This is a tale of a young girl growing up in a land of endless opportunities but an abundance of invisible obstacles.
A story about a girl who was raised being told how to act and dress based on her gender. Constantly having ideas of beauty embedded in her subconscious through the Barbie dolls she was encouraged to play with. Looking closely at the Barbie, either relating to her features or feeling as though she was a complete alien in comparison.
A girl who turned on the television to watch another episode of Paw Patrol but in between the show was bombarded with commercials of tall, thin women describing what it meant to be “beautiful.”
A girl that internalized these standards of beauty, and never realized she was seeking moments in her life that confirmed these ideas that beauty mattered most. Like the time her parents wouldn’t let her go to ballet class without her hair neatly in a bun. Or the time the kids at school told her she was ugly and everyone stopped talking to her. Or maybe the time the most beautiful person in the world, her mother, called herself fat when she thought no one was looking.
A girl who entered high school, having already been on several diets to try to look more like her “skinny friends” or the women she saw on TV. Diets trends that never seemed to work, and would result in herself hating her body every time she looked in the mirror.
A girl who wanted more than anything to fit in. She watched make-up tutorials, bought the products she saw on TV and learned how to dress a little more like the Instagram models scattered throughout her feed.
A girl who started to receive more confidence in herself when people began to tell her she looked “pretty.” That she was a lot “hotter” than she was in middle school. Taking those compliments as a sense of relief — a feeling that she was finally starting to matter.
A girl who equated her worth to these new views of admiration she was receiving. She clung tightly to her restrictive eating and continuously worried about slipping up. Losing what she had built would mean losing meaning to life.
A girl who would eventually grow up and get a job. A job where she was met with comments on how much make-up she wore or passing remarks from a manager about how great she looked in the skirt she was pressured into wearing.
A girl who, all her life, was never told that she was smart; never told she was talented. Never given the opportunity to see her worth outside of her beauty.
It’s a tale of many girls in developed countries. Where media perpetuates the ideas of beauty for us — tying in our worth to how well we present ourselves.
The issue isn’t within us — as children, we have a very narrow awareness of what is actually going on around us. We internalize messages — messages that will end up affecting how we view ourselves for potentially the rest of our lives.
“i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful
before i’ve called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is all you have to be proud of
when you have broken mountains with your wit
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient, or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re beautiful
but because i need you to know
you are more than that”
- Rupi Kaur
I’m not merely a victim here. I too have called my friends pretty before I called them miraculous. I too have been the one to compliment someone on the weight they’ve lost. I too have contributed to the problem.
Awareness is the first step, but reflection is what keeps us walking the path.
Looking back, I remember the days that my dad called me beautiful instead of smart or funny. I recall the importance my friends placed on how skinny our wrists were compared to each other. I remember the comments my mom made about the size of my pants — though she wasn’t aware I heard. I remember the look on my aunt’s face when I came back from my freshman year of college, several pounds heavier. I remember the first day at my real job when a board member of the company commented on how great my ass looked. I remember being told by a co-worker that I was hired because of my looks. I remember being at a party when a couple of guys motioned at my friend and me to come talk. I began to walk over to them, and they yelled, “No, we want the hot one.”
The messages regarding the importance of my beauty that I received explained a lot of things. They explained why I sought validation from the men I dated. Why I tried so hard to always dress sexy when I went out. Why I had a huge insecurity of people thinking I was dumb. Why I played small for so many years. Why I purged my food the first time my boyfriend told me I gained weight in my arms. Why I developed anorexia. Why I later developed bulimia.
I’m here to say it’s not my fault, but it’s also not any one person’s fault. It’s not my mom’s fault. It’s not my dad’s fault. It’s not some guys at a party’s fault.
But it is society’s fault. It is the media’s fault. It’s the fault of advertising and playing off people’s insecurities. That’s whose fault it is.
So don’t call me pretty — call me intelligent, brave, ambitious, creative. Call me by my talents, not my appearance. Show me that you value more than what is on the outside. Show the world that you won’t give in so easily to their standard of what matters most.
But most importantly, call everyone by this. The journey begins with one but ends with us all.