Question. Not in class, not in your group of friends about an issue, but in your mind. Question yourself. Ask why. Why are you pulling in your tummy in every picture? Why do you tilt your head like this in every selfie? Why do you go to the disco? Why are you hanging out with the people you are hanging out with? Why do you want to study Economics at a university? Why are you who you are?
Self-awareness. It is a fancy word, a frequently used one, thus its true meaning may have faded away, as it has become so ordinary. But it is undeniably important. You have to spend time with yourself so that you know where you are and where you are heading. Although, your community and the society surrounding you are worth looking at closely, as well. Its influence is everywhere: on the billboards, on social media, you may even find it in the daily chit-chat of the ladies living nearby. And its message is not always good-willed.
I had spent years trying to volumize my hair, posing like other girls in pictures in the most “flattering” way and using make-up so that my eyes and lips looked bigger. I watched skinny guys in my class getting protein powders and boasting about how much alcohol they can handle and how many girls they can get. We all try to prove something. We are hypocrites; we say that it is a true cliché that one’s worth is not determined by one’s looks, though we judge immensely based on physical attributes, both others and ourselves.
What is beauty? It is pretty easy to describe it, even though I haven’t seen it written like this anywhere. Female beauty, if we explain it in terms of what most of western society thinks about it, is when you have an hourglass figure, huge eyes and lips, a small nose, complimented with thick hair. If you are “lucky” to have either of these, you will accentuate them whenever you do your makeup or you take a picture of yourself. You may even go as far as to pay for plastic surgery (and I am strictly speaking about the ones that are for making yourself look more like what society expects), and of course, only because “you want to make yourself feel better and appear more beautiful”, not because you want “others to see you more beautiful.”
The crucial question that people making similar claims often forget to ask is: why do you see yourself more beautiful like this? Why do you think that having a smaller waist, or bigger lips, will make you more beautiful? You may realize that it is not only about you, after all. Therefore, whenever you alter your appearance to make yourself “more beautiful”, you reinforce this message. Others will ask, if these people are changing themselves because they don’t want to have an ugly nose (or whatever else), then why should I love my nose?
It is needless to say that this image is completely unrealistic. It is created by advertisers, who are constantly striving for making you feel like you are not good enough, and their product can help you become a better version of yourself. This marketing strategy has profited from our insecurities and made them only worse, sometimes to the extent that it made people suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, and toxic body image.
Nevertheless, we are constantly seeking fleeting feelings of happiness. They are easy to get, but also very easy to lose. These can be eating delicious food, watching a heart-warming movie, or posting a selfie of yourself on social media and receiving all the likes and complimentary comments. You feel better for a while, but these will not contribute significantly to a better, fulfilled life. You get a shot of happiness for seeing yourself as “beautiful”, and then you will immediately fall back to the dip filled with worries about your friendships, or your future. They seem like an easy escape, but if you are not careful, they can be quite toxic.
I am not suggesting that you should go totally against these societal expectations, as it may prove to be quite difficult, to the extent that it may do more harm than good. However, you can take a couple of measures that help to spread a healthier body image, and also create one for yourself. Firstly, speak up when you hear things like, “I would like to have the thin thighs as you have”, or “I don’t get why girls like him, he is as thin as a stick.”
Being tolerant of intolerance endorses intolerance.
Get to know yourself better, work on what you are passionate about, spend time with your loved ones. If you focus on what really matters, it is easier to realize the insignificance of other things. Set a positive example, and try to surround yourself with people who are comfortable with their bodies. This way you can take advantage of the fact that our communities influence us greatly when it comes to our well-being, but don’t forget that it works vice-versa as well. Most importantly, I am recommending you to think about what you do and why you do it, and be conscious of these things. Don’t cut society’s puppet-strings, but wake up and observe the play.
(Featured Artwork: Brook DiDonato)