How often have you judged yourself by your looks rather than how you feel? For this average white guy, countless.

If I could go back, all those years, and stand next to twelve year old me, would I have the courage and strength to tell that nervous boy watching all the other children, swimming, laughing, and running—playing shirts v.s. skins—to quit worrying and join in, that it doesn’t matter how chubby you feel, or how different you look, that as long as you love and accept yourself, no words from another can harm you, or would I just sit back and watch, still the observer unable to join the party?

It’s funny how something so simple as taking your shirt off to swim can be so detrimental to a young child’s self esteem and yet as adults we often forget what that was like or rather what external forces beyond our control led us to believe ourselves unworthy of such a simple, yet harrowing task.

As in childhood, so as in adulthood, what we allow to harm us will.

Commercials show us long, slender, sleek models who seem to effortlessly fit in to their surroundings while being rewarded with warm smiles and admiration for seeming perfect.

Television shows and movies give us well manicured, quintessential versions of ourselves that often seem more like science fiction than what actually is.

Billboard ads and magazines are placed conveniently to fill all our psyche with blemish-less detail to promote this false sense of unattainable beauty that even when met, there’s ultimately an even whiter teeth formula, or wax to whisk away our imperfection.

It’s a cycle that even before the mind has time to develop, stunts it’s growth and like a cavity begins to decay all sense of self worth.

How often have you judged yourself by your looks rather than how you feel?

For this average white guy, countless.

But it’s taken all those countless times to figure out that it doesn’t matter in the slightest, especially as a child who’s developing.

So would I tell that twelve year old me to take his shirt off and go swimming with the rest of the lot?

I don’t think there is a clear answer other than that instead of telling him what he should or shouldn’t do like all the rest of the world, I’d allow him the opportunity to listen to my story and decide for himself.

But I would say this. Chances are that boy or girl over there thinks there nose is too big or there ears are too small. Chances are that kid who cringes to put on his glasses everyday feels just like you do now, wondering what others will think of what makes him human.

Perhaps I’d reassure him that everybody has stretch marks, even the biggest, strongest athletes. Even his mother, and what could be more beautiful than sacrificing your physical form to grant another life?

But we all figure it out in our own time.

I know he did.

Clearwater Beach Florida

Student Teacher

Billy stood as he was told

and made all the uniformed gestures

he was taught before he could ride a bike.

Then he began

“I pledge allegiance

To the flag

Of the United States of Hypocrisy…”

And so went the rest of the lines

in unison with his class.

Then before lunchtime Billy’s teacher

pulled him aside, in a motherly fashion

and asked, “is everything o.k. Billy?”

“Yes,” he told her, politely, like he so often spoke.

“Do you know what that word means?” She asked.

“What word?” Billy questioned, counting his quarters.

“Hypocrisy,” she said, warmly, meeting Billy’s eye line.

“No,” he admitted.

“Then where did you hear it?”

“I can’t remember,” he admitted further.

“Well, it means,” she began but noticing Billy’s fidgeting,

stopped herself and let him get back in line.

The next day when the class rose

and made all the uniformed gestures

they were taught before they knew what they meant

Billy’s teacher watched as he spoke the Pledge Of Allegiance

in unison with the rest of the class.

“I pledge allegiance

To the flag

Of the United States of America…”

Billy didn’t miss a beat that day and surprisingly

they served pizza for lunch,

it was his favorite.