The summer after my freshman year of college, my grandmother told me in a Kohl’s dressing room that I needed to lose weight.
“Everyone goes through it, honey. Your mom, your aunt. Everyone gains a little too many pounds that first year of dorm food.” She said it in passing, nonchalantly yet almost in distaste.
I love my grandmother—she is a strong and loving woman and she means well. But I wish every grandparent, parent, or relative of a young adult could know the stabbing pain of a comment like that. For a young woman the ripe age of nineteen, taller than almost every petite beauty around me in college, an athlete with thick post-player thighs and already drowning in insecurities, her words were resounding.
For many of us women, young and old alike, that is where the first taste of the twisted image of ourselves comes from. On top of bombarding photo-shopped visuals on every side, the dolls we played with as girls fixed in the back of our minds, and society’s mixed messages, someone important to us painstakingly and usually off-hand solidifies a detail we are coming to believe as true: that we just simply do not measure up.
The devastating part is not just what those words feel like rocking your confidence to its core in that moment, but how the after affects linger long afterwards.
It is then we begin to question our beauty.
A Poison Takes Root
I know why we struggle with the definition of beauty. First, society tells us that that for a woman, beauty is power. Second, society has set a high standard for that power. Third, every woman is secretly or loudly screaming to be held in that admired category.
I don’t want to rant about how it’s what is on the inside that counts, because it’s cliché, overused, and according to society, simply not true. According to society’s definition, beauty is decided in the first few seconds of meeting someone, often before words even leave their mouth. The shade of your legs. The sparkle in your eye. Your waist to hip ratio, the length of your hair, the glow of your skin, and twenty other flawless characteristics.
If you check those things off the list about yourself, you will be successful.
If you command an audience or the eyes of men when you walk into a room, you will be impossible to ignore.
Your appearance is your greatest asset.
Maybe we should know better. We’ve been told about the lies of the magazine covers, how the models who walk the runway don’t eat, and about the facade of unattainable physical qualities set us by the 1% of the population of the world that makes up celebrities. We are smart and should know our worth, right?
To be brutally honest, there are many days that I don’t feel worthy of beautiful. I’m different than that girl in the dressing room two years ago, and yet the struggle is still the same. I wonder if I am good enough, if I am who I want to be, or if I even really like myself.
Because guess what? We can be told we are beautiful by friends. We can know that we will never be the perfection society tells us we should be. We can know we are so much more than just a combination of body parts. But once that poison starts in us—that tiny quiet voice that makes us question our beauty—it seems far too suffocating and uncontrollable to stop.
The Epidemic of Comparison
We are sick. It’s a disease that is rampant in our world today, something that Dr. Renee Engeln has dubbed “beauty sickness”. And it’s the worst kind of sick to be—because often times we know we have a problem and we accept it as a part of us anyway. Some days, we even embrace that insecurity in ourselves and get comfortable with it.
We skip a meal just to feel our stomachs hollow at the bottom. We run twice in one day to punish our bodies for the doughnut we had for breakfast. Any extra time is spent alone with the mirror, or hoping for likes on social media on our latest selfie, or obsessing over how the world outside sees us. I know, because it’s as true of me as anyone.
So many times, we as women want to blame this on the men of the world and their unrealistic expectations—because we think they expect us to be perfect or because we think all they see is what is visual. I’m not saying that men don’t have a part in the problem, but I do know that not all men are like that. And what about the fuel we’re personally throwing on the fire? [clickToTweet tweet=”We as a gender are not only the worst critics of each other, but also of ourselves.” quote=”We as a gender are not only the worst critics of each other, but also of ourselves.”]
How many times have you bashed another woman for the sake of feeling a little more beautiful yourself? How many times have you complimented another woman with loathing because you wish you had what she has? How often have you walked into a room and instantly starting placing yourself next to the other women and wondering how you match up? I know I could raise my hand again and again.
I’m comparing myself to you and you are comparing yourself to me, and in drinking in the sickness, we not only spread it like a contagion, but we ruthlessly foster the pain of society’s twisted picture of beauty.
If I could sit across from you right now and tell you that you are beautiful—not because of the outfit you have on, the black lines around your eyes, or the outline of your silhouette—I would. I know this because you are handcrafted, a masterpiece by a masterful artist. Born beautiful and still beautiful today. You are messy at times, a little cracked and bruised I’m sure, but you are still perfect in the sight of God who made you. That is just a fact that is really easy to forget.
But me telling you or you telling me that we are unique, creative, precious women does nothing really if we don’t actually believe it. Your boyfriend, your friends, your husband or parents or anyone in the world can sing the praises of your beauty and it also will be empty if you don’t really understand what makes you beautiful.
The day that I was honest with my mom and told her how much I struggled with believing in my own beauty, she told me she was sorry that I couldn’t see it. I told her I didn’t exactly know how to. I’m still learning it myself.
But here is something that is really helping me that I hope you come to believe over time: that you can love yourself for who you are right this second. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “beauty sickness” and seek every day to become more, to tan more, to run more. It’s easy to fall more in love with who you hope to be or what you think you should look like and blow off the beauty you are right now.
So maybe, even if the exact remedy of twisted beauty isn’t clear just yet in the midst of a confounding society and being content in who you are might be a daily choice, you can do this one thing. You can look in the mirror and grasp ALL the things that make you wonderful. Not just who you see, but who you are. The things that you do and the actions that bring our your kindness and passions.
And then you should whisper, “Today, I’m enough.”