Perception Over Reflection

Being hired as a peer counselor at Dartmouth College forced me to reflect on the problems that so often lie underneath the surface of our skin. Working with middle-aged students with Autism who are learning to develop social skills and self-confidence, I have realized that this problem extends beyond one specific age group. In addition to working with Autistic children directly, I also completed the class “Autism: Science, Story, Experience.” We explored the truth that one’s perception of somebody else as being different is by nature subjective and cannot be trusted as an accurate measure of reality. Furthermore, so often the externalized longings that result from this false trust in our misguided beliefs about the standardization of what is normal and desirable have devastating consequences. One of the girls that I worked with often talked about a boy who she wanted desperately to notice her. Unfortunately, all of her plans to get his attention were completely externalized and based on changing her appearance.

I grew up wishing that my boring, straight hair would turn curly overnight. Meanwhile, popular idols such as Taylor Swift publicly admit to hating their naturally curly hair. These people spend time and money straightening the hair that I wish I was born with. I was reflecting on the struggle that I had with my own reflection one day, when I realized how universal a problem this is. It made me curious as to how much time people spend wishing to change something about themselves that other people are busy wishing that they had. This seems like an incredibly pointless waste of energy that we could be spending on bettering ourselves, or better yet, the world around us. This made me wonder if such a pervasive and socialized issue in society today could be alleviated, if not eradicated, altogether. The first step in changing your direction toward a more positive path lies in a simple yet profound realization: recognizing that the problem lies in your perception not your reflection.

Here is an exercise that I encourage you to try. Make a list of all of the things “wrong” with you. Next, look at every single item on your list and try to imagine someone who would love to have that problem. Stumped? Here are some examples: You only make $10 an hour. Someone would love to have that problem. You have the backside of a 12-year-old boy? Someone would love to have that problem. Your hips are too big? Some girls (including myself) would love to have that problem. Do you wish your skin were tanner? Do you wish your complexion were lighter? (Eyelashes too light? Leg hair too dark?) The list goes on and on. Now, make a promise to yourself that you are not going to waste one more day of your precious life wishing to be anything other than who you already are.

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