July 10, 2019 at 8:41 am #302739
Hell0 Katie. I relate to your story a great deal. I have frequently struggled with anxiety over my looks since I was a teenager and I am also a teacher. Therefore, I can relate to what you have said about the emotional pain of worrying that you’re ugly, as well as the pain of having students make unkind comments that seem to confirm your insecurities.
There are several physical aspects of myself that worry me, but the one students have commented on is the weight I carry around my middle. It always seems to go there, even though I work out and was an athlete in high school. Even at my lowest weight, I still did not have the same flat stomach other girls did. My father also carries his weight around his middle like I do, so I think it’s genetic, but no one assumes he is pregnant! Several students have asked me about it, and it hurts every time. I have taught both younger kids and high schoolers. One younger child mentioned it, and two high school students mentioned it.
It hurts every time. It is only with the most recent student, after several years experience of teaching, that I was able to calmly set boundaries with the student and explain why the behavior was disrespectful. With the past students, I just pretended it didn’t hurt me until class was over and I could go cry somewhere.
A lot of your post seems to be about whether your student was being honest about your looks and telling you a hard truth that others are hiding from you. I suppose it was true that my students were pointing out a true thing about me…my stomach is not flat. However, all of those students had other motives when addressing me. Even the youngest one. The young one’s mom had just had a baby and he was probably showing off his new knowledge about pregnancy and how it works. One of the high schoolers was trying to get a laugh from his friends. The other high schooler was super angry that I had called his mom about disciplinary issues recently. People usually have a separate motive when they comment on our appearance. To me, it sounds like the boy in your case was trying on the role of being a knight in shining armor for this little girl. He seized an opportunity to be her defender because that’s what kids do–they push boundaries and try out new behaviors. Especially eight year olds. I found second grade super difficult to teach because developmentally, the kids are trying out pushing boundaries. That means they exaggerate and are actually not the most honest beings you will ever come across. Because as I said before…my stomach is not flat. But most people know I am not pregnant. It is not as big as those kids were suggesting. They had other motives behind their words, which caused them exaggerate something about me they had noticed.
Keep in mind this is a common problem for teachers. My friend (who is tall and thin–qualities I wish I had!) had a student ask her about her acne. Her skin looked smooth. I don’t know what acne this student was talking about. When I was a high schooler, a rumor started that our English teacher used cocaine because sometimes her nose and neck appeared flushed when she was teaching. This was a young, attractive woman! She in no way looked or acted like an addict.
Also, our society sends a message that ugly women are worthless and will die alone. I think that’s why a woman’s beauty can cause her so much anxiety. I am married to a wonderful husband who finds me attractive (the other two teachers I mentioned are married, too), but I still worry what the rest of society thinks of me. Something that has comforted me is this:
What is beauty? What does it mean? Do all of your features have to be perfect to be beautiful? Does every single person on earth have to be sexually attracted to you to be beautiful? What does ugly mean? Ugly is an imprecise word. Will every single person find an “ugly” person unattractive? Is an “ugly” person allowed to have any attractive traits? What about someone who is 20 pounds overweight. Some people will find her unattractive, some people will love her curves, some people will feel neutral. Attractiveness is complex. Imprecise all-or-nothing labels of “beautiful” or “ugly” are unhelpful. Yes, there are certain traits our society considers attractive, but this varies across cultures and by individuals. You know how some people have a “type”? That means that person feels attracted to a very specific set of traits. That shows how useless it is to say someone is beautiful and someone else is ugly. We all have different opinions about appearances.
I think it is usually super unkind people who have ulterior motives who say things like, “You’re fat,” or “you’re ugly” or “you need to wear make-up…” or whatever insecurity they have taken it upon themselves to comment on. Children comment on appearance for some of the reasons I mentioned above (testing boundaries, getting a reaction, trying on a role, etc). Adults comment on it to attack a person’s self-worth or express their own insecurities. Either way, it’s not in your best interest. Our physical bodies are our business. Some people will find us attractive, others won’t. We can use our bodies to express ourselves the way we want. For example, I have discovered a “posh” look fits me best when I have the time and supplies to do it right. But others trying to make us feel insecure about an individual trait of ours?
It’s an unhelpful boundary violation. I know it is super upsetting when it happens, so we need to do some nurturing and self-care. But please don’t take these kinds of comments as a secret truth that you need to pay attention to. It seems like these unhelpful, boundary-violating comments hurt you and distract you from other parts of your life.