For me, I think it might’ve started as soon as I could understand the words “pretty” and “beautiful”. Whether it was applied to me from well-meaning – and, let’s be real, very biased – relatives, or hearing it applied to the women on my television screens, or in the magazines that my mother would read. “Pretty” was desirable, “beautiful” was compulsory. After all, when it’s the first value that you hear applied towards a woman, how will you inherently think differently?
From there, the ties between beauty and my intrinsic value wove closer and tighter together in my mind. Problematic, when you don’t see anyone who looks like you on the TV screens being widely regarded as beautiful, desirable. Problematic when, among all of the dolls you own and books you read and video games you play, you fail to see your kind of “beautiful”. Problematic, as you grow older and the children become crueler…especially the girls, lost along the way in their own journeys to “beautiful”.
It’s interesting to look back, especially on my middle and high school days, when I loathed school the most. When I look back, and truly attempt to see the experience through wiser eyes, I begin to realize the dissonance that I held between what my family told me through their words, and what my peers told me through their actions – or lack thereof. Am I beautiful? My mother and my father and my grandparents and random relatives would exclaim it, so I innocently held it as fact, as something insignificant due to it never being challenged.
Yet, when you begin to grow up and realize that you are constantly the black sheep – in more ways than one – and the spectacle among your classmates, you wonder. When you are mocked for your “poufy” or “big” hair – during a time before this beautiful renaissance that embraces curls in every form – and when your “otherness” is constantly remarked upon in a (usually) homogenous pool of peers, you wonder. When every girl who is considered the epitome of what is desirable (how strange to have sought desire at such a young age) seems to be the opposite of what you see in the mirror every single day, you wonder.
And then you doubt.
As that doubt begins to creep in and consume, at first you may distract yourself by giving time to what you love. More reading, more writing, more games, more learning about animals (a frequent childhood pastime of mine – I once tried to start a “Save the Otters” club, without really knowing what they needed saving from). But then, as you grow a bit older, nearing adulthood, perhaps you begin to marginally get more attention. Feel just a bit more like you belong.
And that’s all well and good, in the moment.
But then, that attention is never enough. And there is always someone better, as subjective as it may be. And so you compete. You talk down to yourself. You begin to always seek out ways to make yourself fit the bill of someone else’s “beautiful”. It’s a rabbit hole, if you misstep. And if you fall, it’s a long way down and a long way out.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is so much of what we are fed as young girls, that we are told will make us valuable, geared towards our appearances? When I think back on how much time I wasted chasing “beautiful”, chasing acceptance – especially as I got into college – I lament the loss of so much energy that could have been poured into my writing, my acting, my reading collection, my desire to improve animal welfare in some way (Save the Otters 2017, anyone?). These were my passions, and I lost many of them along the way. I also – ironically – lost that hunger for knowledge that, once upon a time, made me into what my family and I would affectionately dub a “human encyclopedia”. All of the time that went into taking the curls out of my hair via Keratin treatments, constantly monitoring my food intake and exercise regimen to stay as small as possible, comparing myself to other women – just for the goal of fitting more easily into the narrow standard of “beautiful” that was around me.
In theory, beauty is diverse, and diversity is beautiful. However, it’s a sad reality that there is still a very narrow definition of beauty that is deep-rooted in our society, and on a global scale. This can – and does – cause insecurity to become entrenched into who we are, no matter what we look like, and how beautiful we may really be.
Thus, I think we should ask ourselves, why we do what we do? Am I straightening my hair to change things up, or to temporarily fit into a mold? When I put on makeup, am I doing it for fun, to show off my skills, maybe to just play with colors? Or am I doing it to hide my insecurities, what I have been told are flaws, contouring my nose smaller and cheekbones higher to be beautiful according to a very particular standard? Could I just as easily rock a bare face as I would a full face of glam?
In the end, whatever you decide to do, you should do it for you. Not because you think it’ll make you more accepted, or make you more competitive with your fellow women. That is a losing game. Rather: find joy in what you do, find at least one thing to love each time you look in the mirror, and find that special something that radiates from your very being, making you a unique, one-of-a-kind soul. That is what connects you to others, and that is what will touch someone’s heart – which, in my opinion, is truly beautiful.