A Challenge: Love Yourself. Share Your Story. Find Beauty.

webicon-valentinesHappy Valentine’s Day dear readers! Like my ‘Luvicon?’ (You can make one too!) Little did I know when I wrote about ‘thinspiration’ that there was an actual term for sidewinders and commentary that dings so deeply in the developmental recesses of kids’ minds. “Bodysnarking.”

Dare to share the body image stories that stuck in your childhood mental relay and lend a hand with a new book underway? Go to AskDrRobynSilverman.com. It’s important work. On this highly visible day of commercialized love, it seems appropo to share stories of triumph and tales of love that matter…

Justina Chen Headley, inspiring YA lit author and readergirlz co-founder, has a new book out called North of Beautiful that TeenBookReview calls, “not an issue book by any means” but “awesome,” fresh, and real. (the lead character has a port wine stain covering the left side of her face, that’s taken a toll on her life)

Justina’s written “an open letter to phenomenal girls everywhere” (after the jump) which challenges us all to Find Beauty in the world, record a :90 video and upload it to YouTube. She’ll donate $10 for every uploaded video to Global Medical Surgeries, which helps kids with cleft lips and palates in third world countries, and enter you to win an itouch for yourself. I love it!

So what is beautiful to you? What fills your heart with love?

My answer? You, dear readers. People that care about kids. About the world. About each other. Happy Valentine’s Day…

Enjoy Justina’s amazing work. Online and off.  xoxo–Amy

An Open Letter to Phenomenal Girls Everywhere:

from Justina Chen Headley, author North of Beautiful

justina2A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine called me up in tears.

An acquaintance had commented on a photo my friend had uploaded on Facebook:  “You must have turned heads in your heyday.”

”Sweetie,” I said.  “You’re gorgeous!  Forget about it.”

Right. How can we forget dings to our beauty -intentional or not-when we’ve been taught to care how people view us?

“Does my butt look big in this?”-a demand for reassurance disguised as a question.  “Do I look old?”-we ask the mirror, studying every cavernous pore and buying creams to combat wrinkles and age spots.

We count calories, we cut fat grams.  We wear our fat jeans on bloated days only to curse our fat genes because every day is a bloated day.

I remember the first time I was called ugly.

I was eight and arguing with my father who sneered that I was acting like a stepmother-you know, the ugly, mean ones who populate fairy tales.

The second time I was called ugly, I was spat upon by the racist in my high school.  And the third time?  I had just moved to Australia and was in a bush pub when a drunkard eyed me over his cavalry line of empty beer steins and slurred, “God, you’re really ugly.”

Luckily, three times isn’t the charm.  I’m not dragging myself through life, the poster child for All Things Ugly.  What saved me from seeing myself as ugly wasn’t being shortlisted as the cover model for a magazine or being named princess at many a high school ball.

It was Maya Angelou’s poem, PHENOMENAL WOMAN.

Her words opened my eyes to transcendent and incandescent Beauty:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size…
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I held the poem in my hands-the words a map to Me.  To my inner and outer Beauty.  And as I whispered those words-phenomenal woman, that’s me-I realized I’ve been glorifying an unattainable fashion-model beauty as mythic as Aphrodite.  That fashion-model beauty is transient-here today, gone in ten, maybe twenty years.  That fashion-model beauty isn’t even real in today’s plasticized, photoshopped world.

Once I stopped buying into fashion-model beauty, I realized that our society’s worst insult leveled at a girl-God, you’re really ugly-is actually…laughable.

I’d rather be The Most Phenomenal Me I can be than The Most Beautiful Girl in the room.  One will sustain me forever, the other will fade and leave me yearning for my glory days.  I don’t want to live in memories of my past prime when I have the beauty of now.

One of the reasons why I wrote NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL was (in my humble way!) to attempt to put Maya’s glorious words into prose for today’s girls, especially since I think the media’s insistence that we be forever thin and young and beautiful is even more prevalent than ever.

I wanted to challenge women and girls not just to define beauty for themselves, but to find beauty in themselves.

What is truly beautiful?  For me, I find beauty in a person’s spirit, generosity, confidence.  It’s being honest and brave and doing the right thing.  It’s being at our own personal best physical and spiritual shape.  It’s about making a difference, leaving the world itself more beautiful.

What can be more truly beautiful than living so fully and generously that every day is our heyday?

So let’s write our own Beauty Vow: make every day our heyday.  Find your own beauty.  Be phenomenal.  Start now.

To true beauty,

Justina Chen Headley is an award-winning novelist for teens.  Her most recent novel, NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, has earned starred reviews from BookList, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

Isn’t she amazing? You can drop Justina a comment on her blog, or get to know her a bit better on her site FAQs (what she’s reading, how she got inspired to write three books in four years, why she’s living in Shanghai now, etc.) or find her on Facebook. (or me, or Dr. Robyn for that matter! I guess I’d better post a ‘group’ soon for Shaping Youth!)

Here are some related articles I’ve written on Shaping Youth about  readergirlz,  young adult lit (YA in publishing lingo) and Justina’s work before:

Counter-Marketing Thinspiration: Killer Cues for Kids

Operation Teen Book Drop Supports YA Lit With Street Teams

Shaping Youth: YA Books Become a New Media Experience

Shaping Youth: Ideas For World-Changing: Go Overboard!

31 Flavorite Authors for Teens: readergirlz Teams With YALSA!

Shaping Youth Interviews YALSA President for Teen Read Week

Shaping Youth: A Vision of Students Today: Digital Ethnography Video

YALSA Book Lists & Book Awards

ALA: Best Books for Young Adults

ALA: Fabulous Films for Young Adults

2Swap.com Book Swapping Online, for Earned Credits

And below are a few more ‘check it out’ reads on body image that young adult (YA in publishing lingo) authors have recommended for teens

Teen Book Review/Jocelyn on Body Image, Recommends:

“First up is North of Beautiful. Justina Chen Headley’s wonderful novel is about as far from an issue book as there is, but the main character has a port wine stain on half of her face, and that’s something she has to come to terms with. It’s one of many parts of this story, but it’s there.

This Book Isn’t Fat, It’s Fabulous is lots of fun. It’s not particularly literary, and it’s far from perfect, but it sure is fun. Riley, the main character, is happy and confident and heavier than “ideal” (though she is by no means fat). She’s awesome.

All About Vee features another strong heroine who, despite having dreams of being a Hollywood actress, refuses to let society’s ridiculous ideas of perfection get in her way.

You might say that Violet in Private doesn’t fit here because it’s about a model, but it totally does. Violet is bashed by the modelling industry for gaining a few pounds, even when she’s still ridiculously skinny. It’s ridiculous! Models aren’t thin because they’re “perfect”; as this book shows, models are unhealthily skinny because the industry pressures them to BE unhealthy, thus pressuring ordinary girls to want to look like models and be unhealthy and unhappy as well. Don’t give in!

Big Fat Manifesto IS an issue book, but that’s not all it is. The main character here really IS fat, and, sadly, she starts out (and continues for quite some time) letting the numbers on the scale define her. However, in the course of the book, she really grows as a person (figuratively) and learns that weight loss isn’t necessarily the way to happiness, which rocks.

Looks is unique in that it deals with two weight extremes: being too skinny and being fat. It’s also a really eloquent, lyrical book, lovely to read.

Go Figure is one of my favorites. The heroine, Ryan, is insecure about her weight (and aren’t we all insecure about some part of ourselves?), but it does not dominate her at all. She’s smart and funny and talented and popular, and not skinny. She learns that self-acceptance is key to happiness–not that weight loss is key to happiness, and I love her and this book.

Another book with a heroine who, despite her insecurities, is way more than her weight, is Size 12 is Not Fat, the first in Meg Cabot’s series. It’s also far from an issue book (chick lit murder mystery is an apt description), and it’s so much fun!

Princess Ben is one of the only (if not the only) fantasy books I’ve seen that touches on this topic. Despite the fact that she loses weight in her happy ending (hey, it’s a fairy tale), which annoys me, Ben isn’t particularly concerned with being skinny, and knows there’s a lot more to herself than that. A girl after my own heart!”

Amy’s note:

Check out the Girl Week book list by Steph, aka Reviewer X, a teen who describes herself as:

“a junior at a freakin’ hard prep school. When I’m not anticipating my imminent brain suffocation, I am readily and steadily wading my way through thousands of pages of beautifully (or not so beautifully) constructed prose, crashing random parties, and being a wholesome teen (who relies heavily on sarcasm)

Gawd I love kids. Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all…’feel the love!’ 🙂



  1. GO Justina, and everyone who values true beauty as INNER beauty!

    Little Willow’s last blog post..Tanita S. Davis Website

  2. What makes me happy is to bring smiles to children. That is why I wrote my first novel. I feel like if this book gets into the hand of one child who reads it and forgets about their troubles for awhile then I’ve done by job as an author.

  3. RaiulBaztepo says

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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