At Milken, I’m taught that everyone is created in God’s image; but I don’t want to learn more about my image at school.
Last week, Kayla McGee, a celebrity stylist, addressed the senior class during a class meeting held in the theatre. Brought in to prepare us for career day, McGee began her presentation with a simple thesis statement: Appearance matters.
Clicking through slides of various before-and-after pictures of TV actors and actresses, McGee pointed out their sartorial faults and fashion missteps. She presented the transformation of Katherine Heigl, from “classic girl next door” in an informal skirt and sweater combo, to “leading lady” in a form-fitting red dress. This makeover helped Katherine Heigl reel in roles such as Holly in the 2010 Blockbuster, Life As We Know It, we were told.
I’m all for US Weekly’s “Who Wore It Better?” spread, but this discussion was ill suited at 9 AM in our Robert Margolis Theatre. A school function isn’t the appropriate medium for an authority figure to instill fashion advice.
However, her demonstration was not only offensive in that she advocated too ardently the importance of one’s outer beauty, but also in that her language perpetuated feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. She was the anti-Motivational Speaker. As 17 and 18 year-olds, we are no strangers to criticism from others, let alone from ourselves. We don’t need an adult to stand in front of us to verbalize that our shoes aren’t right or that we can’t pull off horizontal stripes.
It became weird when she displayed a picture of an 18 year-old girl in a bright button-up shirt and bowtie. She challenged us to criticize the girl’s outfit, to point out what was “wrong” with her appearance. Classmates articulated that her style was “quirky” and “creative.” McGee wanted more.
“You guys are so nice,” she laughed.
At this point, my eyes couldn’t roll further back into my head. What did she expect? Were we supposed to stand up amongst all of our classmates and proclaim that this teenager projected onto the screen was “ugly” or had a “bad” fashion sense? Do we need to so emphatically voice our disapproval of another’s image for the sake of our learning?
An adult asking a group of teenagers to overtly judge another’s appearance, especially in a school setting, is strange and just tactless. In an environment where we value so deeply the principals of acceptance and love of learning, this conversation was out of place. I wasn’t deeply disturbed by the premise of her argument; we’ve all been pelted with unrealistic and noxious messages about our appearance since we were introduced to the television. But for an educator to be the one to further this already bubbling epidemic, and at the school where “mensch” is built into our vernacular, is just unnecessary.