“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
– Coco Chanel
You’re not ugly. Society is.
You know that moment when you realize you don’t look like a supermodel? And the next moment, when you notice your arms may be the same width as their legs? Those are probably the moments when you decide to hate your body and everything on your face. That’s not cool for many reasons, but especially because you’re feeling bad about yourself as a result of comparing yourself to impossible standards.
I grew up watching the show Baywatch, and I’d always compare myself to the “babes”. That’s why at 12-years-old I decided to go on my first “diet.” I didn’t understand that dieting wouldn’t cause me to grow huge boobs and that since I was only 12-years-old I was already much smaller than those women. However, I saw myself as ugly, fat, and unworthy. I was a short, flat chested brunette, and my face hadn’t grown into my nose yet. Like many girls that age, I didn’t understand the messages I was growing up with about what beauty is; I didn’t have the awareness to reject these standards, so I internalized them and hated myself.
I grew up feeling ugly and uncomfortable in my own skin. I thought it was my appearance that I needed to change, not society. If only I looked like Pamela Andersen, I thought, I’d be happy and feel good about who I was. I could run in slow motion, with nothing jiggling, and I wouldn’t look like a wet dog after swimming in the ocean. I started to wear makeup at the age of 12 just to hide my “ugliness.” It was so uncomfortable to think I needed a mask of cosmetics to look presentable to the world.
Looking back I wonder, “How do you grow into having a strong and confident sense of self if you hate what you see in the mirror?” I always believed that in order to feel good on the inside you have to look good on the outside. However, if you’re walking around in a body you hate looking at, it may be impossible to feel good about who you are without doing some necessary soul searching.
I couldn’t appreciate anything beautiful about myself because I was too busy comparing myself to everyone else. Looking at my beautiful daughter, I hope she sees herself as I see her. When I think of her I wonder, How am I going to help her define beauty? How can we all change our narratives about beauty? How can we help young women see how beautiful they are?
We have to let girls know that beauty is socially constructed
Our current culture is addicted to social media, which pumps out external images and messages that tell us we should be richer, prettier, skinnier, more adventurous, and more beautiful. According to the media, you’ll only find happiness if you have the “perfect” body, the best skin, the most symmetrical face. We’re no longer just comparing ourselves to celebrities; we’re now comparing ourselves to “regular” people on social media who project images of their idealistic lifestyles.
Most of the images we consume through the media are either air brushed or taken from a million angles before they’re shared. I know many people who are dissatisfied with the way they look, and body image plays a huge part in this. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be just five to ten pounds lighter, even when I was at my slimmest. However, the actual body ideal changes according to our cultural norms. I started appreciating my curvy figure when Jennifer Lopez’s body became desirable. I should have been looking to find my own self-love; instead, I was waiting for my body type to be in style. Self-love and acceptance shouldn’t be contingent on the latest trend.
Accepting the way you look and who you are
Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it…in every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine to see it.” That’s how we should view ourselves. Just as an artist can see the art inside a block of stone, we should see the potential inside ourselves. Instead, most of us see only a block of unfinished person. We sometimes don’t know how to chisel away the heavy rock that is hiding our beauty. We’re weighed down by societal pressure that keeps us confined and frozen in stone. We wait for society to value us instead of valuing ourselves.
With all the pressure placed on us by society and the people around us, it’s easy to get caught up in how we are “supposed to” look. We get so many messages about how to dress, what kind of body we should have, and how to respond to our own bodies, that it’s hard to hear our own voices.
Figuring out who you want to be is an ever-evolving process. However, it starts with taking a step back. This is the time to see the beauty that you have. I first started to feel comfortable with who I am by ceasing to compare myself to other people. I decided to study what I did like about myself my appearance. I learned the magic of concentrating on what was working for me instead of looking at my “flaws.” What I found is that other people may be viewed as prettier, smarter, or of more value, but it’s the value I give myself that’s important. I needed space from the magazines, social media, and others’ opinions to gain a better understanding of what I wanted and to live a life that involves being true to myself. The minute I did that, the world started to reflect back to me what I started seeing in myself.
When you’re confident in who you are, there isn’t anything more beautiful
When thinking about what made me fall in love with my husband, I wondered, was it his perfectly chiseled abs? Probably not, because he didn’t have those when I met him. (No offense!) Was it his Brad Pitt looking appearance? No, he looked more like the Muppet Gonzo when I first met him. (Inside joke!) I realized what attracted me to him was his confidence and sense of humor, even about himself and his own limitations. He made no apologies for who he was, and even though he didn’t look like Brad Pitt or have the body of a Greek god, he was what I wanted. He is handsome and attractive because he knows himself and is comfortable with who he is. It’s in being self-full and appreciating yourself the way you are that you become beautiful. We are our harshest critics. Once we quiet that critical voice, we can see our true beauty and become truly beautiful by doing so.
I have decided to reconstruct my ideas about beauty and place less emphasis on what’s on the surface. Mirror, mirror on the wall . . . I am going to spend less time asking you who you think is the fairest of them all and more time paying attention to who I am and who I want to be. When I am confident in my own skin because of the things I do—and not because of my pear shape—I know I’ll be at my prettiest.
Every day you have to choose not to compare the way you look to others. You need to remind yourself not to judge yourself based on how other people say you should look. In the words of Coach Shona, “Being attractive can be a gift of genetics. Being truly beautiful is a choice to focus on growing and deepening our interior worlds.”
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier