J is in the middle of middle school, a year younger than her peers and is experiencing an assortment of anxieties that go with such territory. One particular issue, I find particularly hard to grasp - J thinks she is not nearly as pretty as some of her peers. These are the young ladies who at thirteen have the poise of a mature woman, have moved on from childhood in both body and spirit. A child would naturally feel inadequate around them - they barely acknowledge my existence and some of these kids I have known for years.
There is a certain hubris that comes from transcending the limitations of age and biology; being catapulted into the stratosphere of precocious youth from where the normal kids like J look like so many milling ants. J does not have the advantage of experience I do - she does not know that twenty years out, none of this will matter. The stuff that really counts is determination to succeed, learning to appreciate and be grateful for all of one's gifts (natural and acquired) and making the most of life's adversities. There will be those that win and those that fall behind - my life experience completely validates this Salon article - specially the idea of non-conformity being critical to success :
Popularity is composed of three elements: visibility, recognizability
and influence. The people in school who have those three qualities are
often that way because they conform to a standard. Meanwhile, the kids
who won’t or can’t conform are the ones who are left out. Nonconformity
is a wonderful trait, and it’s going to be valued in adulthood.
There are larger issues here than what I am struggling with - why J does not see herself as pretty. Would being less perfect than she is visually have made her more self assured ? Would she have been less self-critical about her appearance ? She takes pride in her sense of humor - while it is good, it is not the greatest. I have known kids her age that have impeccable timing and pitch perfect delivery. But she does not lack confidence in her ability to make people laugh. She is willing to work hard to improve her game, fail until she gets it right. Our encouragement at home has helped too. We have failed however in being able to shore up her confidence in her physical attractiveness. I am so used to hearing how picture perfect J is that I took it for granted - it is too absurd an issue for me to understand let alone know how to resolve.