Friday, July 17, 2009

Image Is Everything, Right?

The memory is seared into my brain. You know, those moments in your teenage life that you'd just as soon forget. Looking back now, I think it's hilarious that teenagers want to stand out and be unique, but don't anyone look at them or think they're different. Believe me, I do understand the paradox.

Back to the memory of the youth group pool party, circa 198-? I was so excited because I had a GREAT bathing suit, finally. Something more grown up, less babyish. I was 13, all legs and arms, and a body that wouldn't tan evenly. I'd tan in some places, burn in others, then molt like a lizard. But this bathing suit--oh, I just knew I'd feel like Brooke Shields wearing it. I'd stroll to the side of the pool confidently, for once.

So one of my parents dropped me off at the Marshalls' house, where they had an awesome in-ground pool. Guess what I saw as I opened the sliding glass door to their patio? She was poised at the edge of the water, laughing and talking, and wearing a bathing suit identical to mine.

Of course you know who she is. The one girl in the youth group with the perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect smile, and the perfect tan. She would laugh, and the sound was like musical notes. She was the one the boys flocked to like Scarlett O'Hara on the terrace at the barbecue in GWTW.

And of course you know, the comparisons started. I heard snickers from a few of the kids, especially the guys. I wanted to run inside and help with refreshments. Anything, but get in that pool. But I loved to swim, and I wanted to hang out with my friends. So I tried to ignore that rippling undercurrent of: Holy cow, they're wearing the same bathing suit! Well, you know ____ looks a million times better in it!

Her reaction? She smiled, laughed softly, and pretty much ignored me for the entire party. I felt as red as if I'd laid in the sun for three hours without suntan oil (we weren't really aware of the virtues of SPF lotion in those days). But my stubbornness kicked in. I was NOT going to leave that party and hide under my shorts and T-shirt. I had just as much a right to wear whatever bathing suit I chose, and if it was identical to hers, too bad!

Which leads me to thinking about images. We are so quick to pre-judge people by appearances and the physical. We spend an hour or two with someone, and we think we know them based on surface impressions. Why is it that those first surface impressions are so hard to overcome?

Which leads me now to wondering: Is the adult world that much different from those woeful high school days? I think we like to believe we don't categorize people based on our opinions of them. If our "image" of how they act and appear doesn't make us comfortable, they don't make our "A" list. Or we compare people, probably like a lot of those kids at the pool party probably compared the two of us. It's natural, and I don't blame them for that.

But sometimes we need to stop comparing. Images can lie. I don't know how she turned out, if she's still beautiful and "perfect." But I do know that I, and probably many others, had an unrealistic view of her compared to us. She probably wasn't as perfect as we thought, and I probably didn't look as bad as I imagined.

Even now, I find myself fretting over my "image," probably more than I need to. That's being SELF-conscious. Unfortunately I've spent too much time being conscious of myself, looking at a distorted image instead of that one God really sees. What about you? Any distorted images, or tales of teenage woe that make you look back and laugh?

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