When I was young, the concept of beauty was a simple one. My mother, my aunties, my older sister, my Language Arts teacher, and my Japanese fighting fish that glinted magenta and silver from a magnified fish tank—were all beautiful to me. Beauty was a smile that radiated such warmth it could rekindle a fire on a harsh winter day. Beauty was a twinkle in the eye, a kindness that saw potential in a lost cause. Beauty was the rush of oranges and pinks clashing in the sky as if God’s children were playing with watercolors.
Over the years, though, the world’s definition of beauty, especially pertaining to women, changed drastically.
In the 90s, it was overplucked eyebrows with low arches. Crimped hair or bouncy blowouts. Women were decked out in cropped cardigans, tube tops, and acid-wash denim. The more grunge, the better. The 2000s was a mash-up of vintage and hip-hop fashion, with pleated skirts, corsets, butterfly clips, trucker hats, Timberlands, and throwback jerseys. Then came the choppy layers and frosted eyelids.
Now, it’s changed again. It’s not just the clothes we wear on our backs, the make-up we smear on our faces, or how we style our manes; it’s trying to look like the airbrushed photographs of supermodels on the cover of Vogue. It’s having the “right” facial symmetry and the ideal breasts-to-butt ratio. It’s having bee-stung lips and a pouty expression, but one that is natural and not enhanced with fillers. It’s having a Barbie nose, upturned and delicate at the tip. Our chin must be defined but not too prominent to avoid overshadowing our other features. Our jawlines must be sculpted, and our check bones must sit high like mini mountain peaks.
Why must we all look exactly the same? Why can’t we enjoy our own unique attributes? Aren’t a dimpled chin or a beauty mark in the shape of a strawberry trademarks that make us who we are? Can we not embrace these qualities rather than be guilted into removing or altering them somehow?
Every month, I become aware of a new “flaw” in myself I didn’t know existed.
A weak chin or an overly projected nose. Fine lines that never used to be there. Did I mention that woolly caterpillar eyebrows are back in style, and I overplucked mine to the point of no return in the early 2000s? Why didn’t anyone warn me they wouldn’t grow back?
It’s not just fat versus skinny or blonde versus brunette anymore. It’s every minor detail, and it’s hijacking our attention, our priorities, and our self-esteem. Social media has only exacerbated the issue. It’s not only fashion magazines we must avoid if we want to feel beautiful in our skin; it’s the channels we use to stay connected to everyone around us. It’s pop-up ads, large-scale billboards, and a million other subliminal messages that are being sent to everyone, everywhere.
Messages like, “You mustn’t age, but you also mustn’t get Botox,” or “You must look red-carpet-ready, but seem like you’re not even trying,” #iwokeuplikethis #nofilter.
Sure, the no make-up fad has made an appearance once or twice, but usually, it’s a genetically blessed Alessandra Ambrosio or Cindy Crawford setting the trend, and this doesn’t exactly remedy a blemished teenager’s self-image. Nowadays, young girls and boys are being barraged with adult lessons on what is considered attractive. Not only does this create an unrealistic idea of beauty, but it shatters the self-concept of our most impressionable and susceptible demographic before they even step out into the world. The global beauty industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and we are the culprits helping it thrive.
There is nothing wrong with men and women doing what they need to do to make themselves feel sexy. That is not what I am making my case against. I am making my case against society’s extremely restricted view of true beauty. I am making this case for every person I know who has ever been bullied for their figure or facial features. Anyone who has ever looked at their reflection and criticized what they saw as a result of the media. Every child who was ever made to feel inadequate or like they didn’t fit in based on their appearance.
If I have a daughter, I want better for her. I want her to live in a world that values her for more than just her looks. I want there to be an emphasis on her big brain and her even bigger heart.
If I have a son, I hope that he doesn’t fall for these idealistic expectations of women. Whether he is straight or gay or everything in between, I do not care, but I hope that he sees beauty through his own eyes and not everyone else’s.
I hope I start to, too. And You. I hope we all do. I hope we all learn to expand the narrow corridors that reduce our identity to something so two-dimensional.
Perhaps, one day, when a voluptuous woman views her reflection in the mirror, she will see a healthy, able body and playful curves that turn her into poetry. Maybe, one day, a man with a large nose will see characteristics of his beloved grandfather, who died many years ago. Maybe, one day, an aging human being will see their wrinkles as a privilege, for many people die young and never experience the honor of aging.
Remember, confidence is the sexiest attire. When in doubt, accessorize yourself with smiles and kindness. These are two things that never age. Never spoil. Never go out of style.
In case no one told you today, and in case you neglected to tell yourself, you are beautiful. Not only from certain angles, when photographed from your good side, when you’re having a good hair day, or when you’re all dressed up.
It’s time to question what other people tell us (to sell us stuff we don’t need) and rewrite our beliefs around appearance and beauty.