This op-ed is written by long-time Mom 2.0 community leader Karen Walrond, author of Chookooloonks. Karen moderated our first keynote conversation with Guy Kawasaki ten years ago at the first Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston in 2009. She is a nationally-recognized author and photographer who inspires others to find and celebrate their own uniqueness, through the power of storytelling. For most of her adult life, Karen worked in corporate America, most recently as a lawyer, and before that, a structural engineer. Yet, her friendship with her Nikon camera began to blossom and, today, she is an award-winning blogger, photographer and author, who has spoken around the world appearing on CNN, TEDxHouston, and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Through her book The Beauty of Different, her blog Chookooloonks and her online courses and ebooks, she reminds us that even our uniqueness, skills and even our most mundane stories have the power to connect.
Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit. Having spent many years as both an in-house attorney and an avid photographer, I wrote and photographed the book because I was intrigued by the dichotomy that existed between the drive most people have to blend in (especially, but not exclusively in a corporate setting), and yet, so many of us are simultaneously intrigued and awed by those who march to the beat of a different drum (see, for example, the immense popularity of artists like Prince and Lady Gaga). Through essays, interview and portraits, The Beauty of Different posits that in fact, our differences might actually be the sources of our beauty, and the birthplace of our individual and creative superpowers.
Over the years since the book was published, I’ve received many messages from parents who purchased the book specifically for their daughters. “My daughter is so beautiful and so talented,” many of these parents lamented, “but she just doesn’t believe it. I had to get this book for her.” At first I was surprised; but honestly, I’m not sure why. I actually begin the book with a prologue describing when I was a teenager, a black, foreign student in a school that was a sea of white Texan kids, and believing that I wasn’t beautiful or talented or smart enough to belong. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. I get it.
I began a speaking career based largely on the concepts of my book, and because of this I attracted the attention of Dove, who invited me to be a part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project. The concept is brilliant, really: their research shows that 8 out of 10 girls admit to opting out of important activities – including attending school – because of the way they look. In addition, there is research that indicates that teen girls who have a negative view of themselves are 4 times more likely to participate in activities they will regret later. In response to this shocking data, Dove began hosting a series of workshops helping young girls navigate the messages they receive from various forms of the media, and develop critical thinking skills to manage which of those messages they internalize. As a Dove Self-Esteem Workshop facilitator, I was able to speak with hundreds of the 20 million young people that Dove has reached over the years. These girls are bright, smart, and once they understood that they have the power to discern the truth about how their diversity contributes to the beauty around us, incredibly confident. It has really been a joy to be a part of this initiative … and I can’t help but wonder how my life might have been different if I’d had the skills to critically examine these messages when I was that young foreign middle-schooler.
As it happens, I’m now the mother of a teenage young woman, and armed with the experience I’ve had speaking and writing about self-esteem, I’m very mindful to ensure that the self-esteem she always had as a little girl remains intact. We talk a lot about the false messages that media often gives us about what it means to be beautiful. We have in-depth discussions about the #metoo movement, and what it means to be strong in the face of a society that would sometimes prefer we women to be weak. And I remind her of something she has that I didn’t have when I was her age: the power to be the CEO of her own media empire, with social media giving her the ability to actually craft her own messages around the beauty of diversity and strength and self-esteem. Because I believe that by believing in and expressing her own unique beauty, she’ll continue to cultivate the self-esteem that ensures her superpowers shine.
This post is sponsored by Dove for this author, but not for Mom 2.0. All opinions are those of the author.
Image credit: Marcus Jennings
-Raising Girls Auspicious Living Magazine