“Oh, honey, don’t wear those pants. They make your thighs look fat.”
“Don’t eat so much chocolate, darling, it’s starting to show on your face.”
“Are you going out like that? Put on a little makeup. You look tired without it.”
These are the little reminders I hear from my mother every morning before I rush out the door to start my busy day. It’s become so natural that I no longer stop to think about it, and yet these comments come back to sting me.
Don’t get me wrong; my mother loves me to death, but her “helpful” tips are often more hurtful and harmful than she imagines. It’s her way of making sure that I look my very best in public. Like many other women and girls in today’s society, my mother and I are in the hopeless pursuit of living up to impossible expectations.
Today, it seems as if our society’s beauty expectations have shifted from one extreme to the other. The deep valleys above collarbones, sharp peaks of hipbones, and mile-wide gaps between slim thighs used to be prized above all. Now, the emphasis is on the coveted hourglass shape: big bust, tiny waist, and curvy, curvy hips with a Kim Kardashian-esque butt. Aside from body shape, we’re constantly pressured to pluck, shave or wax away the hair that men are encouraged to keep. We spend our money on beauty and makeup products in an attempt to feel better when, sometimes, just a simple self-assuring smile is enough. We, as women, are defined first by our looks; everything else comes after because your intelligence obviously doesn’t matter as much as how great your boobs look, right?
These beauty ideals are unattainable unless you go under the knife or take other drastic measures, but many girls don’t realize that. All they see are the perfect girls with their flawless makeup, luscious hair, and enviable bodies on Instagram and in the media. It creates this toxic environment of envy and low self-esteem that can lead to eating disorders and other mental health problems.
Fortunately, there have been small steps toward body positivity in the media. Companies such as Aerie have created campaigns that encourage body diversity and self-love in their ads. Aerie’s campaign focuses on inner beauty with emphasis on confidence with outer beauty. When girls and women see this, they start to realize that they’re worth more than their looks. It’s a positive step for all of us.
In addition to companies increasing emphasis on body positivity, hashtags such as #strongnotskinny and #fitisthenewskinny are gaining popularity on Instagram. Girls post pictures of their fitness journey toward a healthier body and lifestyle. This goes against the old trend of cycling through starvation, guilt, and the irrational fear of “looking like a man” from working out. Opposite of the sucked-in-belly photos and grim faces, these girls are grinning proudly with sweat running down their faces in their action shots. It’s a much better influence since it promotes healthy eating as well as more self-confidence. Clearly, our generation is taking the initiative to promote a healthier mentality.
Instagram photo from healthyisthenewskinny
In the end, there will be days when I (and many, many other girls and women everywhere) will feel less than confident when I look in the mirror. I may not be a supermodel and my body isn’t perfect, but I’m blessed to be able to lead a healthy, fulfilling life where I can do whatever I want. My individuality and my intelligence are better markers of me as a person rather than the size of my pants. There is so much life to live. Loving ourselves is the first step in this journey of celebrating the pure beauty of imperfection.