What I Just Learned from High School Students

PlaysIt happens this way …

During the past week, Kathy and I had the pleasure of going to Reynolds High School in Troutdale and to David Douglas High School in Portland to see their latest musicals. Reynolds staged the Broadway version of the Little Mermaid while David Douglas did the same with Holiday Inn.

To say that the music, staging, costumes, singing, dancing, and energy were outstanding would be an understatement. Ever since I taught at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, NJ, a lifetime ago, I knew that high school productions could be on a par with those done by professionals. (Sister Pauline was a brilliant director who called the best out of her casts.)

So it has thrilled me over the last five decades to see talented young people committed to the passion and discipline it takes to perform at such a high level.

Maybe because I have been listening to Brené Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability on You-Tube, I was smacked in the face with a lesson I need to learn from some of the young men and women on stage.

Here’s the backstory: Growing up in the ‘50s, I felt body-shamed for being overweight. Luckily, I went to Catholic schools where uniforms saved me from having to find clothes that could cover some of my heft.

However, one day the principal of my high school called me up on stage in front of an assembly of girls in my freshman class. As I walked across the stage, I heard her say to the group, Now here’s how a chubby girl wears her uniform correctly.

 Get the picture? Shame upon shame.

Now, fast forward to last week: on both high school stages, there were young women as well as young men who would probably be considered overweight. Whether they played lead roles or were in choruses, it was obvious to me that, whatever their size or shape, they didn’t allow body-shame to stop them from singing and dancing their talented hearts out. And talented they were!

There was one young woman in the chorus at David Douglas who so reminded me of me at her age that I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. As she danced with different male partners and appeared in a variety of form-fitting costumes, there was a grace and ease about her that made me tear up.

Of course, I don’t know what her life is like off stage, but throughout her performance on that stage, she exuded a self-confidence that would put shame to shame.

I’ve known people who have felt ashamed because they were too thin, too tall, too short, too whatever.  Maybe we should start a #TooWhatever movement for all of us who don’t feel right about who we are and where we are right now – not merely in terms of body image, but in terms of what we can offer each other and our world.  I’ll be thinking about this in the weeks to come. Shame has lived in my personal space for too long! And, if anyone is interested in heading up this movement, let me know!

PS: I’m just learning about Brené Brown and her extraordinary research on shame and vulnerability via programs on You-Tube. When you have time, take a look. She will change your life!