I was repeatedly yelled at as a kid for looking in the mirror too much. Especially in dance class — I always liked seeing how I looked in the cute little leotard. Sometimes I'd think I looked fat or my hair looked weird, and sometimes I'd think I was the prettiest 8-year-old alive, but most of the time my fascination with looking at myself was exactly that: pure interest. I liked seeing myself be a person, if that makes sense. But even when I got older, and I became way more insecure about my appearance, I don't think the action taken by girl seniors at Trinity Academy, a Christian high school in Kansas, of covering up the bathroom mirror with inspirational slogans would have helped me feel better about myself. I would have just been annoyed that I had no way to know if my mascara was running (this was back in the days before cell phones had quality cameras).
OK, so far be it from me to criticize a bunch of teenage girls. But although I can kind of understand what they're trying to accomplish, I still feel like they might be missing the point. Here's what senior Hannah Hancock said to Jezebel about the motivation behind this project:
We were trying to think of ideas of how we could serve the underclassmen and make the most impact. ... Especially as freshmen and sophomores, you’re trying to find your identity and who you are and we want them to find their identity in God and in Christ and not in a mirror and not what their outward appearance looks like.
Basically, she's saying that outer appearances don't matter — God matters. That may be true! But what is it saying about girls who like make-up, or, as the Bible quote across the bathroom mirror disapprovingly says in big letters, "elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of fine jewelry or clothes?" Does that make you less godly? I mean, I'm probably not the person to answer that, but it does take away somewhat from the message of "All bodies are beautiful" — instead, it becomes, "Caring about your appearance is immoral." And while I would prefer that we didn't care about the way we look, of course, we live in a patriarchal society — are women really to blame for the time and attention they pay to their looks? Or does the blame lie with cisgender heterosexual male expectations?
A sister of students who attended the school said as much in an email to Jezebel. “I get that it’s trying to be positive about the girls... but it feels to me like they’re papering over the mirror because they can’t go all out and ask the girls to wear paper bags themselves," she wrote. "Believe me, I grew up in this culture, and being told 'your beauty should not come from outward adornment!!!' just sounds like more exhausting shaming and policing... leaving that culture has given me significant mental health gains.”
So, yes, encouraging the idea that one's worth doesn't depend solely on what one looks like is definitely worth doing. But at the same time, shaming people who do spend time on their appearance isn't going to help matters. Maybe the best thing to do is just stop worrying about what other people do or don't do with their appearance all together. What a novel idea!