They’re All Staring at Me: Teaching and Body Image

Being a teacher isn’t easy. All of the early mornings, the outside-of-school prep work, the grading, the stressful meetings, the extracurricular practices and group meetings, plus the day-to-day dealing with kids can all take a toll. Then, if you’re me, you have a blog (or two), Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to update, plus a second job as a freelance writer, AND a workout schedule. Not to mention I cook, clean, and just generally take care of business every day.

During the school year, I get stressed out. When I get stressed out, I break out, I start to get bags under my eyes, my hair looks frizzy and dry, and I just generally start to feel old.

When I look at myself in the mirror and I see a million zits, I get even more stressed out. Which causes even more zits. Then, I spend a lot of time trying to cover up said imperfections in the morning before I go to school, which probably irritates them even more but makes me feel better about myself and my skin. Then, after a long and stressful day, I come home and look at myself in the mirror again and want to cry.

Objectively, I understand that I don’t look noticably better or worse at the end of the day versus the beginning of the day. Objectively, I also understand that 2-4 localized zits does not an acne problem make. Objectively, I know that, even if these zits are red, inflamed, and painful, no one is going to notice them but me, makeup or no makeup.

But it’s awfully hard to be objective about these things when you have 150 students staring at you all day.

Even worse than having 150 students stare at you all day is the fact that at least a few of those students are brutally honest without provocation. While this seems like a good trait, their honesty is often just plain mean. “Oh hey, Miss. I guess you still break out too, huh,” says a student while looking at my face. In the middle of my lesson. Introducing a book. A book that has nothing to do with acne or my face. Without raising his hand.

You laugh, but if you have ever had an interaction with a 15-year-old, you know it’s true.

People often ask me what the most difficult thing about my job is and, though I don’t usually admit it, the hardest part for me is knowing that my students are staring at me, and that I don’t have the flawless skin I used to. I also have unfounded fears about skirts tucked into pantyhose, open flies, and spinach between my teeth. Last year, when my acne was the worst it has ever been in my entire life, I often daydreamed about taking the plunge and working from home, not because I didn’t like teaching anymore, but because I wanted to be somewhere no one could see me all day.

Of course, no one is staring at me all day in the summer. When I’m tan, fit, happy, relaxed, and my skin is glowing. No. Only in the winter when everything is dry, itchy, flakey, red, and I haven’t gotten enough sleep since… well… school started.

For teachers, or for anyone else whose career involves them being the center of attention, body image is a very real issue. I used to have a dance teacher who had a pretty severe case of body dysmorphia because she spent all day every day in front of the full-length mirrors at the studio. She told us there was only one mirror in her house because she couldn’t stand to go home and see herself anymore. I tell my students – especially my Fearless Females – all the time that they should embrace their inner beauty and not worry what other people think about them, but high schools truly are a cesspool of negative opinions and judgement – even for the teachers.

I’ve been doing my best this year to reduce my stress, but I’ve also been trying my hardest just to care less about my appearance. I give myself 30 minutes in front of the mirror in the morning and whatever comes of that is how I face the day. I realize that no one is coming up to my face and poking at the imperfections; in fact, with makeup on, they probably can’t even see what I can from where they sit. I also realize that, aside from the few honest ones, the rest are probably too concerned about their own appearance to worry about mine.

Body image is a constant struggle for women, and for teachers. I do think mine tends to get worse when I am teaching, but I also think I’m on the right track toward fixing that problem.

If you are a teacher, do you find yourself having worse body image issues when you’re in front of the students? If so, how do you cope with it? Leave your ideas in the comments!

One thought on “They’re All Staring at Me: Teaching and Body Image

  1. Hi Ashley. You may be surprised to know that I’ve followed your blog for a while now, ever since I stumbled across it at some point far enough back that I don’t remember when it happened. I haven’t commented until now because while I generally don’t agree with most of your opinions, I don’t think it’s constructive to pollute your ecosystem with negativity — particularly given the rocky past you and I have had.

    But today’s post struck enough of a chord with me to pipe up because I can relate to it. I also believe your job is a far more challenging one than mine is, and I’ll get to why in a second. I’ve been instructing aircraft maintenance at a for-profit school for the last year or so, and it can be genuinely intimidating to get up in front of a class full of people — some of whom are ten or twenty years older than me — and have to establish credibility with them despite the fact that I have a decade of experience to impart to them. I was just today thinking about how I feel sluggish and sloppy, even while in front of a class which generally likes what I have to tell them. (My own fault for being lazy and falling off my workout routine.) I too get acne. At 31 years old, it’s really annoying.

    The reason I think your job is more challenging than mine is because you don’t have the option of throwing a student out of class in the same way that I do, if they are rude or causing problems. Being for-profit (and regulated strictly by the FAA) establishes a clear set of rules which have definite consequences if broken — up to and including expulsion for infractions far less serious than would be imposed upon a teenager. I understand that the public school system has many rules in place for the most egregious and disruptive kids, but it’s worth noting that you don’t have as much recourse as I do when the natives get restless. Also, you have to interface with kids who aren’t even close to being mature. Their honesty (and ability to cut down adults with insults) is a real thing. I respect that you are up there, being “on” every day to six or eight periods’ worth of young people whose knee-jerk reaction is to audibly moan when you assign them things that will broaden their minds and make them better people.

    For what it’s worth, I think you have grown up to be a beautiful, intelligent woman, and I’m glad to be able to read your writing whether I agree with it or not. You have taught me some things about how better to run my own blogs, in fact, just by virtue of my having the ability to observe your layout, headlines, and post structure.

    I won’t make this (commenting) a regular thing if it will stress you out to have to see me around, but if it doesn’t, I wouldn’t mind a little honest, genuine debate over current events or whatever. I’ll respect your space either way. Thanks again for posting this; it really resonated with me personally.

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