gift.