Being a teenage girl can be a tortured affair.
A young girl has to worry about: Do I look right in this outfit? I wonder does Joe like me? Why is Carrie hating on me? And God, my mom is getting on my nerves.
I was a teenager 9 years ago. And I went through those teenage girl issues amplified.
I was a teen with one big twist – I had/have a disability. I was paralyzed from a car accident at six months old.
Since I used a wheelchair and was a brown skin African American girl in a majority white school, I didn’t exactly look like the popular girls – neither at school nor on TV.
It was about that time – entering ‘teenage-dom’ I started feeling like I didn’t fit into society or had a place.
I had major issues about my body image and boys … and although every boy I liked told me I was cute or nice, they only liked me as a friend. So, I didn’t have a boyfriend at all in junior high or high school.
At fourteen, I went to a modeling agency to look into becoming a model thinking that catalogs use kids in wheelchairs and I often saw retailers like Toys R Us and JC Penney with models who apparently had disabilities.
But when I met with the modeling agent she told me although I had a great look I wasn’t model material because I was in a wheelchair.
Ugh. A self-conscious teenager who also happened to be in a wheelchair! The judgments from this experience, from high school, from boys – put me on the road to feeling like I was less of a person.
I started to dislike myself and thought something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I get a boyfriend or be a model in a magazine?
My self-esteem suffered because I didn’t see the beauty of being me.
Now looking back, my self-esteem is much better but it was a struggle. I attribute my healing to the support of my parents who always encouraged me, to my faith and the understanding that God sees me, accepts me and loves me just the way I am.
I came to accept myself.
But, importantly, with or without a disability, I’ve learned if self-esteem issues are not confronted head on, a young teenage women can make bad decisions that will affect her for the rest of her life.
Now, in my mid-20s, I have taken this to heart and want to support and empower teenage girls to move beyond those awkward and agonizing experiences to also learn to accept themselves.
After having written a play and acted , I started a career as a filmmaker and am tackling a “Redefining Beauty” documentary. Those memories of being a teenage girl came back to me and also having a sister who is 16 years old helps me re-live those unsettling memories too.
I just recently had a casting call for the documentary. In working with the other wonderful producers we found that girls want to talk to a trusted adult about their problems. They want to know how to deal with anger and the peer pressure to have sex or take drugs. They want to maintain their morals and make the right decisions, but it can be hard with other girls teasing them or wanting to fight with them. They long for better communications with their parents but they don’t know how.
Redefining Beauty will showcase these issues and illustrate ways to overcome them. Young girls need to be confident and find their voice. They need to love themselves and discover the beauty of being themselves. And not allow boys, negative friends, or media stop them from being their true selves.
Credit front page slider image: Tanya Dawn