Last week, Caitlyn Jenner messed up. Big.

While discussing what makes "a good image" during an interview with Time, the Olympian and trans activist said she works very hard on her "presentation" because she doesn't want to make others uncomfortable by looking like "a man in a dress."

Yeaaah ... no.


Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Nederlander.

"One thing that has always been important for me, and it may seem very self-absorbed or whatever, is first of all your presentation of who you are. I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. So what I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease. If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable. So the first thing I can do is try to present myself well. I want to dress well. I want to look good." — Caitlyn Jenner, Time, Dec. 9, 2015

As you can imagine, the backlash was swift and critical, prompting Jenner to respond (which I'll get to in a moment).

But, unfortunately, it's not the first time she dropped the ball.

In August, Jenner failed to understand why it's critical that social programs are made available for the trans community. The following month, she claimed to be "in on the joke" when it came to an offensive Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume that mocked the transgender experience. And remember that time she gave a wishy-washy response regarding her support for same-sex marriage (which was a little odd coming from an LGBT activist)?

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for The Point Foundation.

Many fans were frustrated with her most recent blunder and rightfully so. In large part due to her reality TV fame, Jenner is one of the most visible trans activists out there — her words, and the messages behind them, matter.

Jenner's "man in a dress" remark is a problem for a few important reasons.

First of all, she implied it's valid for someone to feel uncomfortable by another person's expression of gender.

It's not anyone's job to make me feel comfortable around them through their gender expression. It is my job, however, to accept everyone — cis, trans, or otherwise — regardless of how they look or where they fall on the spectrum of gender.

Secondly, no matter what someone looks like — even like a "man in a dress" — they're deserving of the same respect as any other person.

Plenty of people choose to express themselves in ways that don't conform to the binary, the "man" vs. "woman" society we (unfortunately) live in. And that's not only just OK, that rocks. Our world is a diverse one — let's embrace it.

And thirdly, Jenner's comment shows her privilege as someone with the financial means to express herself however she feels fit.

Many trans people lack access to the health care (and teams of hair, makeup, and clothing stylists) needed to help them appear how they wish to look. And, considering how costly medical procedures can be, many can't pay out of pocket. The statement from Jenner — who clearly doesn't share this problem — was pretty tone deaf.

Fortunately, Jenner realized she messed up and apologized.

And this time, she hit the nail on the head.

In a blog post published Dec. 14, 2015, Jenner made sure to right her wrong and "promise[d] to keep learning" in the years ahead.

"I think I caused a lot of hurt with this comment, and I’m truly sorry."

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Jenner poignantly touched on how she dropped the ball on all the points mentioned above (really, you should read the post), but here's one particularly important tidbit:

"I am only one person. There are a lot of ways of being trans. And I want to help create a world in which people are able to express their gender in any way that is true and authentic for them. And most importantly — a world in which how a trans person is treated isn’t dependent on how they look."

Yes, Jenner has had some harmful — not to mention cringeworthy — moments during the fight for equality.

And each and every time she fumbles the ball, we should make note of it. (After all, it comes with the territory of being a leader.)

But we should also applaud her when she makes an effort to make things right.

"I am guessing this is probably not the last time I will say the wrong thing, or say something the wrong way," she wrote.

"I promise to keep learning, and to try to be more articulate in the future. We have a lot of hard work to do. I am looking forward to doing it together."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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