Shira Tarlo Named First Place Winner
In Our Essay Contest for High Schoolers


Shira Tarlo, from Tenafly High School in Tenafly, New Jersey, has been named the First Place Winner in Woman Around Town’s Essay Contest for High School Students. Our three judge panel—Edes Gilbert, educator and former headmistress of the Spence School, Jill Kargman, bestselling novelist, and Daryl Roth, award winning Broadway producer—were unanimous in singling out Shira’s essay for this honor.

The other winners include: Second Place Winner, Caroline Minh-Thao Cao, of Houston, Texas; Third Place Winner, Megan Jane Wei, of Belmont, California; and Honorable Mention, Shota Watanabe, of Los Angeles. Entrants were asked to write an essay no longer than 750 words responding to the following:

Lady Gaga’s song, “Born this Way,” is about seeking acceptance in yourself and accepting others. What does it mean to you?

All three judges were impressed with the entries. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read these statements,” said Gilbert. “I found the experience thought-provoking and cause for celebration of the students who participated in the contest. Great project.”

Woman Around Town is all about good writing. We are excited about the results of our contest and delighted to be running comments from each winner along with their winning essays.

Shira Tarlo

Broadway Producer Daryl Roth was generous in her praise of Shira’s essay. “The writing is strong and on point and does a great job of conveying the song’s positive messages about the acceptance of differences, and how if you become more self-aware you can better understand and appreciate other people,” she said. Jill Kargman said that Shira’s essay was “the best written and the most concise, and makes its point in a stylish, succinct manner.” The unanimous vote thrilled Shira. “I was a bit nervous sending it in,” she said. “I’m glad they did like it. It means a lot that they did.”

Shira will be a junior in the fall and begin looking at colleges. What would she like to study? “One day I want to go to the moon and be an astronaut, other days a writer, another day a vet,” she said. “My mind’s not set.” She does know that she wants to study languages. Besides her native Hebrew, she has been taking Spanish since fourth grade and this past year began studying Italian. In her spare time, she loves to be with her friends, “just having fun and doing absolutely everything.”

The Three A’s” Acceptance, Affirmation, and Assurance

It is human nature to desire acceptance. We all want to feel wanted and included; but feelings of acceptance are often difficult to come by. Lady Gaga’s song “Born this Way” and her on-stage personae are reminders of that.

Ranked among the many pop tunes that have spoken to Generation X, Generation Y, and now my own generation on the topics of acceptance and being oneself (“True Colors,” by Cindy Lauper; “Express Yourself,” by Madonna; etc.), Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is about seeking acceptance in yourself and accepting others. “Born This Way’s” lyrics create a strikingly powerful image of the gradual evolution of today’s society into one that is more accepting and forgiving, while finely embedding a profound message that “we are all born superstars”.

When I was younger, I longed for a single talent or skill that would define me. Every year on my birthday, I would lean over the candles and wish that in the coming year, I would discover my hidden talent — one that would speak for itself and for me, like being the “star athlete”. Now that I’m a teenager, I’ve stopped wishing for that one attribute, and have instead begun to follow my ambitions in the hope of creating myself.

The first step I took along this journey was to become more self-aware. As I grew more conscious of my actions and decisions, I unexpectedly also became more observant of others. By watching other people, I learned to appreciate their variations, and to believe that everyone has a redeeming quality, albeit a unique one. It was then that I understood what acceptance means to me: the ability to live in harmony with our differences, because those are what truly define us. By understanding others, we are able to find security within our dissimilarities and value our own characteristics along the way.

We often forget that what makes us distinct, interesting and exciting are our peculiarities, without which we wouldn’t be who we are. For most of my life, I preferred to live in the shadows of those around me in the hope of assimilating toward the norm, because my biggest fear was to differ from my peers. I used to think that if I were different, I would lose that warm reception and affirmation that I craved. As I have grown, my views have changed and I have since begun to preach the value of individuality by accepting those around me and myself, among our varying traits.

My approach to being accepting relies on helping others appreciate their self-worth. In the third grade, I was known as the new girl from Israel. I couldn’t speak English and I didn’t have any friends at first. My first day of school was rough and unfamiliar; I longed for my friends and the familiarity of my old school in Tel Aviv. I felt different than my classmates because none of them had to attend classes such as English as a Second Language or have an aid by their side. As I felt pressure to feel accepted, I encouraged myself to become completely immersed in the English language and American culture in order to feel secure and to amplify my confidence. Eventually, I was approached by a group of girls who accepted me as their friend and I no longer felt uncomfortable in an unfamiliar setting. Those girls remain my friends today because they did and still do make me feel as though I belong. Once I felt accepted, I understood the great happiness that this emotion brings with it and decided to reciprocate it by empathizing with those around me.

“Born this Way” effectively communicates the perpetual desire and need to elucidate the value of individuality and acceptance. The purpose of Lady Gaga’s song is to transmit and explain the significance of acceptance and the joy it brings with it. After my own experiences and observations, I have developed my own view on acceptance that declares that: our differences create a global equilibrium because we each represent a set of unique characteristics that contrast with others’. Through her song, Lady Gaga emphasizes that a small faction of human society is accepting and their goal in turn is to spread that message. Once I understood the meaning and importance of acceptance, I realized that I am part of that small faction, thus it is my duty to spread the message of the acceptance further.

Caroline Minh-Thao Cao

Edes Gilbert said she was struck by Caroline’s “clear, authentic voice,” while Daryl Roth found that Caroline’s essay explored how the song’s themes related to her personal journey.

Caroline said she connected with the theme of Lady Gaga’s song. “I do have insecurities about my size,” she said. “Other people in the world suffer from insecurities that they are born with. This is something I’m passionate about.”

Caroline recently graduated from Clear Horizons Early College High School in Houston, Texas, and will be attending the University of Houston in the fall, majoring in creative writing and English. In addition to writing, Caroline enjoys reading, playing video games, and theater. One of her favorite musicals is Wicked.

Cries of Celebration

I am 18 years old, barely five feet tall, and a superstar, as Lady Gaga suggests in “Born This Way.” Joining the celebration takes listening to the song and passing the invitations forward. After all, the song embraces individuality to serve as a protest against prejudice and self-dissatisfaction. By covering significant themes, “Born This Way” serves as a spirited invitation to the universal celebration that I and victims of prejudice or low self-esteem are part of.

Sexual orientation is the song’s main motif to protest a prevalent prejudice today. An easy target, sexual orientation is less about outer appearances and more about the sexuality from birth but is often mistaken as all behavior. A homosexual man could make the choice of wearing feminine accessories but that is his preference. The preference for a partner of a certain sex is no choice, but the partner who is a loving soul-mate is. Everyone shows the capacity to be a soul-mate and so we might as well accept the existence of the others’ preference. The song itself symbolizes progress by existing to uplift “abnormal” sexuality.

We are all “born to be brave.” Without courage, prejudice cannot be combatted. Once, African-American students were escorted to school by police forces all because of the skin color they and their ancestors were born with. In pleading others to “rejoice and love yourself today,” Lady Gaga echoes the efforts of a figure like Martin Luther King Jr. to courageously rally peacefully against prejudice. King gathered peaceful, non-retaliating protestors who loved their enemies. Lady Gaga composed a song that avoids animosity toward haters and instead encourages providing the love that others need. She is on the right track and intends to drive others there by sharing the love. Lady Gaga sings that believing in Him, God, is beautiful, and points out that the homosexuals, transsexuals, or bisexuals must be loved because “God makes no mistakes.” Her song requests many intolerant religious groups to recognize that.

No, the height of a person is not a great societal concern, but the song’s overall theme of loving yourself provides me comfort for my height issues. Now I know that I am a short superstar and born this way. Not really, but my short height definitely stemmed from my genetics. At the school’s annual fitness measurements, I ask the coach for advice on becoming taller only to receive the answer “Sorry, according to your family history, you will stay short.” Glugging down glasses of milk and stretching every night would not make me taller. I forced myself to accept my height; this song drove me to love it. Sure, I am shorter than most average teenagers, but I am what I am. And as part of the celebration, I engage in spreading the love by wearing ribbons to honor LGBT victims and accepting the diversity of my peers.

“Born This Way” goes beyond promoting tolerance and parades the celebration of the self and others by being an uplifting invitation to courage and love. Though only religion, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are explicitly addressed in the song, my height concerns do not render me an exception to the embrace of “Born This Way.” The song means the world to me and to many others, and the song helps us provide the infinite invitations for the ones in the closet. I am 4’ 11’’ and a superstar.

Megan Jane Wai

Both Edes Gilbert and Daryl Roth praised Megan’s approach. “It takes courage to present a somewhat `contrarian view,’” said Gilbert. “I admire the author for taking that chance and doing it well.” Roth observed that Megan “boldly explores the theme in an unexpected way.”

Megan said she “just started writing, and that’s what came back.” She went back to the story a day later fine tuning some of her points. Besides writing, Megan enjoys singing in a choir, something she has done since elementary school.

Megan, who will be a senior at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California, in the fall, is thinking of majoring in biology. She has two fish tanks in her home and laughs when she says her friends call her “the crazy fish lady.”

Sorry, I’m a Realist

When I think of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” I think of one of the most bizarre music videos I’ve ever seen, an over-produced track that does no justice to the talented vocalist it’s associated with, and covers I’ve seen on Youtube that do a much better job than the original of expressing the lyrics’ inspirational message.

The song is a challenge: Can you love yourself in spite of all your flaws and imperfections? Can you gather up the courage to be the person you want to be? Can you accept others as they choose to express themselves? Can we as a society overcome hate and prejudice? Can we create a better tomorrow (whatever that means)?

I readily admit that I have flaws and imperfections aplenty. I won’t describe them here, so it’ll have to be enough to say that I carry certain insecurities and that I fully believe that I can learn to love myself with time, work, support from supporting friends who will undoubtedly support me 110%, and love from loving family members who unquestionably love me more I will ever understand.

I believe I already have the courage to be the person I want to be. I’m not sure yet who that person is, but I know I don’t care enough about what other people think to live my life according to what others think I should do or act according to other peoples’ standards. At the same time, I don’t think it’ll be too difficult for me to accept others as they are and let them be who they want to be, since I try to do so already.

Whether we can create a better tomorrow hinges at least partly on whether our society can overcome hate and prejudice. I for one seriously doubt it. How would we go about it in the first place? We all carry a set of basic assumptions, often without knowing we carry them, which allow us to develop biases and stereotypes, which in turn play a part in hatred and prejudice. It seems logical that in order to eliminate hatred and prejudice, we would need to do away with biases and stereotypes as well. But how are we to get rid of biases and stereotypes? By requiring everyone to do away with their basic assumptions? Even if it were possible for us to overcome hatred and prejudice without eliminating biases and stereotypes, we are still unable to change history, which has shaped our societies and allowed for the development of biases, stereotypes, hatred, and prejudice.

“Born This Way” poses a challenge I’m not willing to accept. I do believe that I can learn to love myself, be the person I want to be, and accept others as they are; I believe I will, in time. But I highly doubt our ability as a society to overcome hatred and prejudice. It may yet be possible by some method that has yet to be discovered, but until it is found, I hold that we cannot create a society free of hate and prejudice, that we cannot create a better tomorrow. “Born This Way” represents an ideal. History teaches us that ideals are often unachievable.

Shota Watanabe

Daryl Roth cited Shota’s interesting approach “to deconstruct the various lines of the song in an interesting way, exploring them in terms of Lady Gaga’s own biography.” When Shota’s English teacher asked her students to enter essay contests, he decided to enter Woman Around Town’s. “I was interested in being the only man writing an essay,” he said. “Born This Way,” according to Shota, has a universal theme that anyone can connect with.

Shota, who will be a senior next year at University Senior High School in Los Angeles, plans to major in engineering. He enjoys all types of music, plays soccer, and constructs plastic models of his favorite airplanes.

Message of Individuality

Everyone has his or her own unique individual strengths, dreams, and honor. Not one person has the same exact trait as another. All beings on this planet have a road, a road to glory. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is a beautiful song that teaches listeners of any race, gender, generation, and religion, that all men and women are capable of finding their own road of honor. It is a message of individuality, that whatever road one chooses is the right road, no matter what others say.

Lady Gaga starts her song with a rather negative tone, saying, “It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M/ Just put your paws up/ ‘Cause you were born this way, baby…” In this selection, Lady Gaga is saying that she cannot be the girlfriend of her dream boy, because of the way she was born. The fact that she emphasizes HIM is to symbolize that the boy is a dream boy, that she has no way of getting to. She uses pessimism at first, in order to show a contrast between past failures and the glory that comes later.

Then, Lady Gaga shifts to a more positive idea in the first part of the chorus, singing “I’m beautiful in my way/’Cause God makes no mistakes/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born this way,” with a low, powerful voice. Now she gives an image that everyone has their own strengths, and that God does not create anyone without strengths. Also, she mentions she is on the right track, meaning she is confident about the road she chose to take, and encourages others to do the same. Lady Gaga tells her listeners in this portion of the song that whatever track, or goal, one decides to follow is the correct track. She ends this stanza with, “I was born this way,” which repeats throughout the entire song and gives a focus on individual pride.

Then, “Don’t hide yourself in regret/Just love yourself and you’re set/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born this way, born this way.” Lady Gaga mentions that everyone should love themselves, encouraging self esteem, or individual pride, concealed within anyone. Self esteem is extremely important to everyone, and anyone without is unlikely to succeed unless they change. It is excellent that Lady Gaga includes self esteem in her song, for a great singer like her can encourage success to all her listeners and inspire them to become positive thinkers.

“Born This Way” is also a biographical song of Lady Gaga. Like she started her song with a pessimist tone, she has not been successful in her early career, “She did however withdraw from university and never graduated. She then moved out of the house, and started hanging out in the Lower East Side doing drugs, and appearing in burlesque shows at dive bars with drag queens and go go dancers. Lady Gaga admits that her father couldn’t even look at her and she says ‘he just didn’t understand.’” ( Her father was ashamed of what she had become, and could not even look at his own daughter. However, Lady Gaga trusted herself, followed her own path, did not take her father’s words in account, and continued with her singing career, resulting in a massive success as proven today. She did not mind being a drug addict, and kept singing in dive bars. “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen,” from “Born This Way,” fits her life perfectly. Also, because the song is of a true success story, its power is immense to listeners who gave up on themselves.

Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is a powerful song that brings strength to whoever listens to it. The song starts with a rather pessimistic tone, but is primarily focused on self esteem, and provides an example of how one can succeed through self esteem. In the chorus, Lady Gaga, with her deep, powerful voice, emphasizes the fact that everyone is given a certain strength, and that whatever is that strength is the right path. In every single word of her lyric, Lady Gaga emphasizes the idea that whatever road someone chooses to take, is the right road.

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