Am I OK?: School Pictures and Flashbacks

Funny how witnessing something in students can take you immediately back to that exact pin-point emotional place in your heart, in your life.

During a recent substitute teaching assignment, I witnessed  a greatly anticipated/dreaded day in the hearts and lives of teenage girls.  One I remember well. The day school pictures arrive. (cue dramatic music: dun dun DUN!!!)

I was working an assigned lunch duty in the cafeteria as the high school students were receiving their school pictures, so I had the opportunity to watch and listen without seeming like a creepy stranger stalker lady. Or at least not too much.

The boys (as I remember in my own experience) didn’t seem to care much about their pictures, photos that were pretty much purchased solely at the insistence of their parents.

But these young ladies: all coltish long legs, early attempts at glamour with a smear of lipgloss sheen, hair pulled back and falling over one shoulder, animated voices and whispered confidences. Oh my.

I could hear the common theme that rang so familiar as I listened in, catching scraps of conversations as they peeked at their images. Each insisting to her friends, “No, this is a horrible picture of me! You can’t see them! I’m getting re-takes! I want to burn these! My hair looks so dumb! I look so fat in this! Why did I wear that?”

As I patrolled around the cafeteria tables, a half smile playing over my face, I could hear myself and my friends saying the exact same words as teenagers, as we hid the oversize envelopes that contained the offending images against the fronts of our Members Only jackets.

Masked in these evasive words are these heart-cries that echo through generations of school-picture carrying girls: I don’t want to show you, but I want you to insist upon seeing the pictures so you will tell me what I oh-so-desperately need to hear. That the pictures are beautiful. That I’m beautiful. That you see me and accept me and I’m OK. I want you to do every last thing in your power to refute what my heart whispers to me: that I’m less than, not OK, not accepted, not enough, not beautiful.

Blooming in the back of my mind as I heard these young girls were all the emotions attached to the teenage not-enough that sometimes still bubbles beneath the surface: me with my awkward braces and red hair, sure everyone else was taller, prettier, smarter, WAY more popular, more talented, and more-liked by certain boys with feathered hair and velour v-necks, and later one in particular wearing English Leather cologne and flipped-collar polo shirts (though I married that one).

Oh, the power of those pictures. And the power of these conversations. And the gut-level power of that need.

That need is pervasive, not just in these wide-eyed, fresh-faced teenage girls, standing tip-toe on the edges of their futures, of adulthood, of finding their paths, but in the women I see around me every day. The woman in the mirror, long-past being a teenage girl and almost past mothering a teenage girl. In the women in my small groups, in every store I go to (which are many, this time of year). I’ve heard this need echoed in the words and off-hand comments of women who seem to be the most talented, even well-known and confident-seeming, beautiful people. And in the eyes of the rest of us. Us “regular” gals who just want to know we’re okay.

We all want to hear those same words, to have someone come along and affirm us. We. All. Need. So much.

And yet all that we need is just a whisper away, a heartbeat-length prayer under our breath.

God has a deep well of answer for this deep place of need. As you lean in, He assures:

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling, there is no flaw in you.”

Song of Solomon 4:7

Sit with that. And let your high-school-yearbook-picture-questioning inner teenager sit with that for a moment, too. If our creator, the One who knows us best and knows WHAT’S best for us, sees us as beautiful, sees no flaw in who He created us to be, can’t we? Allow that He who loves you most sees you, sees your value, and sees you as way more than just OK. You are accepted. You are beautiful. You are enough.

We will never hear it enough, but we are heard. AND we can be women who hear that need in others and respond to it- one of the precious and impacting ways we can participate with God. My sweet friend, Becky, refers to it as “sistering.” We will never get enough affirmation on this world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to give it when we can. We can encourage, we can bless, we can assure our sweet sisters (whether we know them or not) that they are indeed OK. Enough. Beautiful. Beloved.

Because they are. You are. We are. High school pictures notwithstanding.

 

 

Funny how witnessing something in students can take you immediately back to an exact pin-point emotional place in your heart, in your life.

During a recent substitute teaching assignment, I found myself in the midst of a greatly anticipated/dreaded day in the hearts and lives of teenage girls.  One I remember well. The day school pictures arrive. (cue dramatic music: dun dun DUN!!!)

On lunch duty in the cafeteria as the high school students were receiving their school pictures, I had the opportunity to watch and listen without seeming like a creepy stranger stalker lady. Or at least not too much.

The boys (as I remember in my own experience) didn’t seem to care much about their pictures, photos that were pretty much solely purchased at the insistence of their parents.

But these young ladies: all coltish long legs, early attempts at glamour with a smear of lipgloss sheen, hair pulled back and falling over one shoulder, animated voices and whispered confidences. Oh my.

Each insisting to her friends, “No, this is a horrible picture of me! You can’t see them! I want to burn them! I’m getting re-takes! My hair looks so bad! I look so fat in this! Why did I wear that?”

As I patrolled around the cafeteria tables, a half smile playing over my face, I could hear so clearly the voices of myself and my friends saying the exact same words as teenagers, as we hid the oversize envelopes that contained the offending images against the fronts of our Members Only jackets.

Masked in evasive words uttered by these young ladies are these heart-cries that echo through generations of school-picture carrying girls: I don’t want to show you, but I want you to insist upon seeing the pictures so you will tell me what I oh-so-desperately need to hear. That the pictures are beautiful. That I’m beautiful. That you see me and accept me and I’m OK. I want you to do every last thing in your power to refute what my heart whispers to me: that I’m less than, not OK, not accepted, not enough, not beautiful.

Blooming in the back of my mind as I heard these young girls were all the emotions attached to the teenage not-enough that sometimes still bubbles beneath the surface: me with my awkward braces and red hair, sure everyone else was taller, prettier, smarter, more talented, and more-liked by certain boys with feathered hair and velour v-necks, and later those wearing English Leather cologne and flipped-collar polo shirts (though I married that one).

 

Oh, the power of those pictures. And the power of these conversations. And the gut-level power of that need.

 

That need, not just in these wide-eyed, fresh-faced teenage girls, standing tip-toe on the edges of their futures, of adulthood, of finding their paths, but in the women I see every day. The woman in the mirror, long-past being a teenage girl and almost past mothering a teenage girl. In the women in my small groups, in every store I go to (which are many, this time of year). I’ve heard this need echoed in the words and off-hand comments of women who seem to be the most talented, even well-known and confident-seeming, beautiful people. And in the eyes of the rest of us. Us “regular” gals who just want to know we’re okay.

 

We all want to hear those same words, to have someone come along and affirm us. We. All. Need. So much.

 

And yet all that we need is just a whisper away, a heartbeat-length prayer under our breath.

 

God has a deep well of answer for this deep place of need. As you lean in, He assures:

 

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, there is no flaw in you.

Song of Solomon 4:7

 

Sit with that. And let your high-school-yearbook-picture-questioning inner teenager sit with that for a moment. If our creator, the One who knows us best and knows WHAT’S best for us, sees us as beautiful, sees no flaw in who He created us to be, can’t we? Allow that He who loves you most sees you, sees your value, and sees you as way more than just OK. You are accepted. You are beautiful. You are enough.

 

We will never hear it enough, but we are heard. AND we can be women who hear that need in others and respond to it- one of the precious and impacting ways we can participate with God. My sweet friend, Becky, refers to it as “sistering.” We will never get enough affirmation on this world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to give it when we can. We can encourage, we can bless, we can assure our sweet sisters (whether we know them or not) that they are indeed OK. Enough. Beautiful. Beloved.

 

Because they are. You are. We are. High school pictures notwithstanding.

 

 

Kathleen Tysinger

I’m a Christian girl on the journey through an adventure-filled life, a blogger, writer, speaker, and mom to two college students. I am blessed to be married to my high school sweetheart and we make our home near Sacramento, California. While I spent years as an English teacher and in the business world, I was given the gift of a “different-paced” life through the onset of a chronic illness in 2015, and my adventure continues…

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