When you think of the word beauty what comes to mind? Your body? Your skills with makeup? Your personality? Growing up I was rarely asked that question, so I was left to navigate my journey to being beautiful on my own. I listened to what the media told me was beautiful: being tall, thin, with long hair, perfect skin, and having European features. Now that I’m older, I realize that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Now I realize that beauty is just an idea, and to everyone, its meaning can be different. For me, beauty is self love. Beauty is accepting everything you are and not apologizing for it. Beauty is having confidence in oneself regardless of a little bit of pudge or some blemishes. Beauty is intellect; beauty is someone’s hobby; beauty is empathy, activism, someone’s smile, and the look in their eyes when they are staring at someone they love. It took me a long time to realize that the way someone looks means nothing, and that the essence of who they are is what makes them beautiful. In a society where all we see is perfect models in ads and on television, it’s hard to maintain a sense of self-love and self-esteem. So, to further research how women are affected by the pressure to be pretty, I asked some exceptional young women what beauty meant to them. Here are their answers:
Beauty means confidence in my opinion, and the media is constantly destroying our confidence by giving us the impression that who we are is not good enough. I feel that, that impression is stronger within the African American community. – Elesha, 22
Beauty to me is when being yourself is exactly enough without any additives. The media always idealizes the idea of a false perception of a displaced image when I believe we were made perfect. I used to be obsessed with my appearance when I was going through puberty because I was watching my body go through changes before resulting in who I’ve become. I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so my relationship with beauty is to seek out perfection that can’t be defined with the eyes. I like seeing the impenetrable differences in people that make them who they are. I would tell my 13 year old self to smile only at the things that I see through my lenses that are beautiful. I like my eyes, hehe. – Jenney, 21
When I was younger the idea of beauty seemed like the ultimate goal. To me, beauty equaled happiness. If I could just be a few pounds lighter, or If I could do my makeup a certain way, I would finally be happy. Up until a few months ago when I began attending a body wellness therapy group, my body image dominated my life. From a young age, my relationship with food was detrimental. I would go through stages of binge eating and restriction, which I’m still trying to overcome today. Today, my relationship with beauty is more positive than it ever was. I see myself as more than something that needs to be aesthetically pleasing and that is what I would tell my 13 old self. I would tell myself that my body is so much more than an object that needs to be “beautiful.” In fact, it naturally is. My body is a strong vessel for my mind. My beautiful mind that allows me to obtain my goals. I feel like my kindness makes me beautiful. – Makenzie, 21
Beauty is the ability to hold your head high when faced with negativity. Beauty is the ability to feel confident despite what society or the media has to say. Beauty is being your naked self, it’s being simply you. – Satchel, 21
My relationship with beauty has been a struggle my entire life. My mother used to tell me I looked like “the scum of the earth” on a regular basis. I have always been plus size, so I’ve been bigger than everyone I knew. It was a real struggle in high school and college. I didn’t feel like I was pretty enough to wear nice clothes so I wore sweat pants and hoodies everywhere. I didn’t want to be seen. I was ashamed of my body. I stopped doing things I liked to do because I didn’t feel pretty enough. It got to the point where my (now ex) boyfriend told me I looked like crap. It wasn’t until after I graduated college (and saw a therapist) that I realized I’m good enough. I started dressing to make myself happy. I use only enough make-up to make myself happy. It became all about me and I finally felt pretty. It took me to my early 20’s to figure that out, but I’m happy now! – Kimberly, 26
To me, there’s a difference between being beautiful and feeling beautiful. To consider someone beautiful, I see them as having the type of spirit that exudes radiance, intelligence, kindness, intelligence and any other type of positive trait that makes me gravitate toward them. I feel the most beautiful when I feel confident and happy for whatever reason, whether that be because I’ve accomplished a particular goal of mine, or I’m just having an awesome hair day. My relationship with beauty is still a rocky one. At times, I tell myself, “Meredith, you have to be beautiful-looking because you can’t rely on your shitty personality,” while at other times I think, “Who cares what I look like? I’m confident and that’s all that matters.” I constantly fluctuate between feeling the need to wear full makeup one day, and the next going out in my dinosaur onesie and slippers ‘cause I don’t give a f***. – Meredith, 26
I felt immense pressure to be “beautiful” and “pretty” growing up. Just like how children aren’t born with the idea of “racism,” children aren’t born with the idea of “beauty.”
From pre-school up until second grade, I had never cared too much about my physical appearance. I remember how getting ready to go out didn’t require looking in the mirror. All I did was walk to my mother in the morning, and have her tie my hair up in a half-up ponytail every morning. It was not until third grade that other students started to make fun of me for how my hair looked, or the clothes I wore, which were clearly hand-me-downs. I started to become more self-conscious about how I looked and how I presented myself.
Whenever I went with my parents and older brother to visit my distant relatives, they picked me apart. I remember my family’s comments to my mother and father regarding me: “Your daughter’s so skinny. She looks like a scrawny chicken. And look at her unsightly moles!” It’s important to also note, that in Cantonese, the phrase for moles literally means ink shit.
Somehow, blemishes and moles on my face were more apparent simply due to the fact that I’m female. I remember looking at my brother’s face and seeing a mole on the bottom right of his chin that’s larger than any on mine, but, for whatever reason, that was never cause for concern. Yet when it came to me, it was always something that people felt they needed to comment on, as if I didn’t know what was already on my own face.
The summer after fifth grade, under the suggestion of my parents, I got two of my moles removed by laser. I was left with two noticeable scars on my face which I didn’t mind all that much because, hey, those nasty dark blobs are finally gone! Well…they eventually both grew back, and honestly, I am still self conscious of all my blemishes and I get wary when I get physically close to someone.
But now as I’m older, I realize that these spots on my face are minuscule in relation to my entire body, and the person that I am. It’s taken a long time for me to realize that, from afar, those spots can’t even really be seen, and that those who see from the distant perspective of some skewed idea of “beauty” are people that I’d want to keep a physical distance from anyway. – Mira, 19