57: Carly Conquers Confidence

57: Carly Conquers Confidence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Carly Conquers Confidence

It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.

~Desiderius Erasmus

I met Carly on the first day of school. I was employed by a community organization that provided an in-school program for middle school girls. This specific age group was targeted in hopes of changing their thinking and their ideas about healthy eating, self-esteem, relationships, bullying, and substance abuse.

I couldn’t help but notice her. She was sitting by herself at the back table. I recognized her, not as someone that I knew, but someone I had been. She was wearing dark, oversized clothing, her head was down to avoid eye contact, and she was a little overweight. I remembered that combination of shyness and low self-esteem, with a healthy dose of poor body image, all too well.

My first class was healthy eating. I engaged most of the class in the discussion. Carly appeared to be listening, but she didn’t participate. The following week also included a discussion on food choices—with no participation from Carly.

The third week, we moved on to body image. I gave the definition of body image as the way we perceive the way that we look, often distorted by our thoughts that we are too fat, short, tall, or a multitude of other problems. I noticed Carly looking up periodically at me, but not meeting my eyes. We also discussed how our perceptions are influenced by the media—magazines, television, and movies. I asked the students if they knew that pictures of models were often computer-enhanced. Some were surprised and others had heard it before. I told them they were trying to emulate perfection that even the models couldn’t achieve.

Then, I asked the students to name something about themselves that they didn’t like. Was it something that could be changed? Most said they felt they were too fat and could probably diet, exercise, or eat healthier. We also discussed how changing hairstyles, wearing complementary colors, and even different clothing styles can make us feel more confident. We took it further by discussing how talents, test scores, and hobbies could boost self-esteem.

Carly looked up. I decided to push her a little for a response. However, her response was, “Everything about me should be changed.” I pushed more for specifics. She settled on saying she was too tall and fat. Her voice was low and somewhat muffled. It was a start, I thought.

Our next class was on self-esteem, including how body image plays an important role in our confidence to try new things. I decided to tell my story of how I had been very shy and had low self-esteem at their age. I felt that I missed out on a lot of things for fear of being laughed at or failing. Carly looked up throughout the entire class. We were making some progress.

At the end of class I complimented her on the green shirt she was wearing. It was a nice change from her usual dark ones. She looked down, embarrassed, and mumbled thank you.

We moved on to other subjects during the next class and Carly continued looking up. A few times I caught her eye but she looked away. After class, she hung back. I engaged her in general conversation. Finally, she asked if I had a copy of a healthy eating pamphlet that I had shared in an earlier class. She mumbled her thanks and left.

Two weeks later, Carly came to class in a light blue shirt and jeans that appeared to actually be her size. I asked if she had lost weight. She said she had been walking every day. A slight smile came across her face. “I have lost four pounds so far,” she said. She went on to add she had been following the healthy eating guide, along with the walking.

The next week, Carly answered two of my questions regarding how bullying affects its victims. She looked around at her classmates and seemed surprised that they didn’t laugh. She was making headway in gaining confidence.

One day, I noticed she had a library book on poetry with her. I asked her after class if she enjoyed reading poetry. She surprised me with her response:

“Yeah, but I write a lot of it too.”

I asked if I could read some. She handed me a composition book. I casually flipped through its pages. It was full of poetry. “May I keep this till next week?” She smiled and nodded.

Over the next several days, I read Carly’s poetry. I had expected it to be full of sadness and dark subjects. Instead, it was all about hope, dreams, and nature.

She was very talented.

I spoke with her English teacher and inquired about writing programs. She informed me there was a writing class available every Tuesday after school. They also encouraged poetry writing. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to convince Carly to go.

I told her how impressed I was with her writing. She appeared embarrassed but very pleased. I mentioned the writing class and she had heard of it. “Can you stay after school?” I asked, hoping the answer would be a positive one. She said she lived just down the road and could stay. I said that I had planned to sit in on the class next week, since I enjoyed writing, hoping to encourage her attendance.

“Maybe I will go see what it’s about.”

After that first time, she began to attend regularly.

At the end of the nine-week grading period, I received a new group of girls. Carly would stop by occasionally, just to say hi. I continued complimenting her obvious weight loss and asked about her writing. She always seemed pleased. Toward the end of the school year, she came to me with the school newspaper in hand. On the front page was a picture of some of the writing club members. It was in recognition of their recent writing contests and awards. Carly had received first place in poetry.

Her face beamed.

“I could have never done it without you,” she told me.

“No Carly,” I said adamantly. “You had it in you all the time, hidden away. You could have chosen not to use the tools that I gave you to find it.”

Carly is going to high school next year. She has lost about twelve pounds and her dark, extra large clothes have been replaced. Carly has made an incredible physical transformation, but it is her newfound confidence and outlook on life that will take her far.

~P. A. Perry-Armes

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