One of my earliest memories, is clinging to my mother’s side, and being held in front of the mirror in our hallway. Tears streaming down my face, blonde curls scraped back into an overflowing knot on the top of my head, my mother quietened me, ‘look how pretty you are. Pretty girls shouldn’t cry.’ The words seemed to do their job, and mop up my tears in a matter of seconds. I was pretty, and that was enough. And 21 years later, not much has changed. On more than one messy night out at the campus club, the words ‘you’re too pretty to cry!’ became an all too familiar pick me up. And it wasn’t just the tears that elicited this reaction. Failures, stupid decisions, and lack of direction all warranted the comment, ‘it doesn’t matter, you’re pretty.’ And so, from a young age I began to centre my worth around my appearance.
And of course, this may appear the most obnoxious, self-perpetuating issue a first world, (mostly) white female could complain about. But I fear it’s a problem all millennials and Gen Z’s suffer from today. With the rise of Instagram, came the obsession with our appearance. Every post carefully curated and meticulously edited so as to show the rest of the world our best face. Nothing less than perfection could be acceptable. How many likes you receive on a picture directly reflects how attractive you are, and if you get less than 100 likes? Well you may as well just delete the picture, because this does in fact mean, that you are a hideous creature that should be kept below ground, and no one really likes you anyway.
Of course, this is an exaggeration, but the emphasis on the importance of being beautiful is something that has become all too common place in Western society. Not only through social media, but through the constant advertisement of various lotions and potions to make us more attractive, pushed upon us at every turn, it's no wonder we are so concerned with how we look.
The effects of this obsession with appearance can be detrimental for mental health. Despite the constant validation of my beauty from friends and family, one negative comment about my appearance is enough to send me sideways. A boy I was seeing once asked me, ‘what’s wrong with your teeth?’, and ten minutes later I was on the phone to everyone I knew, frantically enquiring about the state of my teeth, desperate for confirmation that I did not in fact, resemble a horse.
This constant validation of my beauty became an addiction. If I was having a down day, uploading a picture of me in my bikini, entirely malnourished and frankly, mentally unwell, and receiving comments praising my physique, was enough to satiate my hunger for approval. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been turning up to lectures because I was so exhausted from not eating I couldn’t physically make it up to campus. What mattered was what was on the outside.
And what happens when my hair starts to grey, and my skin starts to sag? Abandon ship, surely. Because what will be the point in me then? When I’m no longer a spring chicken and my beauty has faded. Believe it or not, the fear is something that used to keep me up at night. It is imperative that we begin to shift the importance we place on being a human, back to what’s on the inside, and not the ever-changing shell we’re cased in.
I am on a personal mission to find more worth in myself than just my exterior, but in what I have in my brain and my heart. And when I have my own daughter one day, to say ‘Look at how incredible and smart and strong you are. I cannot wait to see you take over the world one day.’