Just a Number

Being You Isn’t Enough
I overheard a conversation between two young women in the subway earlier this week that provoked a reaction that was at once horror, heartache, and shock. The conversation went like this:

Girl A: How do I get nice skin like yours?
Girl B: Girl, you gotta wash your face twice a day. Do you do that?
Girl A: Ugh no. That’s so much work.
Girl B: But you’ve got to do it. Otherwise there’s no hope.
Girl A: Well, I think if he’s going to like me, he’s going to like me.
Girl B: Yeah, but you need to be realistic. I mean, if you’re a 7 shooting for 11 . . . you have to be realistic.
Girl A: Yeah, that’s true. I think I’m probably . . . well . . . what would you say I am?
Girl B: Haha um maybe 8?

Wow.

Wow.

As the girls got off the train, I was stunned. Since when do women refer to themselves not as people but as numbers on a rating scale, where 1 is presumably synonymous with “troll” and unattainable 10 isn’t even high enough if we’re suddenly including 11? (Not to mention that Girl B clearly needs friends who value all that lies below the surface, which is everything that actually makes a person beautiful.)

Exploring Language
I wonder how we’ve gone so wrong. Have we forgotten to tell our girls to care about who they are rather than what they look like? Have we forgotten to communicate that being a good person, whether male or female, is what actually matters?

Perhaps we have forgotten.

Perhaps we have been so caught up in trying to understand recent world events that we lost track of what’s happening right in front of us. Perhaps we need to take a step back, look at ourselves, and make changes to the ways we talk to and about each other, and interact with each other.

I wonder if this conversation would have taken place in such stark terms (“you’re probably an 8 so wash your face and maybe there’s hope that he’ll like you”) prior to Donald Trump’s election. I wonder if this conversation would have taken place if the popular vote actually decided the next president. There has been a steady devaluing of diversity in this country over the past few months. Reducing any person to a number is just one example.

As an educator, it is my responsibility to model behavior that I want my students to emulate. The way I talk about people matters. The way I talk about world events matters. I want my students to live in a world that is more peaceful than the world they have lived in thus far.

As 2016 draws to a close, I’m thinking about how much more work there is to do and how far we have to go. I’m comforted by the feeling of inclusiveness and community at my school and the way students rally around each other when difficult circumstances arise. Cultivating these behaviors will go a long way in a world that desperately needs a collective spirit.

We are, at the end of the day, all human. We are all responsible for the world we live in and the world we’re building.

Let’s make it a better one.

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