NOVEMBER 12, 2013 BY SAM PONDER
I remember life before Twitter.
I know, it’s only been a few years but sometimes it feels like a different lifetime.
I was a pretty confident kid. Somehow, I avoided the desperately insecure years that many of my peers experienced in High School. While the common school of thought was that “fitting in” was what made a kid confident, being different was the key to my self-esteem. What’s so different about a white, blue eyed, blonde haired girl growing up in a middle-class american family?
When surrounded by friends with dark skin and dark hair growing up in government housing, a lot. I didn’t care about my clothes, because in my circles, sweatpants and white Fruit of the Loom tank-tops were the daily uniform. I didn’t bother with my hair, because all the girls at school just loved how long I could get it to grow. The Phoenix sun kept my skin tan. Volleyball, basketball and track kept my body in good enough shape to eat a personal pizza, Jamba Juice and Snickers for lunch every day. I’d never dyed my hair, been to a tanning booth, had a facial or even had my nails done. I was friendly and good at sports. And that was enough.
I knew there were some boys at school and church who probably liked me. But I didn’t know exactly what they thought.
Some kids made fun of me for being the Christian girl, Coach Steele’s daughter or the girl who got dropped off in the creepy kidnapper vans (Coach Steele used them to transport his players… and daughters who cared too much about what people thought). No, I don’t believe I was bullied. I just dealt with life’s unpleasantries. Standing up for what you believe in will make some people unhappy, and even people who have very little will judge you by what you have or don’t have.
Whenever it appeared that my confidence was affected by something trivial, my dad would say something like this: “Sam, if you’re gonna live your life trying to be the prettiest, smartest or most athletic, you will never feel like enough. There will always be somebody else you think is better. If your confidence is based on something subjective, you will never be truly confident.”
Yeah, yeah. Got it.
Generally speaking, I did feel like enough. All I remember thinking at the time, was “dang Dad, I don’t think you’re supposed to tell your daughter she isn’t the prettiest, smartest or most athletic…”
It didn’t sink in until age 23. After three years on my own in NYC and two years finishing school in Virginia, I signed with Fox College Sports to cover Big 12 College Football on the sidelines. I convinced my bosses to let me use this new social media tool called Twitter to interact with fans and answer their questions. After my first report, I checked my phone to see what people were asking.
“Your scarf is hideous.”
“What’s wrong with your eyebrows.”
“You’d be a 10 if you got a boob job.”
“You’re the worst sideline reporter in history.”
First of all, I didn’t ask. Second, I have weird eyebrows? Third, since when is a 50+ year old stranger telling a young woman that she should get surgery to visually please him not incredibly creepy and perverted? Fourth, at least things can only go up from here…?
Since then, I’ve read what’s wrong with just about every part of my body. My skin is bad, my hair is gross, my nose is too big, my eyebrows are (still) too thick, my legs are too skinny, my lip is weird (a scar from a childhood accident), and yes, my boobs are still holding me back from my true potential.
Consider the source, my dad says. Just ignore it, well-intentioned Twitter followers tell me. They’re all wrong, my mom cries. Want me to hurt someone, my sister asks.
It doesn’t matter how many positive things are said, the constant reminders of what’s wrong with me… you know, the things God missed, forgot about, or didn’t like me enough to include are what continue to linger.
I’ve considered a daunting possibility. What if they’re right? An old friend and colleague, Aaron Taylor, once told me that people can only hurt your feelings in areas you’re already insecure. Does a tall guy care if someone calls him short?
I’ve come to realize that most of the things that bother me have bits of truth to them.
C.S. Lewis said, “By mixing a little truth with it, they made their lie far stronger.”
Here’s the lie: that our worth as humans is dependent on what any other human says, does or thinks. That a hyper-sexualized culture of men addicted to the entanglement of pornography and objectification and the women trying hopelessly to please those men by altering their bodies and therefore their minds, should have any say about the true value of a human soul.
Twitter (and social media in general) is a breeding ground for those lies. We do our best to put our best foot forward, comparing our foot with other people’s feet, internally wondering who’s foot is better and what everyone else thinks about my foot. All the while, forgetting, these are feet we’re talking about!
In essence, we are slowly but surely trying to become the same person. Someone everyone likes, finds attractive, smart and funny. Like high school, we’re trying to fit in and have those we give power to deem us acceptable, enough. Thus, the roller coaster. Good days and bad days dictated by the affirmation or rejection of peers and now, even strangers. We let broken people (all patched up on the outside) tell us how broken we are.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, I was able to experience relative career success at a very early age. I got to see what it’s like to be around the “merchants of cool”… an up close look at the people we give power to. The beautiful, the rich, the supremely talented. Here’s what you should know: everybody is broken. The people you think have it all together, don’t. The most externally beautiful girls are often the most insecure. The man who exudes confidence and machismo is often consumed by doubts and fears. Also, the Twitter or Instagram picture someone looks “so perfect” in was probably one of thirty attempts before photoshop and a filter.
Two main things have helped me navigate through the weeds: acknowledging my flaws/inadequacies and encouraging other people. Humility can be a tough pill to swallow but it is reality. If pride comes before the fall, I’m guessing confidence follows humility. It’s hard to be confidently humble when you’re constantly trying to be someone everyone else says you should be. That is vanity.
What if our leaders and influencers were confident but humble, secure in their differences and flaws, but sure of their significance and value?
“Welcome Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?”
“I- I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.”
“Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”
(C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia)
Humble confidence may not get you thousands of Twitter followers, but trust me when I say, it’s overrated anyway.