From Our Teen Readers
June 17, 2015 4:58 pm

I spent an evening a couple of weeks ago sitting in a coffee house downtown with two of my closest friends. We had gone into the coffee shop to listen to a live folk band and enjoy cappuccinos and chai tea lattes. As we were sitting in the cozy coffee house catching up, we began to identify the strengths that we saw in each other, taking time to recognize the things that made us beautiful.

As we talked, one friend identified the most beautiful quality in another: She told her that the thing she admired most was that she always chose to dress up for herself. She admires this friend’s ability to put together outfits that perfectly blend vintage finds and on-point trends, and to always style her hair and makeup differently. Our friend doesn’t do this because she is trying to impress anyone else, but simply because dressing up makes her feel happy and like the truest version of herself.

We often adjust how cute we look before walking out the door based on who we are hoping to impress. In the morning when my alarm goes off and I’d prefer a little more sleep, I’ll think through who I might see that day and adjust my snooze time accordingly. Work and running errands for the day? I’ll go ahead and sleep in 15 more minutes. After all, none of that is going on Instagram. Lunch with my very trendy, always social-media-savvy friend? It’s time to wake up. After all, I’m going to have to curl my hair, put together an outfit that this friend hasn’t seen, and do something different with my makeup. Ugh.

As I think more about it, though, I could dress up to go run those errands. Why wouldn’t I put my best foot forward, just because I want to, just for me? And on the flip side, I probably could sleep in and wear my yoga clothes to lunch with my friend. Maybe her Instagram followers would see the less-than-flawless me and find solidarity in our messy buns and yoga pants.

After all, there are two sides to this. For every picture that we angle adjust, filter, perfect, and post, there’s someone on the other end of that screen. Maybe that other person is sitting in their sweat pants drinking a cup of coffee. After seeing our “perfected” post, that person then feels a need to validate themselves to others. This prompts a marathon of angle-adjusting, filtering, perfecting, and posting. This never-ending cycle is not only creating unrealistic perceptions of beauty, but also unrealistic perceptions of what it is to live authentically.

I think many of us can also say that we’ve been guilty of dressing in a certain outfit because we are going somewhere that will make for a good Instagram post, where we can glamorize our picnic at the park with friends or our night out at the movies. I think that so much of our culture today is focused on the image we project to others, and the desire to make our lives look glamorous, adventurous and effortless in one simple selfie. In living this way, we sometimes forget that our personal value is not determined by the number of likes we get on a social media post.

We can all admit that it feels good, even validating, when people “like” our posts, and by extension, our lives — but how meaningful is this type of validation, at the end of the day? How many people really even thought that much about the image before they liked it? What would happen if we made a collective decision to seek validation from those who carry real weight in our lives?

What would happen if we chose to wear our new dress and try a new hairstyle on a Wednesday morning, just because we felt like it, not because of who we were seeing that day? What if we chose to post pictures of ourselves on social media that showed the good and the bad in our lives, the real and authentic adventures of everyday life?

It would be so beautiful if we all chose to take a page out of my friend’s book and lived our lives authentically and the way we wanted to live them, without worrying about what our “followers” would think. Maybe that would mean that we’d wear the clothes we want to wear, and dress up just because it makes us feel pretty and strong and confident. Or, maybe that would mean embracing messy hair and sweat pants, because that’s what we want that day. What if we choose to post a filter-less picture of us hiking with our friends, not because it makes us look adventurous and interesting, but because we loved spending that time connecting with that sweet friend and want to remember it? Better yet, what if we choose to take that picture and just store it in our phones, or print it out and hang it on our real life wall. What if we choose to keep that memory for ourselves?

Bailey Gent is a recent high school graduate from adventure filled Colorado. She spent her high school years creating and developing The Power & Justice Campaign, mobilizing her peers to get involved in social justice issues around the globe. Bailey is passionate about encouraging girls to love themselves, be confident and seek empowerment in their lives.

(Image via here.)

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