We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofJuliana Barboza

During summer vacation I would always spend time with my cousin. This was the best because we would run around in her big backyard and go swimming in her new pool. One weekend we decided to go swimming. On this particular day, my cousin’s Dad brought his ten dogs. The dogs were all young pitbulls. As soon as I entered the backyard, one of the dogs started to nibble on my legs, but I didn't really think anything of it because it didn't hurt. I thought it was normal and that the dog was just playing. But quickly the atmosphere changed, and I realized I was in danger.  

More of the dogs started nipping at my legs. Being little kids, my cousin and I didn't know what was going on, so we just decided to start running towards the pool. Unfortunately, that wasn't the best plan. By the time I made it to the pool, all ten dogs were attacking me. One even jumped on my back. I couldn’t make it to the pool as the dogs had engulfed me. They left bite marks all over my body and split open my skin to the point that I had to get stitches. 

Growing up, I thought that in order to be beautiful, you needed to have perfect skin, which meant no scars or acne because the women I saw -- like my mother, Beyonce, J.Lo, and many other celebrities and models on TV -- had beautiful, flawless skin. Before the attack, I remember being so confident in myself because I had smooth, clear skin. 

After the dog attack happened, everything changed for me. I had bite scars all over my body, which made me feel extremely self-conscious. I thought I wasn't beautiful anymore; I stopped wearing dresses, short sleeves, and shorts, even during the summer. I remember my parents yelling at me once because I was wearing long sleeves and pants in ninety degree weather, all so that other people didn’t see my scars. The attack also made me terrified of big dogs, which was sad because I loved dogs up until this happened.   

It took me a while to realize that really nice skin is impossible to have 24/7 and that many people have scars on their body and are still beautiful. What helped me with my self-confidence was the internet. Growing up, many commercials, movies, fashion shows, and music videos would show girls who were skinny with really nice skin without stretch marks, acne, or any other imperfections. Towards the beginning of high school though, music videos, commercials, and fashion shows started to change their models and actors, showing all types of women and girls. 

Obviously the media overall still needs change, but seeing has different bodies definitely helped me gain confidence in myself. When models like Ashley Graham, Winnie Harlow, and Georgia Gibbs have shared their insecurities, they have learned to love themselves. For example, Ashley Graham was the stepping stone for plus size models, making them realize they are still beautiful. Winnie Harlow was the stepping stone for people with skin conditions. She has shared that growing up people would tease her for this, making her feel self-conscious. Georgia Gibbs shared her problems with acne and how she used to feel the need to cover it up everywhere she went. 

These women and many more have definitely taken part in changing the idea of what we need in order to be beautiful -- like being a certain weight or having a certain look or style. As I’ve become older I’ve realized many girls and women are affected by society's beauty standards. I feel it’s important to be reminded that we define our beauty, not society, especially when we are young. 

© Juliana Barboza . All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.