Jessie Bernard, 17
The longer you look at something, the uglier it will get. This is just human nature. We’re accustomed to notice the deterioration of beauty. Cracks in the sidewalk and dilapidated fences are the perfect background for your senior pictures, but if the tables were turned and you were the one who was old and broken and falling apart, you would not be so beautiful.
I bet you thought you were beautiful, too. On some level, maybe physical or figuratively. You probably are, but all the things you love about yourself quickly turn to dust the minute you think of yourself as insignificant.
You see, the only beautiful thing about you that won’t change in twenty years is your mind and your ability to think for yourself. Looks will only get you so far in life, but you’ll be significant if you put your mind to good use.
The story begins in January. Ugly, freezing cold, start-to-a-new-year January. My high school was preparing to host the only student-organized TEDx event in central Ohio. These two girls from my school, both underclassmen, were preparing to give their talk on the effects social media has on mental health. These two misunderstood, yet brilliantly talented girls were giving a talk on something we were all fully aware of. Ever see a picture of all your friends hanging out without you on Instagram? How about a subtweet on Twitter? Or maybe you’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing Tumblr trends such as the “thigh gap” that clearly promote eating disorders. Whatever you saw, it wasn’t pretty.
Regardless, I happen to be a huge fan of when people face the harsh realities of our society head on rather than pretending they don’t exist. My high school’s administration had a different opinion. When these two girls attempted to conduct an anonymous survey to support their talk, they were rejected by an administrator, as the content was “too sensitive and could not be authorized.” We were turned to the school guidance counselor and told that if we re-wrote the survey questions and got it approved by her, then they’d authorize it.
We made not one, not two, but three drafts of the survey before it was finally approved. We released the survey immediately after the school counselor approved the final draft of questions. Think that’s the end? Not even close.
The consequences for sending out this survey were something we didn’t see coming. Administration was furious. Of course, we’d done our legal research. Yes, it’s illegal for a school to issue a survey concerning the mental health of its students without getting parent permission and taking action after the survey, but we’re not the administration. The non-school affiliated, anonymous survey issued by minors was perfectly legal. The only real area of concern was releasing this survey at a school-sponsored event, which, I will admit, is probably the only point of theirs that I did understand.
No amount of logic would help the administration understand that covering up issues which are present at this school is damaging, especially to the students who are affected by mental health illnesses but silenced by fear. The girl starving herself doesn’t have a voice because the school won’t allow it, and the boy considering suicide will never speak up because it’s “insensitive,” according to our vice principal.
It’s disgusting that the ignorance of these illnesses only helps them grow further, but we weren’t about to let that happen. We let the survey go after a frustrating five weeks of working on it, but this talk would still make an impact on the 500 people in our audience. Let them win the battle, but we’ll win the war. The talk covered everything from how they’d personally been affected by these issues, to how the media is romanticizing them, thus contributing to their growth. They even threw in a part about how childish the school’s administration had acted, and how intent they had been on covering up these issues. After our TEDx event, their talk was voted “Most Powerful” and “Favorite Talk.”
We received a lot of shit from the administration after the talk, but who cares? These girls made a significant difference. Ever look at something you once thought was beautiful, until you realized how wrong you were and how ugly it really is? It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s all about taking something ugly and turning it into something beautiful. Yes, it’s unfair that so many teens feel silenced when it comes to discussing personal, mental health issues, but until the day it becomes natural to accept that this society has a problem, the most we can do is turn what’s ugly into something beautiful. Instead of covering up the scars and the pain, use it to your advantage like the two girls at my school did. They took their mental health issues and used them to inspire the school and educate people, letting them know that no one is alone and we shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it openly. If you want to feel significant, put your mind to good use. Stand up against what you think is wrong. We don’t have to keep pretending that these problems don’t exist. – use your mind, because that has to be the most beautiful part about you.