Beyond the Surface Level

Writer’s note: This blogpost was written in response to the photos that Hayfield CTE Teacher John Finneman took of shirtless female students. Mr. Finneman states that his intent was to promote health for “Wellness Week.”

Beyond the Surface Level

I deeply appreciate the H2N Newsmagazine’s effort to promote First Amendment rights, as students did in an article titled “Point/Counterpoint: Were the pictures taken for ‘Wellness Week’ appropriate for school?” I acknowledge our community’s effort to promote an inclusive environment in which students are safe to disclose their thoughts on issues that concern them. As a proud member of the Hayfield community, I make a conscious effort to contribute to this inclusive, respectful, and uplifting environment. I would like to discuss this article in a way that fosters mutual respect and acknowledges diverse points-of-view.

In the article, Senior Alexis Beard condemns the objectification of women in these photos, the students’ lack of parental permission, and the fact that a young male teacher was alone in a room with shirtless females (the great majority of whom are minors). To acknowledge the counterpoint, Lizzy Goldsworthy’s central argument was that we should, “…see these amazing women as athletes and not sex objects.” I appreciate Lizzy’s positive attitude toward female athletes, but let’s evaluate this statement. Her goal is to dissuade students from viewing these women in a sexual way, which I support. But let’s consider the psychology of the human mind and body. If a female views an image of a muscled man in minimal clothing, she is likely to have some kind of sexual response. This inherent aspect of my nature as a female is the reason why I choose not to look at explicit images as they do not promote a dignified view of the opposite sex. Simply informing males not to view the girls in the photos in a sexual way is to ask them to do something that is contrary to their nature. Neither men nor women can blame themselves for viewing an exposed body in a sexual way because we are biologically programmed to perceive them that way. It would be ideal if we could feasibly shift our point-of-view so that we don’t sexualize these individuals, but it contradicts human nature. This aspect of who we are as humans does not justify the objectification of either gender. Rather, it condemns the promotion of images that appear to have been intentionally made sexual. The images draw the most attention not to the workout equipment or the sports drink that one of the students carries. Instead, the focus of the photos is on the females’ bodies whose physical features are made prominent by water that has been sprayed onto their midriffs. We certainly cannot deny the inherent sexual nature of the images.

Beyond the H2N article, I find several incongruities in the argument that supports the promotion of these photos. While Mr. Finneman argues that the administrative decision to remove the photos from Twitter is “sexist,” we must evaluate the photographer’s attitude toward individuals of the female sex. During the first semester of the school year, Mr. Finneman said the following statement to a male student: “Stop being such a girl.” As one of the four females who was present at the time, I was deeply offended. I don’t understand why the word “girl” holds a negative connotation to some individuals. I acknowledge that Mr. Finneman’s comment may have been intended to be lighthearted, but making comments that enforce the dominance of a particular demographic is not conducive to an inclusive environment. Such remarks can lead female students to feeling subjugated, as the class consists of almost thirty males and only five females.

Another contradiction I have found in Mr. Finneman’s argument against the administrative decision is a comment he made in the instructions of an assignment that pertains to modeling. The assignment requires students to create a PowerPoint presentation that incorporates custom animations which demonstrate tasks for models to perform. Some of these tasks include basic responsibilities for a model, such as proper eating, learning the catwalk, and more. In the instructions, which Mr. Finneman typed himself, he states, “While these models are beautiful, they are not always very bright.” Although this comment may seem harmless at the surface-level, we see a connection between the comment he made to his male student, the sexualized photos, and these instructions. They all degrade the female sex.

We are aware of the stereotype that models lack intelligence. These women are solely acknowledged for their sex appeal and physical appearance (unjustifiably, of course). With the comment Mr. Finneman made in his instructions, he subtly agreed with this degrading notion. I absolutely respect all women regardless of the way they dress, but we fail to recognize the possible coexistence between beauty and intelligence. I’m sure that women in the modeling industry may have had successful academic careers. But we reduce these women to nothing more than just a beautiful body, not a human with real thoughts, aspirations, and values.

Another pressing issue relating to this subject is the fact that we don’t pay much attention to mental health.  As someone who has struggled with social anxiety as a freshman and still battles other forms of this issue, I find that it is crucial that we promote mental health. These photos have ultimately reduced the idea of “health” to nothing more than females in sports bras. But do these pictures truly promote all dimensions of health? Do they foster diversity, a value that my school prides itself on? Have they yielded a positive impact on the school community? They have not made a discernible difference in promoting the general welfare of the Hayfield student population. We must pay close attention to the result that they produced. Countless staff members feel unsettled. Students have been put in an uncomfortable situation in which they wonder, “Should I say something?” Members of our community have had to repress their ideas to avoid being the subject of backlash. In no way are these consequences healthy for our school, as we value inclusivity and freedom of expression.

Allow me to ask, why weren’t males included? Is a beautiful female body all health really is to us? And that leads me to wonder, if I’m not wearing a sports bra, would I be viewed as being just as healthy as any of the females who are? We need to make a conscious effort to promote diversity and inclusivity.

In this case, the effect of gender on our point-of-view is evident. In the photos, all of the girls are considered “thin” and are undeniably petite. Girls around the world grow up with the idea that they have to live up to the narrow perception of “beauty” and “health” that our media promotes. If you look up “model” on any search engine, it will be difficult for you to find any females who weigh more than 120lbs. What does that imply? Our culture supports the long-standing notion that beauty is an exclusive idea. I would not want my child to think that she has to have fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. to simply feel beautiful. It’s clear that girls are negatively impacted by our media’s strict ideal of what “healthy” looks like. The number of females who suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, is far greater than the number of males who struggle with these issues. The photos would have truly made a positive impact in our community if we promoted the idea that we can be beautiful and healthy without stripping layers of clothing, without meeting up to ideals that may seem out-of-reach to young females.

I am distraught by various factors of this issue, but I hope to encourage you to do a few things. Look beyond the surface level. Mull over the incongruities I discussed earlier.

As a cross-country athlete, I understand that females have the right to dress liberally, and I completely respect those who choose to run in sports bras. But we must understand that there are different rules within a classroom environment. I acknowledge that the girls whose photos were taken gave Mr. Finneman permission to do so. But consent cannot be given when there is a power imbalance.

Although the H2N article provided two substantive points-of-view on this issue, we should certainly read between the lines. We need to not only evaluate the information that was disclosed in Mr. Finneman’s letter but also pay attention to what is said. Telling a male student to, “stop being such a girl,” and then complaining about sexism invalidates the complaint itself.

If we truly aim to promote health, we should take some action that will produce a discernible difference. We should reach out to our peers and ask them how they’re doing, support members of our community during difficult times, and promote an inclusive atmosphere. I genuinely wish that you feel safe and comfortable at Hayfield Secondary. Whether our beliefs align or not, I respect your point-of-view and thank you so much for reading.


Note: If you are interested in learning more about the modeling assignment that I discussed, please click the link below. Please pay attention not only to the comment that is made in paragraph three but also the condescending language. Thank you.

LinkModeling Assignment

More: Read “Why Did I Speak out Against the Wellness Week Photos?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Much is Too Much?

Writer’s Note: As you may have noticed, this piece is one of my most substantive works of writing. In this post, my target audience includes anyone who is interested in understanding mental health disorders as well as those who struggle with this issue. We don’t talk about topics that many perceive as “taboo,” but I realize that it’s crucial to discuss them. Thank you so much for reading!- Naima 🙂

How Much is Too Much?

Two years ago, I experienced one of the most satisfying and challenging sports seasons I have ever completed. As a cross-country athlete, I could see the hope in my coaches’ eyes to help the team reach new heights with the sport. But our goals slowly became an obsession. My coaches’ desperation to help the team become more competitive was obvious. With our unhealthy attachment to winning, we reduced the sport to nothing more than numbers. After races, all we heard was conversation about race times. We only focused on achievement, not effort. A consequence of our obsession was that half the team was injured on the day of the 2013 Conference Championship.

As I look back on the 2013 cross-country season, I will never be sure if I can describe it as a positive or negative experience. For one, the season was truly life-changing. Months after our last race, I still replayed my favorite race memories in my head countless times until they filled my happiness to its brim. I had never felt so healthy and strong in my entire 15-year-old life. On the flip-side, I think of the season as a time when my teammates and I were overworked. We completed painstaking interval workouts three-times-a-week, “recovery” runs that truly didn’t help us recover, and long-runs every Saturday. The only rest-day was Sunday, but it failed to balance work and rest. Our season was defined by overexertion and an obsession with personal records. But I don’t regret a single day of practice.

I will never regret being present for the long-runs when a rush of euphoria reminded me of how blessed I am to be a runner. I will never regret the interval workouts when my sore muscles would twinge after every turnover. I will never regret the tears, the sweat, the heat cramps, or physical exhaustion. I know what you’re thinking. Naima, that is absolutely ridiculous! Why would people want to do that to themselves? Well, consider this. In a graduation speech I wrote last week, I stated, “We learn the most not from our successes, but our downfalls.” The 2013 cross-country season was ultimately a time of learning and personal growth, so much so that I highly doubt that I would be the same person if I hadn’t been an active member on the team. I’ll admit, it was nice being a varsity athlete for my first cross-country season, and even two years after that. But there are crucial lessons I’ve learned from the sport that transcend the value of being a varsity athlete.

The sport of cross-country encouraged me to ask, How much is too much? I can easily remember the countless instances that my coach advised my teammates to keep running despite their injuries. Sounds pretty inspirational, right? Wrong. In life, we laud those who push through pain to achieve a better version of themselves. But we need to identify when pushing ourselves is hurting us.

As you can tell, I invest a great deal of energy in maintaining my physical health. But mental health is often overlooked. We struggle to understand the reality of mental health disorders because they’re not tangible. They don’t have a physical existence. When a victim of mental illness tries to explain to you what he’s experiencing, it’s easy to dismiss his thoughts as irrational. But the negative thoughts and behaviors that dominate his life have a legit psychological basis. Do not label them as “dramatic” or “crazy” because there are some factors of mental health that are beyond difficult to alleviate.

I would like to share with you my journey to overcome anxiety. Let me put things into perspective. Anxiety does not control my life. Because I overcame social anxiety years ago, it’s slightly easier for me to understand what triggers it and how I can control it. Lately, my anxiety has stemmed from irrational thoughts related to my academic success. I refuse to receive anything lower than a ‘B’ on my report card. Sometimes, if I’m struggling with an assignment, I’ll tell myself negative things, such as, “What if I leave class without getting anything done,” or “What if no one will help me?” Ultimately, it’s a fear of loneliness, poor grades, and a lack of progress.

Let me just leave myself bare on these pages. I have nothing to hide because I not only want to help those who experience anxiety but also help you understand it. Countless times throughout this school year, my anxiety has led me to crying, so much so that I may struggle to breathe. From that point forward, I’m left to accept that my anxiety has defeated me, and that I have no choice but to wait for class to end. Do I understand that there is no logical basis of my emotions? Absolutely. But this observation should not negate the fact that it’s okay to feel low. It’s okay to not feel happy 100% of the time. And I’ve only recently absorbed these words of wisdom. Here’s the goal: to find a solution. To overcome anxiety so that I do not have to return to the helpless state that I have experienced time and time again.

With all of the fears that I disclosed, I have found myriad personal suggestions to help myself. If you find that they work for you, then by all means, go for it. If not, that’s fine, but please understand that I’m not a doctor. Some of these suggestions include:

  1. Breathe
  2. Ask yourself, “Do I need to take a break? Am I pushing myself too hard?”
  3. Remember to smile and think positively.
  4. Don’t worry about time. You have already accomplished so much. You will be fine whether the clock ticks or not.
  5. Do something you enjoy (i.e. have a snack, spend time with friends, etc.)

I understand that there are various triggers of anxiety. Thousands of people nationwide have a fear of public speaking. Other people are afraid of social interactions because they fear being judged or criticized. And the list goes on. When we sense that our anxiety has been triggered, we need to respond to it immediately. You do not need to feel pressured to keep exposing yourself to the subject that is hurting you. Take a break. Be kind to yourself. Understand what triggers your anxiety so that you may find a logical way to address the issue. Regardless of what your fear is, talk to someone you trust. We also need to evaluate patterns in our thoughts that produce negative emotions. If we associate public speaking with thoughts like, “What if I stutter,” or “What if I get so nervous that I can’t talk,” then we must shift our thoughts in order to condition a better state of well-being. Instead, you can practice strong posture and picture yourself having a successful presentation. We must recognize the powerful connection between our thoughts and emotions.

My advice to you about how to respond to anxiety brings us back to my experience as a cross-country athlete. During the sports season, I often wondered, “How much is too much?” My teammates became injured because they never responded to their stresses in an appropriate way. Our fear of lacking the level of competitiveness for major races led us to neglect proper rest. We must remind ourselves that we don’t need to place undue pressure on ourselves. The last time anxiety drove me to tears, I kept telling myself, “No, I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to cry today.” But the idea is not to work against anxiety. We need to work with anxiety. We don’t need to fight our emotions to the point that they get the worst of us because that truly won’t help the situation. In the future, I will praise myself for my effort. I will tell myself that the hard work I’ve put forth is enough and that I am intelligent. And as needed, I will take breaks and remind myself that it’s okay to relax. It’s okay to not be working 100% of the time.

With my advice, I truly wish the best for every individual around the globe who struggles with mental illnesses. We certainly should not deny their existence or ability to affect our lives. I do encourage you to take care of your physical well-being but certainly not at the expense of your mental health. And if I can leave you off on one last note of advice, I want to inform you of the power of meditation. This practice is scientifically proven to help individuals cope with anxiety and other mental health issues. It encourages us to put our life into perspective and breathe deeply. For more information, please feel free to read my post titled “Meditation”. Once again, I wish you all the best. You are powerful beyond measure.

 

Meditation

All alone in my gym’s yoga studio, I wonder how much longer it’ll be until I head home. But there’s something in my heart that tells me I’m not ready to walk away from this gym, from the one place that can be my solace when everything is slowly crumbling. It feels as though I have been running away from myself all day. I let Beyoncé’s song overpower the voice of my own cloudy thoughts, but it fails to appease the storm in my head. I need a moment to slow down, turn off the quick-paced music that only helps me forget about my problems temporarily. So I tell myself to stop running and turn down the lights. I hear the gentle click of the dim lamp as I turn it on, a confirmation that I’m ready sit in the front seat of my well-being. I recline on the yoga mats beneath me, encouraging myself to take deep breaths.

Typically, I meditate in a roomful of gym-goers who are eager to improve their physical and mental health. But today, they are all here with me in spirit, as our hearts gently beat in unison. Relaxing every muscle, I close my eyes. I listen to my pulse, as well as Hozier’s voice as he sings “Like Real People Do.” We can be alone but still sense the accompaniment of those who support us. We can be in a room full of people, yet feel so alone. My lungs expand and contract slowly, as I breathe in to all my areas of tension. My thoughts have become quiet, but I can still hear the calm voices of my yoga instructors. Remember to be patient and persistent with yourself, Wanda’s voice echoes. From my heart to yours, Namaste, Mary says. Their uplifting words intertwine with Hozier’s lyrics as he sings, “I knew that look, dear. Eyes always seeking.”

I acknowledge the blood that gently pulses through my calf muscles, as my legs rest against the yoga mat. Counting my breaths, I find complete solace in this cool, dark room. Inhale 2, 3, 4. Exhale, 2, 3, 4. I listen to Wanda’s voice as she says, Start to bring awareness back to your body by wiggling your toes and your fingertips. I continue to breathe. And when you’re ready, roll onto your side in a fetal position, using your arms as a pillow. I roll onto my right side, tuck my hands under my head, and pull my knees into my chest. And on the count of 3, I’m going to ask you to sit up. 1… 2… 3. I use my arms to push myself into a seated position. I imagine there are yogis behind me whose eyes are closed as they wear rested facial  expressions. We gently stretch the muscles in our neck by tilting our heads to each side and holding it for a few moments. And let’s take our last in-breath and inhale the arms above the head. We do as instructed, eventually lowering our hands into our chests. From my heart to yours, Namaste. The class concludes.

The corners of my mouth form a sweet, tired smile. A smile that expresses that I’m ready to walk home and enjoy the sun. I take a moment to appreciate my peaceful surroundings, as the dim lights beautifully illuminate the clean wood floor. Meditation encourages me to adopt a positive attitude, take control over my thoughts and well-being, and just breathe. Notice what happens when you breathe. Your thoughts become quiet. I listen to Wanda’s voice one last time before I leave.

Yoga Studio2
Gold’s Gym Mind and Body Studio

Like A Girl

With every mile that I run, tell me that I run, “like a girl.”

With every breathless pat on the back, tell me that I performed, “like a girl.”

With every stride, every grunt, every grimace, tell me that I work out, “like a girl.”

Because if we’re going to associate the word “girl,” with “powerful,” “relentless,” “courageous,” and more, tell me that I have the athleticism of a girl.

For the last painstaking tricep-pushup,

For the fresh beads of sweat that race down my face as I climb countless steps on the StairMaster machine,

For the pounding of a heart that refuses to give in even as my muscles scream, lungs beg for more oxygen, and veins pump healthy blood to every organ of my body,

Tell me.

Tell me that the countless obstacles I endure to achieve a better version of myself,

Paints the word “girl” all over me.

A powerful girl.

A confident girl.

A relentless girl.

I am just like a girl.

The Youth of Old Age

As fresh beads of sweat rolled down my face during my workout, I took a moment to appreciate what a luxury it is to be youthful. My heart beats without a trace of fatigue, my skin radiates a glow of young age, and my quadriceps bulge through my athletic tights. I take full advantage of my freedom to work out whenever I want, but I struggle to understand what a blessing this is. There are thousands of children nationwide who live with fatal illnesses, individuals who unfortunately don’t enjoy the level of health that youth typically guarantees. I make a conscious effort to keep these children in my thoughts, as well as other individuals whose health or safety is threatened by other inevitable factors. Although Western culture associates young age with liveliness and overall wellbeing, I would like to experience the benefits of youth even after I have grown “old.”

What inspired this idea? For one, my yoga instructor who is in her late-50s, a tall, energetic woman whose muscles are far more defined than I could ever imagine mine to be. Wanda passionately informs her students about the importance of staying active throughout a lifetime. She is simply an embodiment of how physical activity can help us feel youthful even as we continue to age. On the flip-side, Americans in their 20s and 30s sometimes let the word “old” define them. But the fear of lacking the qualities that young people enjoy—social activity and high energy—is what causes us to buy into the illusive “‘O’ word.” Simply put, I don’t get it. To every individual who wishes they were younger: wake up! You have so much youth left. The problem isn’t that you got “old.” The problem is that you stopped doing all the things that once made you feel young. So go out with your friends. Get active. Enjoy the weather. Stop sulking and wishing you looked like what you did when you were 21. Sure, it might take a little more work than it did before, but hey! If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Alright. I’m glad I could get that off my chest. I’m going to give you a moment to laugh. Laugh at me. I am 17-years-old, and I’m giving you a huge lesson on why you should stop throwing around the word “old.” But think about this. If our culture glorifies youth, then there have to be some benefits of growing older. A 60-year-old American experiences life differently than someone my age. They get to see, experience, and learn things that I still have yet to come across. It’s a different stage of life that guarantees its own perks that we tend to overlook. Sure, I might not know exactly what’s so great about being 50- or 60-years-old, but I know there has to be something more to life than to wish we could return to the past. Return to days that were in some way more “exciting” than the ones we live now.

Here’s what I want to do as I reach more advanced stages of my life. I’m going to turn 40-years-old into “40-years-young.” Today, as I dove my arms into a forward-fold bend in yoga class, I thought, I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life. I want to be active for decades to come. I want to laugh, and spend time with my friends and family, get outside and enjoy the weather. Take pictures of things that are simply beautiful. Be independent, yet stay in close touch with my loved-ones.  So before you start throwing around the word “old,” ask yourself, Have I made a conscious effort to feel young? If not, then today could be your day. Like my yoga instructor, you, too, can enjoy the youth of old age.

A Writer’s Skill

Countless students that attend American public schools often question the worth of completing graded timed-essays in English classes. But writers have an invaluable skill that can be applied to the real-world that enables us to understand various points-of-view, regardless of the extent to which they contradict our own. A recent conversation with a classmate and friend of mine brought me to realize the value of appreciating diverse perspectives.

As a Muslim woman who practices the hijab, I strive to not only represent my religion well but also help others understand it. For instance, I provided a religious and personal perspective on the hijab to my friend, Matthew. After I finished, he said, “If someone said something (negative) about your hijab, I would get offended.” Despite that he neither practices my faith nor identifies with a minority race, Matthew was able to understand the complexity of a perspective that does not align with his own. Because he and I honor diverse perspectives, we foster peace and coexistence with people of other races, gender identities, religions, and more. We are individuals who do not condemn others for being “different,” but rather, honor unique points-of-view.

As there have been frequent incidents of religious discrimination and police brutality, it is crucial to defend those who may be subject to these injustices. Writing has encouraged us to defend other members of our community regardless of whether they share the same beliefs as we do. I do not partake of the LBGTQ community, but I am still proud to defend and honor anyone who is. I do not identify as African-American, yet reading about instances of police brutality strikes negative emotions within me. I do not have to be the victim of discrimination or injustice to empathize with those who are.

Matthew’s kind words are reminiscent of another instance during which my classmate, Elliott, supported me for speaking out against religious discrimination. I shared an argumentative essay that condemns the banning of Muslims at the rallies of GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. Upon doing so, Elliott told me, “If anyone ever gives you problems, I will stand behind you!” I am so proud to be a part of an inclusive community in which people of various faiths and races stand beside me. After frequent reflection of both of the instances that my peers expressed their support for me, I noticed a similarity between Matthew and Elliott. Both of these kind individuals are writers.

The ability to honor diverse perspectives regardless of whether they align with our own is a skill that writing fosters. To all the students who groan before the start of every timed-essay, the art of writing is helping you a build a skill that could stick with you for a lifetime. A skill that promotes unity, social justice, and coexistence.

Coexist

 

Transformation

For years, I struggled to express and define myself without fear of being judged or criticized. Little did I know during my underclass high school years that my “friends” were girls who masked their insecurities beneath heavy layers of make-up. Yet, I aspired to be just like them and quickly fell victim to the “halo effect.” I didn’t know how to define or conduct myself because I lived within the confines of my own fears. As I had recently begun wearing a hijab, I was afraid of being ridiculed for who I was or how I dressed. Making a transition from dressing liberally to wearing clothes that expressed my religious devotion required me to redefine my persona. So between all the confusing times that I’d wonder why I found social interactions stressful, I eventually found healthy ways to express myself and build a positive self-image. Many of the subconscious decisions that catalyzed my self-growth are choices that I consciously make on a regular basis. I strive to surround myself with a diverse group of confident and intelligent students. I also run and work out several times a week to promote my well-being, solve personal obstacles, and celebrate my health. Reflecting on who I am today—a self-assured and independent woman, a prospective college student, passionate writer, avid athlete, and more—I am so thankful to have overcome the obstacles that shaped me into who I am.

I constantly reflect on how I felt during my Adobe Dreamweaver Certification exam that I took yesterday. The girl who sat behind that computer desk is someone I never would have imagined myself to become. Dressed in a beautiful golden-tan hijab and rich ruby-red peplum top, this student overcame doubt so many times that being confident became a habit.

I am thankful for all the praise I continue to receive, as my friends and family kindly tell me that I am beautiful, intelligent, and mature. But I find that these compliments only acknowledge the qualities I possess now, not how hard I worked to attain them. The latter subject demonstrates a form of strength that is often overlooked. I am perceived as someone who stands at the top of a hill, not someone who exerted the strength of her heart, mind, and body to reach its peak.

I neither blame nor criticize those who express uplifting words about who I am. I just want people to understand that this transformation didn’t happen overnight. I fought self-esteem issues and other personal obstacles to reach this point in my life. I mention these adversities not because I want you to feel sympathetic toward me. Rather, I mention the idea of overcoming obstacles because it is a form of strength that we don’t acknowledge. As with other beautiful, intelligent, and successful young women, I don’t want people to wonder, How does she make it look so easy to be confident, strong, independent, etc.?

My friends, teachers, and other members of my community would find it shocking if I were to disclose some of the adversities that I have undergone. This astonishment is the result of the surface-level perception people form of who I am; standing at the top of the hill, not fighting to get there. The obstacles we overcome throughout our lifetimes play such a crucial role in shaping us into who we are and building the type of character that people admire.

A thank-you to everyone who encourages me to become a better “me.” But please understand that any successful person you admire did not gain success with the simple flicker of a light. When you compliment someone, you should not only praise her for who she is but also the journey she travelled to become a better version of herself.

ADDENDUM

During one of my classes, a friend asked if I wanted to play computer games. I immediately accepted his offer and sat at the desk next to him. As I became mentally immersed in a game called Agar.io, I let the sound of my laughs carry throughout the walls of the quiet classroom. The students around me knew I was playing games on my computer because I had finished all of my classwork. But what they didn’t know is what those gentle, light-hearted laughs symbolize. Freedom from years of struggling to express myself. Freedom from irrational fears deeply rooted in social anxiety. And freedom from uncomfortable uncertainties. Not knowing how or when I would find a way to define myself; find friends who celebrated and accepted me for who I was, not someone who strived to achieve something unattainable. So let me share these laughs, this joy, with the boy who invited me to play computer games with him… because he let me be reminded of how alive it felt to be wrapped in so many certainties. Knowing that I have the strength to shatter countless personal barriers, express a limitless happiness as we enjoyed a simple activity.


 

Foggy Truth

Why do we make truth seem like such a blurry matter? As I continue to weigh diverse perspectives, I find myself constantly wiping away the fog from a mirror through which I can hardly see my own reflection. I don’t know what ideas to adopt because I’m not sure which of them can be defined as “clear-cut” right or wrongs. Yes, having strong morals is a key aspect of who I am, but not being able to identify what’s right makes it difficult for me to live up to my own idea of “morality.” I’ve stepped inside so many other pairs of shoes that I lost my own in the process. Yet I continue to try on other pairs, bending and contorting them until I can finally see through that foggy mirror. I stare at the tan-skinned girl with the thick black eyebrows who stands across from me. She wears a blank look on her face, but I can tell she’s always in deep contemplation. The process of defining my own idea of morality and truth can revolutionize the self, so I’ll be patient with this reflection as she carefully tiptoes around a million points-of-view.

Balance

The mirror’s fog gradually fades, revealing the clean, transparent glass beneath it. Staring at the girl whose eyes dart around every contour of my face, I consciously acknowledge who she is. I can see her heart as it calmly pulses, asking for anyone to offer her another perspective in the hope that it’ll prevent the mirror from fogging again. But this balancing act of weighing opinions that lie on two extremes forces me to learn how to walk again. I know what I believe in, I tell myself repeatedly, but the voice of my own ideas whispers beneath the yells of the counter-argument. My head spins, eventually coming to a stop, where I find yet another foggy mirror, a girl who can hardly walk, and shoes that no longer fit. For a moment, I convince myself that I can stand, that I can find my own shoes. I insist that religion is an inarguable truth, yet I leave my heart right out on that table in front of me. It is no fault to be open to differing view-points, and my own thoughts have now blended in with the opinions of others. Maybe it’s not a problem for them to intertwine. All I’m doing is being open-minded, while discarding the cloudy label of “truth.” Let me hold onto my own values, thoughts, and opinions, while keeping my mind open to other perspectives. Let me clear the mirror of all its fog, find shoes that make this balancing act a little bit easier.