It starts with a comment about being beautiful like Jennifer Aniston, in the body image class I teach at the university level.
“I just want Jennifer Aniston’s skin. I mean, she has the most perfect skin.”
Around the classroom, many students nod.
If I were to let them, this conversation would continue something like this:
“Yes, Jennifer Aniston’s skin, Angelina Jolie’s lips, Jennifer Lopez’s butt, Keira Knightley’s waist, Sophia Vergara’s bust” until they have crafted their ideal figure from disembodied parts.
“Y’all, Jennifer Aniston wishes she looked like Jennifer Aniston,” I say, and the silence is actually deafening, “WHAT?”
And, then, I pull up the classroom computer, project it onto the screen, and enter “Jennifer Aniston unretouched photos” into a search engine.
Celebrities, unretouched: just like us!
Suddenly, a very real Jennifer Aniston looks back at us as we stare at leaked, unretouched photos from a magazine cover shoot.
“Ugh!” Someone blurts out because that is just how conditioned we have become to seeing real skin as unworthy.
“No, wait,” someone answers.
“She’s beautiful,” someone offers in an almost entranced voice because she is in the midst of the powerful realization that what she is seeing is actually what’s beautiful, that what she has seen in magazines until now was just smoke and mirrors.
Because with all that make-up, lighting, and retouching peeled away, with just vulnerable, authentic Jennifer staring back at us, she is, indeed, beautiful. She is breathtaking in her realness- her freckles, sunspots, laugh lines showing the character, the life that the airbrushing wiped away.
We are beautiful, just the way we are
“Here’s the deal,” I say, as forty-five sets of eyes stare back at me in wonder. “We all look at the finished product of this photo in a magazine, and we say, ‘I want to look like Jennifer Aniston. She’s just perfect.’ And somewhere else in America, in New York or Malibu, Jennifer Aniston is opening the very same magazine and she says, ‘I wish I could look like this.’ Because nobody does, and there is no perfect.”
They are silent, now; suddenly, overcome with two truths- that the images they have banked all their hopes on aren’t even real and that perfect is an illusion, a lie.
“But here is the great news. While there is no perfect, more importantly, there is no imperfect. We were all created just as we were meant to be- with our wild curly hair or the family nose or full breasts or flat bottom or high cheekbones or prominent chin. We are perfect in our uniqueness. We are meant for uniqueness.”
They stare at me, wide-eyed, wondering if, maybe, finally, they have landed on the truth.
It’s a lesson in my classroom, yes, but it is lesson for all of our lives, no matter our age or degree. We spend so much of our energy trying to erase what makes us unique, what makes us who we each are as individuals and, yet, we were created for this world to deliver that uniqueness.
It is our uniqueness that is perfect. We are, each one us, perfect in our imperfections.