Recently, I've been thinking a lot about beauty. There have been a number of news articles commenting on the "thigh gap" trend popular amongst teenaged girls, and a few days ago a thread on Reddit discussing make up caught my attention. As a relatively young woman, and one who has a fair amount of interest in fashion, I am regularly reminded of the current conventions of beauty by movies, beauty magazines, advertisements, billboards, online comments, Instagram, and other fashion blogs. I am bothered by the narrow definitions of acceptable bodies. I am uncomfortable when intelligent, funny, kind, busy women I know spend over an hour getting their hair and makeup "just right" before they will even allow themselves to leave the house to pick up some milk at the grocery store. It unsettles me that there is a bombardment of mixed messages at women: an unattainably high beauty standard, but vocal disdain for women who try to achieve it by wearing a lot of makeup, who turn to push-up bras or spanx, or who edit photographs of themselves with Instagram or Photoshop filters. I am sick of how women should always either "eat a cheeseburger" or "go for a run, fatty." It's too much. It's a wonder how women, especially young women really caught in the thick of it thanks to technology and social media, do or think about anything else.
Growing up, I struggled horribly with body image. For a number of years, I regulated everything I ate, at times restricting myself to only things like watermelon or cucumbers. I was extremely critical of myself, hating any feature I did not see reflected in the covers of magazines. I spent so much energy wishing I was different that I left hardly any to use towards thinking positively. It has only been recently, within the past few years, that I have really made peace with myself. Of course I still struggle from time to time with doubt, but it is not nearly as crushing as it was before. If I have a bad hair day, or a zit, or gain 5 pounds, so what? I am okay; the world does not collapse.
It's not easy to not let all the "beauty" shit we're fed get to you, and I don't mean to imply at all that it is (it's taken me over 10 years to feel sort of okay about myself!). But it is possible, and after seeing so many people really suffer about this sort of thing, I thought I would compile a short list of ways I keep myself feeling good in the face of images and messages designed to make me feel the opposite.
1.) Give yourself reminders.
Corny as it may sound, I do have a note that reads "you are beautiful!" on my bedroom wall. You never know when your eye will skim past it and your heart will need it. Keep pictures you love of yourself and your loved ones in places you'll see them—your office desk, your bedside table, the desktop of your computer, the background of your phone. Wear the things you feel awesome in, like those sexy heels or your favorite pair of jeans, and tell yourself that yeah, you're rockin' it.
2.) Be realistic! (and forgiving!)
I can't tell you how many times I've seen the women in my life become mortified at a not-so-great photo of them that's snapped. That's fair! But remember, it is seriously impossible to look awesome all the time! Even though I hate tabloids, you know you've seen on their covers some of the most beautiful men and women caught in some really unfortunate shots—sneezing perhaps, or groggily sneaking unkempt down the street in yesterday's clothes, or bending over in a bathing suit in some harsh lighting. These pictures do not in any way diminish their overall beauty! It would be ridiculous to think so. Grant yourself that same understanding! Sure, maybe that flash-in-your-face picture after a night of sweaty dancing where you're red and puffy and intoxicated is not one you'd choose for a profile picture. That's cool! But don't get too worked up over it. Sometimes you're looking on point, and sometimes you haven't showered and it 100% shows. Life, you know? Remember the good stuff, and never mind the rest. (And if it really bugs you, untag that sucker! Just don't feel like you have to.)
3.) Surround yourself with positive people. (Also known as: F*** the haters.)
Okay, nobody has time for a Negative Nancy, particularly a Grown-Ass, Wonderful, Beautiful Woman like yourself. The days of a critical best friend à la "Mean Girls" are over (and if they're not, get on it! They should be.). One of the worst things you can do for your confidence is to hang out with someone who is always criticizing. I don't only mean about you—if someone is routinely bringing you down, though, definitely DITCH THEM (because they suck). I also mean negative about themselves and/or other women. You know the type: hyper-critical about weight, hair, makeup, clothes, facial features, body types, etc., etc. Nothing is ever right. Maybe they groan about how fat they are, how big their nose is, how crooked their smile is, how small their breasts are. Or maybe they make snarky comments about the women walking by or on TV. Bottom line is, if they're constantly harping on appearances, it's not a good thing to have around. That shit wears on you. If it's someone with genuine confidence issues, work together to reinforce a commitment to only positive body talk! If it's someone who is determined to be mean, make your exit; they're not doing you any favors by asking you if you should "really eat that" while raising an eyebrow at your behind.
4.) Stop reading beauty magazines.
No seriously. They are dumb and almost everything in there is designed to make you feel like you need to buy a ton of products to be beautiful. (That's how they make $$$.) Definitely do not read any magazine that tries to catch your attention by posting pictures of celebrities' cellulite on the cover. Newsflash: basically everybody has cellulite, and that magazine is trying to make everyone feel like crapola. Nobody's life is improved by that. Unnecessary! Next.
5.) Accept compliments.
6.) Do not place your value in your appearance.
If this means you have to write it down somewhere or tattoo it to your hand to remember, do it. You are more than how you look. Your sack of skin and organs and bones are great and all, but you are more than that. You are your off-color jokes, you are your nurturing of others, you are your trivia/baking/skateboarding/sewing/soccer/videogame/ventriloquist skills, you are your unique thoughts and ideas, you are your creations, you are the languages you speak and the places you've been and the the lives you've changed by being in them. Don't sell yourself short by focusing on something as insignificant as a dimple of skin or your cup size. In the sea of your worth, they aren't even a grain of salt. Seriously.
So those are some of the ways I keep myself feeling good. I've done a lot of growing in the past year especially—I'm eating ice cream pretty much every day and not feeling guilty (God that feels good), I'm stopping myself from saying bad things about myself, I'm cutting out bad influences and calling out unkind comments. I've even stopped brushing my hair and wearing makeup about 90% of the time! (Some of that may definitely be attributed to grad school laziness, but I don't even feel bad about it, and that's good! So take that, world!) If you're struggling to feel like the awesome, beautiful woman you are, I hope these suggestions may help in some way. And, dudes, not trying to leave you out either—I hope you feel empowered about your own beauty, too. Basically, y'all are beautiful. And you should feel like it. So do.