While cooking dinner this week I decided the 2002 hit A Walk to Remember would be the perfect white noise to put on as I diced and sautéed my food. The plot, for those who don’t know, is about a Christian girl who is unashamedly herself in the face of turmoil and the boy who falls in love with her. Not halfway through cutting my onion, and I had a breakthrough that helped solve many of my past teenage problems.
I realized so many of the protagonists that we hail as the best role models for young women have the self assurance and confidence of a 40 year old.
Speaking as a woman in her early twenties, in the beginnings of adulthood, I can see how one of the most unhealthy messages I received from media growing up was that to be cool I had to have myself all figured out. The high schoolers I saw on TV had their heads held high and knew just what to say. I can vividly recall watching A Walk to Remember as a freshman in high school and thinking (somewhat ashamedly, I’m sure), “I need to be just like that.” Now I wasn’t about to cut my hair and throw away all my sweaters, but I envied that girl’s confidence. And as I read and watched more books and movies I was constantly bombarded by characters who knew all their favorite interests and had the boldness portray themselves in any situation. Meanwhile, I was dropping every sports ball I handled and couldn’t speak to a stranger to save my life.
This all came flooding back to me yesterday as I watched this protagonist pull out quips and rebuttals with grace and eloquence and I thought, “Wow, I wish I had been like that in high school.” Immediately I let myself off the hook because I remembered that no one is like that in high school, and that’s kind of the point. Those four years are meant to be spent screwing up and stumbling over words and making questionable wardrobe choices. Grade school is the time to figure out what you like, the different talents God has given you, and what you believe about the world. It’s a lot to put on young people, but generation after generation have used their formative years to do just that- transform into the people they’ll become. And I’m not suggesting that movies which show a confident teen are inherently harmful, but so often there is a disparity between the characters young women encounter in books and movies and the reality they live everyday.
This disparity doesn’t need to exist- it’s what I so appreciate about movies like Inside Out, which shows a young girl who’s not sure of the sport she wants to play or the move she has to make. It’s realistic and comforting to be reminded that you aren’t expected to have it all together at a young age.
But even as I’ve grown up and have begun navigating the adult world I fall into the trap of assumed inadequacy and feeling incapable of so many things. I am quick to compare and even quicker to remain silent in moments that call for boldness. But often I’m more privy to this realm of thinking when I am not looking to God for my confidence and identity.
Because where fiction cannot reach, God’s Word does. Throughout the Bible there are women like Esther, Ruth, and Mary who show what it’s really like to be a young person. They were women who failed or were scared or didn’t know what to say all of the time. These stories are beautiful examples of how to navigate life as a young person because they show where to find real confidence and the process it takes to get there. Often too, these Biblical women show us growth lived out in community.
This process isn’t always reflected in our media, but that’s what makes it all the more important to see it reflected in the Bible. Esther needed multiple opportunities and help from her family to speak out; Mary had a tumultuous past and a zeal that was tamed and perfected in the presence of her Savior. We can look to Paul who, in the face of incessant tribulation and weakness, was told by God “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Most importantly though, these are people God called, they were noticed in their imperfections and loved anyway. Time and again the Lord sees us in our struggle and comes along beside us to lift us up and out.
Growing up is a journey, and one which we do not walk alone. And that’s such an important thing to remind young women growing up in a culture that would have them aspire to perfection. What a blessing it is to have a Savior that sees us as we are and loves us enough to not let us remain there.