As a millenial, I didn’t grow up with instagram or facebook, yet I still experienced my fair share of body image issues, and so I can’t imagine how much harder it must be for our girls today who have constant exposure to an unattainable ideal of perfection.
Our younger generation is spending significant amounts of time on social media, and often see the filtered worlds of others while comparing them to their own unfiltered realities- not a fair comparison.
It’s no secret that society expends significant amounts of energy and resources on making sure we buy into the “anti-aging, lip-plumping, weight-loss, never pretty enough, skinny enough, young enough” messages that constantly surround us. Billions of dollars are spent to make sure we don’t feel quite good enough or worthy as we are today.
Not Just A Beauty Problem
What we value most will often be the very same areas where we are most insecure. If I place a lot of value on how I look, I’m likely to spend significantly more time on my appearance. If money is super important to me, I will measure my self-worth (not the money kind) based on my net worth (yes, the money kind). If intelligence is the be-all and end-all for me, chances are my self-esteem will be linked to my academic achievement (or my child’s). Often times people will do things that are not in line with their values in order to maintain an ideal of perfection that is unattainable or simply doesn’t exist.
When middle schoolers believe that a B can ruin their chances of winning their parents affection or getting into the college of their choice, perfectionism becomes a must. Looks are no different.]
When our value is determined or defined by external forces (i.e. money, acceptance of others, being slim), not only do we become more likely to “cheat” the system (i.e. Instagram filters that make us look flawless), but we begin to cheat our systems (feeling like we aren’t enough).
47 percent of girls between the ages of 11 and 21 believe they aren’t pretty enough (Girlguiding UK’s 2016 Girls’ attitudes survey). In a recent study conducted by researchers at Florida State University, women who had browsed social media for 20 minutes experienced lower self-esteem afterward, whereas women who did research on safari animals did not. For our girls, social media is an inevitable part of their world, and while we can’t blame social media outlets for low self-esteem, it is important to acknowledge the role it plays in their self-image. Many girls will erroneously believe that the filtered pictures of others reflect their realities (they won’t assign the same judgments on their own pictures).
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, teens as young as 13 are seeking plastic surgery roughly 230 000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients aged 13-19 in 2017 alone. The rates have only increased. Americans have spent over $16 BILLION on plastic surgery- and the United States sags at number 6 in the world (with South Korea taking first place , followed by Greece, Italy ,Brazil,and Colombia (per capita). One would be amiss to assign blame for this increase in nipping and tucking. If we want an about face, change begins to happen when individuals take responsibility for their role in perpetuating the “never enough” culture in which we live.
We are all susceptible to putting too much value on external forces, but we can change that. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. We can start by recognizing that we have inherent value, which is in no way linked to the way we look, how much money we have in the bank, or how others choose to judge us. Research shows that the happiest people are those who are not defined by what they have, but rather by who they are. This is a message we can pass along to our children. If a girl tells her mother that she doesn’t feel pretty, it is likely that her mother will tell her that she is beautiful, but she most likely won’t believe her mom, or find an excuse for why her mother would say that (i.e. “you’re my mother, of course you’re gonna say I’m beautiful”). Perhaps if we consider reminding our children that the way they look, what size they are, their GPA, in no way reflect their value as human beings, we might lead them on a path where joy becomes accessible- where we value them as individuals (not despite their flaws, but precisely because of them).
When Ambition is Good.
While the ambition to be more attractive, acquire wealth, or achieve straight As can be perceived as greedy or shallow perfectionism, they can exist within a healthy framework for achievement and accomplishment. It’s when we begin doing those things out of mere desperation and fear that if we don’t– we will be unworthy or unloved, that we begin the downward spiral and the rat race competition to become accepted amongst our peers. (While competition is a normal part of development, acknowledging the extent to which it interferes with living one’s life is an important factor.) If the need to be perfect is fueling most of our decisions, it might be time for some self-reflection.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the most important beholder is the reflection you see in your mirror. There will always be someone out there who is prettier, smarter, richer, and more popular, and that doesn’t make you any less than. Your value lives within you. If you begin to pay attention to your strengths and become grateful for the person you are today (not what you think other people want from you), small but steady shifts in your self-concept can begin to take place, and that’s where true fulfillment happens.
What you value will determine how you perceive yourself. If you notice your flaws, they will become magnified. If you notice your strengths, you will begin to see more of them. The more you rely on external forces for inner fulfillment, the less likely you are to achieve the inner fulfillment you desire. You are wonderful as you are. As a mother of four children (three of them daughters), I am all too aware of the responsibility I carry when it comes to passing down the message of being happy as we are. I recently wrote a children’s book (due to release on August 3rd) that shares the crucial message of self-acceptance. We can’t underestimate the impact each of us can make in making a difference. Write about the things in your life you are grateful for, make sure you live with kindness, compassion, not just toward others, but to yourself (our kids are watching and mimicking us), and see your energy begin to shift. There’s truly no better time to start than now.
To preorder “Sarah Dreamer”, a book with an important message, visit the link below.