In September, I began volunteering with an organization called Girls on the Run. GOTR is a national self-esteem building non-profit program for eight-to-ten-year-old girls; since its inception in 1996, over a million girls have participated. The girls attend a 12-week long after-school program that incorporates combine training for a 5K (3.1 mile) running event with self-esteem enhancing, uplifting workouts.
I’m a runner and self-esteem activist through Operation Beautiful, so GOTR is the perfect fit for me. I serve as an assistant coach, and once a week, I get together with my sixteen girls and we talk about life, homework, cooking, families, and –- of course –- running. I was so nervous the night before our first meeting. I have very little experience with girls of this age, and I wanted so badly to be a Perfect Coach. I wanted to present the lesson plans in the most perfect way and inspire my girls to run perfectly even splits. I wanted the girls to run to their parents after our workout and exclaim, “Mom! I had the most PERFECT day!”
The first day, I tripped over my own two feet in front of sixteen elementary schoolers. I snorted while giggling. I made a major social gaffe by asking if anyone had read Twilight. (“Coach Caitlin, we’re not old enough for Twilight!”) But you know what? They liked me anyway. In fact, I left the first session feeling pretty confident that they liked me because I wasn’t the Perfect Coach ... I was just Coach Caitlin.
Photo Credit: Neeser1
It’s so inspiring to see these small little girls progress from struggling to run a single lap to running two miles at a time. It’s even more inspiring to see them develop confidence and a voice. Even though they are different ages, come from different backgrounds, attend different classes ... at GOTR, they are all sisters. They hold hands; they sing songs; they motivate each other to run a little faster. Like real sisters, they don’t always get along, but at the end of the day, we’re there for each other.
I’ve begun to slowly introduce the concept of media awareness to the girls. We’ll talk about their favorite movie stars or singers, and I’ll ask them if they ever hear gossip about celebrities. Sometimes, we talk about magazine covers or CD jackets. I explained Photoshopping and was surprised to learn that most of the girls didn’t even know it was a computer program or how it could manipulate images.
In a world that worships cookie-cutter perfection and beauty, I try to show the girls the real me. I don’t wear make-up to workouts. I give compliments to each girl and focus my praise on personality, not outer appearance or running ability. I share stories of when I was disqualified from races or came in last place, but tell them that I was so proud to compete, even if I wasn’t perfect in my execution. These girls soak up every sentence. Each story we tell, they internalize –- even when it looks like they aren’t listening!
I can’t believe I worried so much about being a Perfect Coach! Now I see that the most perfect coach is one that shows it’s OK to just be YOU ... Wonderfully unique, imperfect YOU.
Do you work with children? What do they teach you about beauty? What do you try to teach them about beauty?
Photos courtesy of BlogHer's Own Your Beauty Flickr group. Upload your photos, and we may use them in an upcoming Own Your Beauty post!
More Own Your Beauty on BlogHer
Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.
This blogger is also featured on EndlessBeauty.com, a website focused on a fresh look at beauty, from skin to hair to makeup, plus celeb style, fashion, and fitness.