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How To Cope With Disaster by Focusing on What We Can Control

Throughout quarantine, I felt like I was consistently hearing stories of young women struggling with their body image. According to dosomething.org, a global non-profit organization with the goal of motivating young people to make positive change, approximately 91% of women are currently unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Statistics aren’t even necessary to see that this is an issue in our society. Too often do conversations with friends consist of how they’ve been eating too little or too much, how they look fat or thin, how that girl looked heavier and that girl looked malnourished or too thin. Our society puts so much weight––pun intended––on girl’s and women's bodies, and the pandemic especially brought this issue to the surface. During quarantine, especially in those beginning months when everything was so uncertain, I think everyone felt a loss of control. We were all afraid. We were all fearful. We had no idea what was around the corner, and we still don’t, but then it seemed as if everyday things were changing. Life had come to a halt, and people possessed a lot of time that they hadn’t ever had before. Time to think, time to reconsider, time to reminisce, time to rebuild, and time to reflect. However, this time didn’t always feel like a gift. In America, our society puts so much pressure on us to always “do.” We are trained to always be searching for that next step, that next job. We are told that time spent doing leisure activities is a “waste.” We are always on the go. 

[bf_image id="q60gek-gm1bk-azn125"] Quarantine flipped that theory upside down. For the first time in peoples’ lives, they had time to do whatever they wanted. They couldn’t go to school, they couldn’t get an internship, they couldn’t work or search for a job. All they could do was be. Some people saw this as an incredible gift. However, it is understandable that when you have been trained for years to always “do,” you feel quite helpless when everything just stops, and you are left with only your own mind, your own soul, and your own thoughts. I think that this halting of life led a lot of people down a mental rabbit-hole that consisted of feeling an utter and hopeless loss of control. Enter the rise of TikTok and other social media platforms (because no one had better things to do), which includes staring at and inspecting people on screens all day, and you have a recipe for complete disaster.

I know far too many incredible women who let this combination of events get to them, and it is not at all their fault. With nothing to do, looking in the mirror becomes a spectator sport. During quarantine, so much value was placed on appearance, as more people looked on screens, and others seemed to accomplish fame overnight by simply filming themselves and being attractive.

Although quarantine and social media have brought out the beast, the fact that society places extreme value on women’s appearances is a tale as old as time. I was having dinner with a friend the other night who I value very much. She is one of the most incredible women (and people) I know and makes me want to be a better person every day. As we enjoyed our meal together, she said something I found to be very insightful:

“We praise women so much on how they look when we see them, and it's meant to be social, it's meant to be a compliment, it's meant to make someone feel good after you maybe haven’t seen them in a while, or to make conversation. But those five seconds you take in something surface level with your eyes reveal absolutely nothing about what’s going on underneath; what really matters. When’s the last time someone complimented you on something other than how you look?” 

[bf_image id="q4s6il-gd0h4-2my71h"] I thought hard about what she had said and was amazed by how much truth was laced into her statement. I even found myself guilty of doing the same thing––seeing someone after a while who maybe looked (by societal standards, which means nothing anyway) “better,” and complimenting them on that––but how shallow! All at once, I felt a fleeting sense of stupidity. To begin, who's to say what’s “better” or “worse?” Why should a few pounds lighter always translate to “better?” Furthermore, we have no idea why someone might have had that change in appearance. Maybe they were forced to deal with serious trauma, maybe the weight loss was a result of a serious struggle or mental health battle. I know things are not always so deep, and sometimes people healthfully shave off a few pounds and are innocently seeking a compliment from friends––yet, this is where the issue lies. Why should we place any value on how people see us visually if we ourselves are happy with how we look? The cultural standard of telling people they are “better” or “worse” because of a weight gain or loss is preposterous, and even more embarrassingly, a problem I am probably a part of. What matters is what lies underneath all that. Are they happy? Are they content with life? What amazing things did they accomplish while you didn’t see them? How is their family? Do they feel stimulated day in and day out? What lights them up inside? 

[bf_image id="qethf2-bqdbz4-gb7vei"] This problem is deeply and systemically rooted in our society, and it is not something that will go away overnight. It will continue to be an active battle, and in a sense, it is a battle that goes against our human nature. We are visual creatures, and we make assumptions about what we see. Yet, what if what we are being told to see as “good” or “bad” is the problem? Maybe, it's not about retraining what we see, but rather, retraining how we evaluate what we see, how we process it, how it makes us feel, and what we think about it.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder–– but is beauty always what appears on the surface anyway? I don’t think so.

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Autumn is a junior studying film/television & journalism at Boston University. She is extremely passionate about writing & film, traveling, her family and friends, and telling stories.
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