These days, my Facebook news feed has a lot to say about how women should look:
- “This new amazing workout program will have you looking like a fitness model in 60 days!” *Inspirational quote implying that having a perfect body is a matter of choice.*
- “Have fine lines and age spots like a regular human your age? Try this new anti-aging skin care regimen. If you look old, it’s because you just didn’t try hard enough!”
- “This new 3D fiber lash mascara will take you from average mom to Kim Kardashian, and it’s only four times the price of regular mascara!”
I’m not knocking direct sales companies as a whole; I have many friends who manage online businesses in a professional and respectful manner, and I love that more women have the opportunity to bring in additional income on a schedule that works for them and their families. But somewhere around the hundredth photo claiming that I, too, could look like that, I started to get a little angry.
The beauty and fashion industries have been working to make women feel bad about themselves for many decades now; that’s nothing new. But the advent of social media gave companies unprecedented access to potential new customers. For most of us, social media is an intimate presence in our daily lives. We check Facebook many times throughout the day, sometimes before even getting out of bed. And each and every time we check it, most of us are now receiving the insidious and worrisome message that we should be spending our time, energy, and money on looking as “good” as we possibly can.
This is a tricky area for me because I do enjoy many of things that are being advertised. In particular, I absolutely adore makeup. I also like to shop, and I enjoy taking care of myself by cooking healthy meals and exercising regularly. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good about myself, and many of these companies try to work that angle, proclaiming that they just want to help women feel like their best selves. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am starting to feel icky about all of this. Maybe it’s just the effect of sheer quantity: It’s hard to see this stuff again and again, every single day, and not feel fed up with the way women are taught to value their appearance above all else.
As the mother of a girl, lately I have been asking myself: Where’s the line? Where is the line between “This is just for fun and I do it because it makes me happy” and “I’m doing all these things to look as hot as I possibly can because that’s what our culture demands of me?”
For me, it comes down to approaching my entire life from a place of worthiness. I don’t wear makeup to feel good about myself; I wear makeup because it’s fun and I like it. I don’t buy skin care products to look younger; I do it because I deserve to take good care of myself. I don’t engage in exercise to make my body look a certain way; I do it because it makes me feel alive, healthy, and able to enjoy my life to the fullest.
I have done a lot of self-discovery to overcome the insecurities that plagued me throughout my twenties, and I have learned quite a bit about how to be a woman in this world. With all this in mind, here are the top five lessons I plan to teach my daughter about how to navigate our beauty-obsessed culture:
- Your appearance is the least important thing about you. There are a million reasons to feel good about yourself, and they are all more interesting and valuable than how you look. Determine your self-worth based on how you treat others, the things you are passionate about, the people and places that you love, and the good you do for the world. These qualities are all more important than how you look.
- There is nothing about the way you look that needs to be “fixed.” When people try to sell you something by making you feel bad about yourself, that says nothing about you and EVERYTHING about them.
- Don’t speak negatively about someone’s appearance–including your own. I have a friend who often engages in “fat talk,” complaining about how she has gained weight and talking negatively about her body. She weighs at least 60 pounds less than I do and has a beautiful figure. While I know it’s not her intention, it makes me feel really bad about myself when she speaks this way. I find myself thinking, “If she thinks her own body looks terrible, what must she be thinking of me?” Don’t be the woman whose biggest concern is the size of her thighs. Don’t be the girl gossiping about someone’s weight gain or making fun of an unflattering outfit choice. I have done these things while in the throes of my own insecurity, and I deeply regret it. Treat everyone you encounter with empathy and respect, including yourself.
- You are worthy of love, just as you are. Never, ever feel like you need to look a certain way to attract romantic partners. If someone is not interested in dating you because of the way you look, be thankful you’ve had the opportunity to witness his or her warped values. The right person will make you feel sexy as hell just for being yourself.
- Youth and beauty are completely overrated. Women are inundated with products that promise to keep them looking young. And yes, the fresh, line-less complexion of youth is a beautiful thing. But you know what else comes with youth? Immaturity, insecurity, anxiety, and stupidity. Now that I’m in my thirties, I will take self-assurance, confidence, wisdom, patience, and contentment over a perfect face any day of the week. If you are lucky, you will spend most of your life “old.” And if you ever find yourself lamenting that fact, think about all the people who never got the privilege of celebrating another birthday.
What lessons will YOU teach your children about our culture’s attitude toward appearance?