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Have you ever experienced a life changing event? Something that encouraged or inspired you to change the way you live and think? Events like these are very common for those who venture on a psychological journey to find their own individuality and beliefs. Sometimes and for some people, this is a life-long journey and for others, it simply takes just one ordeal to change everything. Not possible? I have just the stories to demonstrate how one event can trigger the events that can lead to a complete personality change. The Art of Getting Stared At, by Laura Langston, is a novel about a 17-year-old girl, Sloane Kendrick, who, in the midst of making a scholarship-worthy video, figures out that she has Alopecia areata, an autoimmune, non-life-threatening disease that will most likely result in her losing all her hair. As a person who always believed that she was more than just looks, her beliefs are tested right to the core while she runs against time to get the video application in before the deadline. Looking for Alibrandi, by Kate Woods, is a movie about an 18-year-old, rebellious girl, who struggles to face teenage problems, earn good marks to pursue a post-secondary education, deal with family stress, and face her estranged dad who has returned after 18 years. This movie follows her journey through all these conflicts and shows us the inside perspective of an 18-year-old teenage girl. Langston’s The Art of Getting Stared At and Woods’s Looking for Alibrandi both contain the elements of a typical “find yourself” type of story. Langston and Woods both use their character’s self-discovering journeys to emphasize the importance of accepting who you are and how family and friends can help in the face of a conflicting ordeal.
Both, Langston’s The Art of Getting Stared At and Woods’s Looking for Alibrand,i follow the conventions of a typical self-discovering journey. Self-discovering journeys occur when the protagonist goes through a series of events and attempts to discover themselves and their beliefs by themselves rather than following the opinion of others. For Sloane, getting alopecia was the event that triggered everything. Most self-discovering journeys revolve around an unconfident protagonist who, after her journey, gains more self-respect and confidence. A common thing that is found in all these characters is that they think that all bad things only happen to them when in fact, everyone has their fair share of struggles.
In The Art of Getting Stared At, an example of this would be when Sloane was complaining about how unfair her life is and how she’s always done good things but doesn’t understand why in return, the only results she gets is negative. “You think you’ll have a totally fair life? That you’ll never be challenged? … A life without challenges doesn’t exist.”. This is the quote that Sloane’s mom tells her when she’s going through her tantrum. At this point, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia and this acts like a cherry on a cake of problems. Sloane has just been through a tough breakup, has been occasionally getting bullied from a group of kids at school, has been told that while her mother goes to Sudan for 8 weeks, she will have to stay with her father and step-mother who she despises, and now, she’s had a dermatologist tell her that she might lose all the hair on her body. This comes as a shock to her and she now has more things to consider and worry about rather than just focusing on making a scholarship-worthy video. This results in Sloane losing confidence in herself and this overshadows her creativity and imagination. She thinks that now that she’s losing hair, she’ll look ugly and society will judge her for how she looks. Sloane faces a lot of conflicts throughout the book and each one plays a significant role in shaping her lifestyle and how she lives and acts around others. Like in every typical self-discovering plotline, Looking for Alibrandi, too, has characters who wish for freedom or for something better than what they have. “If I could be anything other than what I am, I want it tomorrow. If I could be what my father wants me to be, maybe I could stay for that too. If I could be what you want me to be, I would want to stay. But I am what I am and all I want is freedom.” This quote is a note that Josie’s close friend gave to her before he killed himself the next day. He was the Vice President’s son and came from a long line of politicians. This pressured him to prove to his dad that he was equally as smart and cunning as he expected of him. The pressure built up over the years and at the young age of 17, he buckled under the pressure and ended up killing himself to get rid of the strict rules, the judging eyes, and to simply achieve peace and freedom. This also affects Josie greatly as she loved him like family and had been friends since birth. This is a big turning point for her as she promises herself that she would not break under the pressure and that she’d live life the way she wanted and the way she believed she should. In every coming-of-age story, the main characters are often pressured by friends, family, culture, religion, or society in general and the plotline of this movie is no different or less.
Although, both characters face problems and conflicting problems that make them question everything they’ve ever believed in, they manage to learn and grow from that and come out even stronger than before. In The Art of Getting Stared At, Sloane matures and learns to filter out the mean, hate messages from everyone else and focuses only on herself. “Ella will freak. Kim will probably disapprove. Dad won’t say much. Mom will say it’s just hair. In the end, though, it’s up to me to figure out how to deal with things.” This quote is from the ending of the book when Sloane realizes that after everything, what other people think doesn’t matter. She shouldn’t care what her parents say, what her sister thinks, or how her friends and classmates react, the only opinion that matters the most should always be her own. Or like her dad said, “The most important relationship we’ll ever have is with ourselves.” After facing the harsh judgements and dealing with problem after problem, Sloane learns to filter out the opinions of others and learns to deal with ordeals at her own pace and her own way, without the input of others. Correspondingly, just like Sloane learned to live with her condition, Josie gains a new perspective and learns to look at the World through different lenses. “I remembered when we spoke about our emancipation. The horror is that he had to die to achieve his. The beauty is that I’m living to achieve mine.” This quote is from the ending of the movie where after Josie graduates, she looks back and reflects on the crazy year she’d had. She thinks back on what her and John talked about before he committed suicide and she notices that he helped her mature in a way. She realizes that she wasn’t the only one with problems and that she has privileges that she should be really grateful for. Josie also realizes the vast difference between her and John; he had to die to achieve peace and freedom while she just has to live her life to achieve hers. Throughout the book, just like Slone faced her problems and learned to overcome them, Josie breaks out of her bounds and starts thinking for herself. Both, Sloane and Josie mature and adapt a new mindset in order to start focusing on the light in the World and not just the dark corners.
The Art of Getting Stared At and Looking for Alibrandi both show how if we’re not confident in ourselves, the smallest events can lead to our minds resorting to thinking negative things but these stories also demonstrate that the key to overcoming this can be found inside of us. The importance of self-acceptance and self-love is a well emphasized theme throughout Langston’s novel. Initially, Sloane hated herself for who she was and always downgraded herself. She always thought that she was less than anyone else or less worthy. When she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease that results in complete hair loss, Sloane lost even more confidence and faith in herself. She looked at hair as if it was money and that if she didn’t have any, everyone would sneer and despise her. She constantly stressed about how she could hide her bald spots and stop people from seeing, all the while researching various ways to somehow be a special case and have all her hair grow back. “As I say the words, that hard pit of despair lodged in my chest softens…Resistance and denial only make it worse.” But as shown in the quote, she soon learns that resistance and denial only make things worse and that if she accepts her disease and focuses on moving on from that, she’d get more positive results. Correspondingly, just like Sloane struggled with her appearance in the beginning of the book, Josie struggled with her culture and heritage. “I began to realize that it didn’t matter what others thought about what was right and wrong. It only mattered how I felt…I am me. But I’m human. Not a stone. I can be influenced by different things.” This is a quote from the ending of the book where Josie realizes, just like Sloane did, that no one’s opinion, besides hers, herself, mattered. She realized that some people will always judge and that you can’t always make everyone happy all the time. There will always be a group of people who will disapprove of your actions and that’s okay. In the movie, while Josie tried to make everyone happy, she changed a lot. She tried changing and sculpting herself into the perfect person they wanted and in the process of doing so, she lost sight of the values and morals that mattered most to her. But, by the end of the movie, Josie gets help from a lot of people who show her that it’s okay to be different and that everyone is unique but equally special, she goes back to her original self and finally achieves the happiness and freedom she’s always craved. Besides being conscious of their appearances, both characters also worry over identity and fitting in.
In The Art of Getting Stared At, Langston uses Sloane’s story as a way of showing us the mental conflicts the youth of this generation go through and how important our identity is. The following quote shows us the conflicts inside Sloane’s mind: “Will I spend my time being who I am or pretending to be someone I’m not? But maybe it’s not an either-or scenario. Maybe I can do both.” For Sloane, it’s always been a choice, a decision. She could either be smart or be pretty. Follow after her mother or her step-mother. Sloane’s mom is a Doctor while her stepmother is a makeup artist. Since birth, Sloane has been the type of girl who never cared about her appearance, she always believed that, “I’m more than my looks, I have more depth than that.” But now that she’s losing her hair, she’s suddenly more conscious of her looks and this affects how she views herself. It tampers with her stability; mentally, emotionally, and physically. Inevitably, she has to make a decision, who will she be? In the end, Sloane decides that she doesn’t have to specifically pick one. She can still wear makeup but be equally as smart and have the same personality as the Sloane without anything. This makes a huge impact on her and is what leads to her finally accepting herself for who she is and how she looks. Similarly, Woods also uses her movie as a tool to emphasize and demonstrate the importance of equality and that everyone equally belongs as the following quote represents: “It makes me feel I will never be a part of their society and I hate that because I’m just as smart as they are…I want to belong to her world. The world of sleek haircuts and upper-class privileges. People who know famous people and lead educated lives. A world where I can be accepted. Please, God, let me be accepted by someone.”
In the beginning of the movie, Josie hates her culture and her background. She was born an illegitimate and her mother is Spanish while her father was Australian. Throughout her life, because of a judgmental society, Josie always believed that she doesn’t belong anywhere. She yearns to be like the snobby girls at school who have picture-perfect families and get anything they want, anytime they want. Josie comes from a normal family who’s not rich, wealthy, or famous and this ignites jealousy in her for any other family with those traits. She believes that if she was from one culture or if her family was wealthy, she would be accepted for who she was. This creates multiple conflicts throughout the movie and is also one of the reasons as to why Josie is so insecure. Both characters struggle with accepting who they are, how they look, and where they’re from but in the end, they both also learn the importance of self-identity and how the only opinion that matters is their own.
Lastly, both these stories demonstrate the importance of family and how if we’re willing to accept and let them in, they can be the support we need to change ourselves and our situations. In The Art of Getting Stared At, Sloane and her step-mother have a rocky relationship but since her real mom is in Sudan, the only person that she can turn to is her step-mother. “My relationship with Kim feels different now. Since the gross reveal at the laughter flash mob when she stood by me and walked me out with my arm through hers, things are somehow easier between us…Kim felt like a real mom to that day, supportive and strong.” This quote is from a scene after the flash mob. A laughter flash mob is something Sloane decided she would do and record so that she could put it into her video that would go in as the application for a scholarship. This is by the end of the movie and at this point, Sloane has lost all the hair on her body and now wears a ball cap that has a fake wig attached to it so that she can cover the fact that she’s bald. But in the midst of the mob, a jock manages to knock Sloane’s cap off by accident and as a result, exposes her bald head to the entire crowd and every kid in her school as someone takes a video and posts it online. Sloane is rooted to the spot when this happens and looks down at the cap, with the hair attached to it, on the ground in horror. She refuses to look up at the faces of the most-likely horrified crowd. Finally, after a minute or two that seem like a lifetime, Sloane’s stepmother steps up, encourages her to move, and takes Sloane by the arm, and into the car. Sloane’s real mom was in Sudan at the time of this event and so Sloane believed that no one would help her. Kim, Slone’s stepmother, stepped up and took the role of being her guardian quite seriously and maturely. She acted like a real mother to Sloane and provided comfort and love to her when she needed it most. She stood by her through everything and always supported her. This unconditional love from someone who’s not blood-related made Sloane realize that people can still be family, even if they’re not directly related. Kim’s kind actions, words, and care taught Sloane that when going through a hard time, family can act like a backbone to you and help you through everything while supporting you through thick and thin.
While Langston focuses more on emphasizing how supportive family can be, in Looking for Alibrandi, Woods demonstrates how family can help you out of tough situations too. The following quote represents this: ‘I remembered the same time, last year, when Michael wasn’t in my life. It was the scariest feeling in the world.’ This quote is a line Josie says to herself as she reflects back on her year. When Josie’s mom was pregnant with her, the father, Michael, left and never returned for 17 years. All through her life, Josie felt anger and hatred towards her father for “not having the guts to take care of her mom and her”. They struggled for so many years to get by, and once they moved to Australia and finally got settled, Michael came back. Initially, Josie hated Michael and didn’t want anything to do with him but after an incident where she required help and Michael was there, they started to build a special bond. Michael is a lawyer and helped Josie out of a situation after she hit a girl in the face with a textbook for insulting her mixed background. After that ordeal, they started to get closer and she started to turn to him whenever she required some kind of assistance. He was there for her when she needed him and although it took a while for them to finally come to terms with things and accept Michael, things worked out and by the end of the movie, they were all one, happy family. Langston also demonstrates how behind every strong person is a series of strong people. That doesn’t only apply to family or blood relations, but friends and relatives too as shown in the following quote: “You can handle this, Sloane. I know you can. And you have good friends who will support you. Friends like Lexi and Harper and Chloe.” This is a quote that Sloane’s mom tells her over the phone from when she’s in Sudan and can’t physically help her. Sloane is afraid of telling her friends about her condition because she doesn’t want them to pity or be disgusted by her. She believes that if she ever told them, they would cut all their connections with her and she would be left all alone. Because of this reason, she keeps all her problems and anxiety to herself and this affects her emotionally and mentally. But, with convincing from Kim and her mom, Sloane finally decides to tell her closest friend, Lexi, about her disease and how it affects her. Lexi took everything in stride, promised to not tell anyone, and also reassured Sloane that everything would be okay and that she would be there every step of the way. This takes a great deal of burden off of Sloane’s shoulders and her mental health starts improving from this point onward. In a way, this is an example of how family helps because if it were not for Sloane’s mother and step-mother, she would’ve never confided in her friends and would’ve kept everything locked up. While Sloane’s moms are portrayed as helpful and caring, Woods portrays Josie’s grandmother as a source of wisdom and shows how important talking to others and asking for help about your problems can be. When Josie was struggling with her identity, this is what her grandmother told her: “Tell me, what comes first? What other people think of your family, or love?” This is what Josie’s grandmother tells Josie when she’s complaining about people insulting and teasing her about her background. This is a topic that Josie is already sensitive about because of her mixed culture. This movie is set in the past and so Australia is not as culturally diverse as it is today and so, Josie feels uncomfortable when people judge her because of her background. At times in the movie, Josie wanted to give up her culture and her identity so that she can achieve freedom and be free of people’s judgments. Josie’s grandmother advises her to not listen to what other people have to say about her and that it shouldn’t matter to her. She asks her what matters most to her? Their opinion or her love for her family? Her grandmother tells her that if she loves her family and culture, she shouldn’t be ashamed of it, instead, she should be proud of it. Josie turns to her grandmother for help and assistance and her grandmother does not disappoint. It is shown multiple times throughout the book and the movie that family can provide guidance, comfort, and happiness in times of difficulty.
In conclusion, although minor differences exist between The Art of Getting Stared At and Looking for Alibrandi, the similarities are more commonly found. The one thing that is emphasized the most is: the dominant theme of self-love and acceptance and how a self-discovering journey can lead to a complete change in personality and character. This message can be broken down into 3 main topics: the only opinion that matters is your own, accepting who you are and what you believe in, and how everyone has flaws and conflicts throughout their lives but family and friends can be of great assistance. Both authors highlight the importance of the 3 topics mentioned above and effectively demonstrate the effects they can have on us; mentally, emotionally, and psychologically.
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