Asking All Kinds of Questions

I was rummaging through an old file cabinet last week when I came upon a stack of yellowing papers from before the Obama era. I started to flip through the papers trying to figure out what they were. As I shuffled through the pages, I remembered that a couple of years ago while my class was studying the media, a group of my students decided to do some original research on the impact of media on teenagers’ self-perception. They put together a questionnaire, anonymously surveying students on the amount of time they spent with the media, followed by some questions about their self-perception. I held these decade old answers in my hands.


One of the questions the researchers asked seemed especially poignant:

If there were one thing about your appearance that you could change, what would it be?


Here are some of my students’ responses…


·      I like the way I look; it makes me who I am. If I had to change something I guess I would give myself less fragile nails so I wouldn’t have to keep them super short.


·      Legs and face


·      Flexibility


·      I would probably like to be 10 pounds lighter and have lighter eye color.


·      I wish I were thinner


·      Less hair. I hate shaving

*I would change my chest proportion

*I would change my feet size

*I would change my veiny eyes


·      This is an interesting/hard question. Coming from someone who has a low self-esteem, there are several things I’d like to change about me but I’ve come to accept most of my flaws and appreciate them. One thing I’d like to change the most would be my upper legs, haha. Ah well. We can’t be perfect right?


·      I would have a different nose


·      Probably height…would want to have long legs


·      Hmm wouldn’t want to age


·      I don’t know. I wish that I could change my face. Not too Attractive.


·      Hmm…prob. The bone structure on my face because I don’t really have defined cheekbones.


·      Smaller lower body


·      18 inch waist FOR SURE


·      um, how about my entire bone structure!?!? I’m SO bulky; I wish I was more like Alessandra Ferri or someone. But if it had to be something humanely possible (as opposed to complete bone structure implants), my weight.


·      Nose


·      I would lose the butt


I sat in my office and scrolled through my memories of all those student faces from the past ten years of teaching and I felt pretty bad for them. After all, for young people, there’s an appearance-war being waged. Then I started to wonder about those students now - a decade later – and how their answers might have changed. Sitting alone in my office, I answered the question for myself; first as a young man in high school, then later, as 46 year-old wrinkly me. After all, as any physics teacher over 30 will tell you, as we get older gravity begins to exert a stronger force, and things tend to go downhill in the looks department. By the time I got finished answer the question my pity for my young students had evaporated.

Now it’s your turn.

If there were one thing about your appearance that you could change, what would it be?

And, how has this answer changed for you over the years.

I’m going to give my students more research assignments where they take the pulse of their own generation on all sorts of matters, and I’ll report back on our findings. In years past we’ve asked questions about ideology, civil liberties, race, views on gun control, abortion, immigration, foreign policy, and all sorts of political and social questions. Students love to be asked questions (who – besides a Trappist monk - doesn’t), especially when you listen and share their answers. What questions are you asking your students about themselves?