Combating the Beauty Myth

Something I have had difficulty with my entire life is body image and confidence. No matter what part of my life I have been in, I’ve always found something about myself that I’ve wanted to improve- to change. I want to have smaller lips. I want to be extremely skinny. I want to have rock hard abs like all of the fitness models I saw in Under Armor and Nike advertisements. This led me to covering up my lips with foundation through middle school and high school so they would appear smaller and not eating through teaching and graduate school until I would almost faint to lose 40 lbs. I believe this is something so many women encounter throughout their life. I believe I’m not alone in this.

I heard a poem a few years back that I resonated with completely. I don’t know if anyone says it better than Lily Myers in, “Shrinking Women”. She talks about how at a young age, we continue to shrink ourselves; we absorb everything around us and learn to grow inward as men grow outward.

As a young girl, I heard my mother talk about herself in her own demeaning ways, looking at herself in the mirror and talking about her weight. Recognizing her wrinkles in the mirror and wishing she could rub them away. Spending endless amounts of money on gimmicky beauty products that claimed to turn you into the model on their label, as if just a dab of their product would change your entire body composition and turn you into a 5’9″ blonde hair, blue eyed woman that never aged. Inevitably, this seeped into my own beliefs about myself. But, this wasn’t just my mother talking. This was years of hearing and seeing countless women talk about their differences as if they were faults and watching men gawk over skinny women in bathing suits.

I think about the images we are often presented with through social media, television, advertisements as well. Not only did we hear the way women we loved talk about themselves, but we’ve been exposed to the “ideal” body. This is not a new phenomenon, but understand that this has been ongoing as we look back on history.

A definition caught my eye as I was researching more about ideal beauty standards and read about the Beauty Myth regarding societal expectations throughout time.

“The Beauty Myth: an obsession with physical perfection sends women into a spiral of criticizing and judging oneself, for hating oneself in search of “flawless beauty”. (Wolf, 1990).

Okay, now we know the problem, we’ve leaned into the problem- what can we do?

  1. Demonstrate Empathy: When someone else talks about their struggle with food or difficulty starting to work out, we show compassion and empathy for them. We tell them, “You got this, keep on going. Look, you’re out today moving.” When we see a friend upset about a relationship, we console them. But, when we ourselves are hurting, we push ourselves farther. We become frustrated and feel defeated. Show yourself empathy and love. Find a mantra. How about from the Help “You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important”. Girl, you got this.
  2. Know that this is a journey: There are going to be highs, where you feel great and you feel on track, and there are days when you want to sit and eat pizza, usually because it’s a rainy day (me in particular). Just because you had one chill, cheat day does not mean that that is who you are. Life’s a roller coaster.
  3. Monitor who you follow/ your social media input: Truthfully, whether or not ads are changing with models of different body shapes, we still perpetuate this obsession with who we follow on social media. I’m a culprit of this. Just as the beauty myth describes, we find those who we deem “superior”. We set them as our goals and compare ourselves to them, as if because how they appear in an image makes their lives better than our own. So… change the narrative. Find those women who beam with confidence. Who normalize all bodies and speak self love.
  4. Surround yourself with supportive people: Finally, find those people in your lives that lift you up. For me, that has been people who I can be completely honest about my struggles with, who will be completely honest with me in return, and who support me no matter what. I called my mom the other day to air some of my stress and thankfully she called me four separate times that day to check back in with me.

What I want to emphasize is that we are all in this together. As I write this, I am still thinking about some people I follow on instagram that make me feel badly about myself because I do not have rock solid abs like them. As I mentioned before, building self confidence and self love is a journey. A journey that many women are on. Just know that there are women all around that are here to support you in your journey. My friends and family support me in my lows and I want to be here to support you.

“Confidence needs permission to exist, and community is the safest place to try confidence on” -Brittany Packnett in How to Build Confidence-and spark it in others , Ted2019

So… let’s create a community of valuing and praising normal bodies. There is no one I appreciate more than a flawed human that I can understand, resonate with and feel more comfortable in being my own flawed person.

Reach out via instagram @livvy.living

Myers, L. (2013) Shrinking Women. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/zQucWXWXp3k

Packnett, Brittany (2019). How to Build Confidence- and spark it in others. Ted2019.

Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780061969942/the-beauty-myth/

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