It's something all girls and women struggle with...and no, it's not just because we're hormonal or shallow. We are held to the impossibly high standard of the Barbie doll and runway supermodels. I find myself constantly frustrated that the majority of the "in" fashion is made to look good when draped over a rail. Don't get me wrong...I have nothing against skinny people. I'm just frustrated that skinny is the only form of beauty that a lot of the world accepts.
And I'm not alone. Everyone is trying to change people's view of beauty in today's culture. Including one of the biggest style shows on television: "What Not To Wear." This show, while it has always been a favorite, has recently become part of my morning routine. I couldn't figure out why I was so fascinated at first. And then I realized that the majority of these women chosen for the make-overs fit into one of the following categories.
1. They were never told they were beautiful. When I first heard this, I was honestly shocked. How could someone go through life without hearing they are beautiful??? After thinking about it for a while, though, I realized that, while my parents told me I was pretty on occasion (usually only when I got dressed up), it was not something that was said on a regular basis. I think part of this (oddly) came from growing up in a Christian home. Placing focus on what is on the inside, instead of the outside, was a major part of what I was taught. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with this teaching, and I am very glad that my parents reiterated that lesson regularly. However, by not also telling me that I was beautiful or pretty as often as I was told to focus on my actions may have inadvertently led me to believe that I was not beautiful. I never believed I was ugly, but beautiful was not part of my vocabulary when it came to describing myself.
I should mention that my parents also constantly told me that God made me exactly how He wanted me to be, and that I was made in His image. Looking back on it, that was one way they tried to communicate that I was beautiful, not only to them, but also to God. But let's face it...a teenager isn't going to read that deeply into that statement.
2. They have been told they are beautiful, but cannot accept it because they are not the "ideal" form of beautiful. It was not until I went to college that I was told by someone who was not my parents that I was pretty. It was a night that I hadn't even "tried" to look pretty. The notion was strange to me, and it was something I struggled to comprehend throughout my freshman and sophomore year. I couldn't tell you when exactly I started to believe it, but it was sometime after I had a conversation with my peer mentor in the theatre department.
Both of us have mothers who place a good deal of emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle. Eat right, exercise, etc. My mother's undergraduate degree is in dietetics, so she often tries to reinforce healthy habits in my family. Again, not a bad thing to teach, and again, I greatly appreciate these lessons. However, being a typical stubborn teenager as well as a bit of a geek, I hated exercise. After having half of my thyroid removed after my junior year of high school, my metabolism slowed quite a bit, and I gained weight. At some point in my early college years (sophomore year, if I remember correctly), my mom (with only good intentions) mentioned that I could stand to lose a few pounds. It was only out of concern for my health, but she mentioned that "the first thing a boy sees is appearance." Unintentionally, she made me feel vulnerable and undesirable, which did nothing to help me through this period of insecurity. My mentor was going through a similar struggle with her mother, and during one of our late-night life talks, she helped me realize that, ultimately, a few extra pounds is not going to matter to the right guy, and that weight does not equal beauty. Once I began to tell myself on a regular basis that I AM beautiful, I started to believe it.
3. They once thought they were beautiful and some life circumstance (usually pregnancy and/or weight gain) caused their view of themselves to change. One thing that people often miss about feeling beautiful is that it's not about making yourself beautiful. It's about being comfortable in your own skin, no matter your complexion, dress size, hair color, or height. By telling me that I needed to lose weight with potential boyfriends as the reason, my mom subconsciously put a standard for beauty in my head...one that did not match what I looked like.
Looping back to "What Not To Wear," one aspect of the show that I love is that Stacy London and Clinton Kelly tell every single participant that they are beautiful and that everyone deserves to feel beautiful. If each person believes that they deserve to feel beautiful, then they should show that in how they present themselves. Stacy (yes, I refer to them by their first names...I feel like we could be BFFs) has a quote that I absolutely love: "I believe every person is beautiful. What you do with that beauty, how you develop it, is up to you."
One thing that has helped me with my body image is my faith. In the past few places I have lived, I have written on the mirror in dry erase marker, "You are fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14, paraphrased). Once I started telling myself I was beautiful, I began to better understand what my parents tried to tell me about being made in His image (Genesis 1:27). It is one thing to hear that God made you the way you are, and that in and of itself is beautiful, and another to really see that beauty and understand that because you were created by a perfect God and made in His image, you are not only beautiful. His beauty and majesty shine THROUGH you, just as they shine through every other part of His creation.
Since my ultimate goal in life right now is to become a high school teacher, I am trying to work on ways I can reinforce in my future students that they are all beautiful. Because I struggled with this for so long, it is an issue very dear to me. I hope and pray that God will allow me to be an example to those young women, and that they will see that once they accept their God-given beauty, they can accomplish so much through being themselves and who God wants them to be.