Shifting Perspective, Painting by Anushka Nair, Grade 11, Age 16, Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale, IL

Shifting Perspective, Painting by Anushka Nair, Grade 11, Age 16, Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale, IL

Looking or feeling different from others can be a difficult journey for some teenagers. Organizations like Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It make this journey easier by helping teens celebrate what makes them unique and promoting mutual respect of the differences in others.

For the second year in a row, the Scholastic Awards has partnered with Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It, with sponsorship from RBC Capital Markets, to honor two students who explore the theme “The things that make me different, make me, me” in their art or writing.

We’re proud to announce the recipients of The RBC “Flaunt It” Award for 2017: Anushka Nair and Lindsay Pierce!

Anushka Nair

According to Anushka, “This work deals with women’s inner conflict with body image. The figure refuses to look at herself, disinterested in her appearance and unwilling to accept it. But she spots an escape to her conflict – she spots knowledge and wisdom in two books at her feet. I believe knowledge, learning about one’s own issue and hearing other perspectives and anecdotes breed empathy, eliminates judgment, and instead promotes the embracing of what makes one unique. I painted this piece with my own struggles with body image in mind, where I faced a lot of external criticism on my appearance and my style of dress, as a way to reflect on how I once had much difficulty accepting myself as I was, and what it took to finally get to that final step of acceptance.”

Lindsay Pierce

“My piece is about struggling with microaggressions regarding my identity as a black woman in a predominantly white school,” Lindsay explains. “I look at microaggressions and how they are and should be dealt with on a wider scope in addition to working through my own experience. I was made to feel that part of me didn’t fit with everyone else, but over the years I’ve worked to regain my confidence in that part of myself, and I want my writing to help others do the same.”

Excerpt from “Hands Off My Identity: Dealing with Difference in a Diversifying Community”

Personal Essay & Memoir by Lindsay Pierce, Grade 11, Age 16, Maret School, Washington, D.C.

“Wow, your hair is so weird! Elliot, feel this!”

Though I did not know what it was at the time, I first experienced what can be called a microaggression on my first day at the Maret School, where I am currently in 11th grade. I was a 6th grader at the time and I was extremely nervous; I spent half an hour picking out my outfit that morning. Maret is an extremely exclusive, affluent school in the middle of an even more exclusive, affluent neighborhood. It was not a place in which tall, athletic black girls were abundant. Nevertheless, there I was, having survived the excruciating application process to claim my spot in those halls. The actual logistics of the day have by now fled my memory, but one thing that stuck was our first break period. A series of couches were lined up in a hallway across from an array of bagels and hot chocolate, and the entire 6th grade class was freed to mingle for fifteen minutes. I was talking to a girl I had just met, likely about soccer or classes or something equally casual. Suddenly, I felt strange hands on my head; specifically, on my hair.

At least 10 different people (though the number is likely higher if you count stares and whispers) proceeded to pick apart my carefully constructed bun (or “poof,” as they called it).

“Wow it’s so thick!” “What do you do with it?” “But how does it work?”

Bear in mind that this was my first experience with the majority of my classmates, and while there is something to be said for youthful curiosity, children are taught on their first day of preschool to respect others’ personal space. I was extremely uncomfortable, and I wondered whether I had any right or reason to stop them, eventually electing to simply smile. I did not immediately tell a teacher, nor my parents, nor my siblings about that odd break period, though I’m not sure why. Several weeks later, I casually mentioned it at the dinner table.

Until I saw my mother’s shocked, horrified face, I don’t think I realized that something had really gone wrong. Though it had bothered me in the moment, no one in my class thought it odd, so I’d convinced myself it was just nervousness and continued about my business. People had continued to touch my hair; I had continued to smile and nod uncomfortably, continued to question whether I had a valid reason to refuse them. But with my mother’s demands that I refuse anyone who tried touching my hair again came a troubling realization: I was essentially the only black girl in my grade. There were two or three girls with one black parent, but their mixed heritage had given them straighter, silkier locks in place of the coarse, puffy coils I continue to do battle with. There were black boys with my same texture, but their hair was cut short, and several of them had grown up with the class and were no longer considered new objects of interest. I was seeing Maret in a new light, and the angle was anything but flattering. With my ever-fascinating curls now physically out of reach, students instead asked me pointed questions in the hallway. Several girls recoiled in shock when I revealed that I wash my hair every two weeks or so (my hair dries out easily so washing often weakens the strands).

Incidents like this wounded me, shaking my confidence in my choice of school. Because of hair, of all things. It seemed so silly, but those wounds, and more like them, haunted me all the way to high school. They still bother me today.

Congratulations Anushka and Lindsay! And thank you to Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It and RBC Capital Markets for making The RBC “Flaunt It” Award possible.

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