Every day at school, I see students who are obviously uncomfortable in their bodies. I know this is common for middle school (and let's face it... adults), but it absolutely breaks my heart every time.
If you're familiar with this age group, you know how preoccupied they are with their appearance. I get it. Their bodies are changing, yet they are not quite done. Things don't exactly fit the way they have in the past, and nothing feels right.
I started to make a list here of the things I've heard them complain about. Height, weight, hair, eyebrows, skin... but the list is honestly endless.
More than anything else, my heart aches for the girls (boys too, but mostly this applies to girls) who squeeze their bodies into too-tight clothes because it's THAT important to be wearing the same labels as their peers. Who cares if the shirt is stretched beyond recognition, as long as it reads Hollister across her chest, right?
Who among us doesn't understand the pain of wedging ourselves into a too-tight pair of jeans? Do you know how many students I've had to send to the nurse for new clothes after they've bent over too far and split their pants? Or because they've been embarrassed when a peer points out the hole in the inner thigh? Chub rub is a real thing!
And the truth is that it DOES matter. The easiest way to become a target is to be different from your peers.
I remember this well.
When I was in 8th grade (where I was the new girl in school), there were three girls on the cheerleading squad who were my same size. The problem was that there were only two skirts left. Our coach ordered a new skirt, but of course, it didn't look the same as the others, which were probably decades old.
I'm not sure how I was selected, but I ended up being the girl with the different skirt.
I tried SO HARD to pretend like it didn't bother me, but the truth is, I was mortified. I was convinced that every spectator was focused on my "wrong" skirt. I was certain they'd assume my uniform faux pas was my own fault rather than a lack of supply. Even though no one ever said a single word to me about it, I made all sorts of assumptions about what they were thinking.
There were tears. Oh, there were tears. Often. When I knew no one was looking.
So I know my students are shedding tears too. And I wish, more than anything, that I could say something to give them the confidence that things will get better. I wish I could get them to see themselves the way that I see them.
But I'm also very aware that my saying anything will only make them more self-conscious. Because it's confirmation that someone else notices what they don't want anyone to see.
So I say nothing. And I cry on the inside for them. And for me.