In high school, I wanted to look like this. Pretty in pink. Not a petal out of place. Like the cheerleaders with their toned calves and smooth pony tails. Like the girls who had no problem finding dance dresses that fit…nor a problem finding a date to said dances. Like the girls on the magazine covers with porcelain skin and dazzling smiles and tiny jean shorts. But I didn’t.

Instead, I felt like this. Like a misfit flower, trying my best to blend into the garden but painfully aware of my imperfections. Extra pounds, acne-covered shoulders, bitten fingernails and boobs so big they scared me. I draped myself in bulky sweat shirts and button-up blouses, and used what I had deep inside – leadership skills, creativity and kindness – to attain some semblance of popularity. I was the girl who planned the prom but never went to it.

I was even on an advisory board for Seventeen magazine – not because of my cover girl looks, mind you, but because I was tuned in to what my peers liked and wanted. They had an open call and I submitted my impressive, over-achiever resumé of activities and awards – and got picked. Though I always pored over the pages of that magazine, I never recognized myself in it; I just recognized what I wasn’t. I figured being on their advisory board – answering questions about my peers and what they liked – was one more way to look cool without being cool.

This morning, I read that Seventeen has pledged never to airbrush their models and to feature more diversity on their pages. Girl empowerment organizations like SPARK Summit and the teens who follow them used the power of social media to demand change – and they got it. Now they’re going after other teen-focused publications, too. God, wouldn’t it be lovely if this generation of girls and the ones after could recognize glimmers of themselves celebrated in the media? Wouldn’t it be awesome if today’s girls {and boys} grew up with a sense of worth and belonging – not for how they look but for who they are?

All these years later, I still have days when I feel like the girl decorating for a dance I’m not attending. On those days, surfing the blogosphere feels like jumping down a rabbit hole; my self-consciousness spins out of control if I let myself focus on how trendy, how darling, how super-fit, how uber-healthy, or how polished certain bloggers are. I feel like I’m back at summer camp in 1988 – the first and last time I wore a bikini in public because all the girls, I decided with great angst, looked so much better. It’s amazing to me that my sense of self is still so warped by those image-conscious teen years.

Me today: sweaty, sleeveless + happy

But this is what I wish I could tell my 17-year-old self {and every other teen}:

I also have plenty of days – including this day – when I know, deep down, that I am enough. Today, I’d rather be a creative misfit than a perfectly-petaled flower. Today, I’m not wearing what somebody else deemed to be cool; I’m not waxing, buffing, fasting, cleansing, or planking just ’cause “everyone” else is doing it. Today, I still use those beautiful skills I leveraged years ago – leadership, creativity, kindness – to create a happy, fulfilling, BEAUTIFUL life.

I’m a work of art and a piece of work. This is me – airbrush-free.