You sit in the stands watching everyone cheer for them. The girls in the running for Homecoming. With their sparkling dresses and perfect curls, they seem to be the light of the school. The image to aspire to. The perfection outwardly expressed that you feel you are lacking.
As the crowd goes wild and they all cheer for her dazzling white smile, you know the cold, harsh truth: You never had a chance. You could never be her.
You could never be the Homecoming Queen.
Because when you look in the mirror, you don’t see shining teeth or a smile that melts hearts. You don’t see the perfect hair and the blemish-free skin that everyone wants. You don’t see the girl with the popular face who knows just what to say to make everyone love her. You don’t see the girl who is invited to every party or who everyone saves a seat for at lunch.
Instead, you see everything she’s not. You see the flaws and imperfections that no one would vote for. You see the awkward moments piled up, the social mistakes that cannot be forgotten. You see the terrible moments where you scan the room for an empty seat. You see all the ways you are lacking. You see all the reminders that you are not the popular one.
But to the girl who will never be Homecoming Queen: I hope you realize how worthy you are, even if the crowds aren’t chanting your name.
I hope you see how beautiful you are, even if you aren’t the one in the spotlight tonight.
I hope you know that I see you, that we all see you, even if you feel like everyone’s head is turned the other way.
As a high school teacher, I’ve seen so many of you mask the hurt of not being the chosen one. I’ve seen you try to smile and say you don’t care, that you’d never want to be her anyway. I’ve seen you graciously clap for another when you secretly wonder why it couldn’t be you.
I know now it doesn’t seem like it. I know that in the middle of high school, in the center of the complexities of teenage life, it’s hard to know what really matters. It’s hard to see through the murkiness of the social structures and to understand what will really matter.
Here’s the truth, though.
Popularity does not weigh your worth. A pretty sash and a tiara do not symbolize your true value.
And dear girl, even the Homecoming Queen has her moments of doubts and tears and isolation. No high school experience is perfect. No woman ever feels perfect. We all have scars and fears. We all have warped mirrors that seem to highlight the flaws we perceive in ourselves. No spotlight can completely hide that.
But you are not marked by this one moment. Whether you are the girl who will never be Homecoming Queen or the girl who will, I hope you remember that you are worth more than any voting system or a number of cheers from the stands.
As you grow older, there won’t be a Homecoming Queen—but at other stages in your life, the feelings and sense of competition will resurface in other ways. There will still be times in life when it feels like a popularity contest when it feels like you are invisible. There will be times when you look in the mirror and old insecurities will creep in. You’ll start to compare yourself to the women in the spotlight, to the ones everyone is looking at. I hope when that happens, though, you’ll shake it off and remember that the spotlight always fades and when you’re in the darkness, there’s only one person you can count on: you. The real you. So be kind to yourself.
Being Homecoming Queen is good and fun and exciting for a quick moment. As I’ve gone through life, though, you know what else I’ve learned is good?
Being true to who you are, inside and out. Being happy in your own skin, no matter who is voting for you or who isn’t. Knowing that you are worthy even if you don’t have anyone’s applause or vote but your own.
To the girl who will never be Homecoming Queen: I was you. I am you. And I’m here to tell you that the spotlight has been on you the entire time, even if you didn’t know it. The spotlight is yours for the taking if you are courageous enough to stand tall in your own skin and know that only you can decide if you’re the Homecoming Queen in your own life.
I’m clapping for you. I see you. I just hope that you can celebrate yourself, too, silky sash or not.
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