I remember the first time I was called ugly. My parents were away on a trip, and my brothers were in charge. I was probably about 10 or 11, and I was boarding the bus after school. Behind me, an older boy looked directly at me and said, “You’re ugly”. I didn’t realize until I got home that I had pancake batter in my hair from my older brother making pancakes that morning and flicking the spatula at me. I didn’t realize that the boy was simply being mean because I was unkempt that day. But, I can still vividly remember the shame that I felt that day, from an unknown boy with one cruel word.
I have recently become very aware of the strain that “being beautiful” puts on us as women. What is beauty? The media sure has a lot to say about it. Being beautiful is all about appearance, weight, shape, clothes, makeup. And, sadly, we buy into it. My purpose in writing today is to challenge that belief. Beauty is not about lipstick. Beauty is not about waist size. And beauty is definitely not about fashion models.
Here are some shockers for you:
Less that 5% of women can attain the media ideal of thinness.[i]
One study showed 50% of 6 to 8-year-olds want to be thinner.[ii]
Many of the models are 20% below ideal body weight, meeting one criteria for anorexia nervosa.[iii]
As many as 80% of women over the age of 18 are unhappy with their body image.[iv]
One study showed 65% of girls had developed ideas about dieting by the age of 5.
They developed those ideas from their mothers.[v]
I was recently woken up from my stupor of thought with an experience at the dinner table. I had lost my appetite for about a week a month or so ago, and found myself saying a few times aloud, “I just don’t have an appetite. I can’t eat anymore.” I didn’t even think about it until one night at the dinner table. We had just sat down to dinner and hadn’t been eating for more than a few minutes. My four-year-old looked up and said, “I just don’t have an appetite. I am done.” She hadn’t eaten anything.
I thought they were too young to start worrying about this. I thought I could wait until the preteen years to discuss and shape their ideas about beauty and body image. We are affecting our children, our daughters, now! We are not born with a body image–that is shaped and created by our family, our friends, and the media.
So, let me talk about the media for a minute. What does the media teach us about beauty? We can buy beauty. It comes in a can. We just need to try a little harder and we will be beautiful. A little lipstick, a little fashion, a little surgery…all that can “make me beautiful”. Research has shown that the greater amount of time we immerse ourselves in the media images of beauty, the worse we feel about our own body image. Women who reported greater televisions exposure during adolescence, particularly to music videos and soap operas, were more likely to experience high levels of body image disturbance.[vi]
More and more studies are showing the immense pressure the media puts on particularly women, to be the “ideal” beauty. Because media exposure is so prevalent, we begin to think that “model” shape and size is the norm, when actually it is the exception.
Well, ladies, I am sick of it. It is all a counterfeit. I like a great pair of earrings, some lipstick and nice shoes as much as anyone else – but those things do not make me beautiful!
I am beautiful because I am a daughter of God. I am beautiful because of what He gave me and how I magnify it. I am beautiful because I AM. If I speak too strongly, it is because I feel it so strongly. You see, I have two beautiful daughters. I want them to know, more than anything, that they are beautiful no matter what. They are beautiful because of WHO they are–who we all are–children of a supreme being that created them in His image.
One of my favorite quotes comes from President Gordon B. Hinckley:
“Woman is God’s supreme creation. Only after the earth had been formed, after the day had been separated from the night, after the waters had been divided from the land, after vegetation and animal life had been created, and after man had been placed on the earth, was woman created; and only then was the work pronounced complete and good.
“Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth.”1
So, do we give up on fashion? Do we forget to take care of ourselves? No, that is definitely not what I am saying. When I attended BYU, I remember one speaker at a fireside saying, “Sometimes you need to put a little paint on the barn.” The way we dress, fix our hair can be an expression of creativity and care for ourselves. It can be a part of who we are – but it does not define our beauty.
I know many beautiful women. They are different shapes, colors, ages, hairstyles and personalities. They have not been on the covers of a fashion magazine, but they are exemplary examples of beauty to me. They are women who give, who serve, and who love without need for accolades and awards. They are women who know who they are and value it in the way they speak and act. They are truly beautiful women.
I have five ideas to help each of us realize true beauty:
1. Realize you are a son/daughter of God. You are made in His image. He created you, and He doesn’t make mistakes.
2. Limit media exposure. When you are exposed to media images (as we all are everyday), realize that those images are not real, ridiculously unattainable, and often, unhealthy. Almost all of those images have been cropped, altered, adjusted and changed. They are not real life, and they certainly are not real beauty.
3. Take care of yourself, but don’t allow the outside to define you. It is o.k. to want to look nice. But, if that is what it takes for you to feel good about yourself, there is a deeper issue there.
Many times, I have met with someone who is having a particularly hard time and they cover it with “counterfeit” beauty. I say something like, “You look nice.” and they respond, “It’s because I feel so terrible.” Fashion, makeup and the “right” jeans can make you feel good for a minute, but if you don’t love yourself without that stuff, the “stuff” will not heal your insecurities. Audrey Hepburn said, “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others. For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
4. Stop comparing. If God defined beauty the way the world did, we would all be the same. He would have created us in a cookie cutter image. He does not! We must stop allowing the adversary to define and defile our beauty. God created us as different and unique beings – and we must love and accept that! If we were all the same, it would get boring pretty fast!
5. Watch not only what you say out loud, but what you say to yourself! Our children are listening even when we don’t realize. This example affects them, and will affect how they view themselves. In addition, the way we talk to ourselves affects our own self-worth. “It is hard to be happy if someone is being mean to you all the time”(Christine Arylo). Love yourself. Challenge those negative thoughts and toss them out.
I came across this quote on Pinterest the other day and have added one word: “I can’t think of something more attractive than a beautiful person whose physical beauty isn’t what actually attracts you.”
If I only reach one woman today, that is enough. Let’s band together as women as a protection against the world of counterfeit beauty. Let us unite and see the beauty in ourselves and one another. This Mormon message says it all:
We are no ordinary beings. We are glorious and eternal! Now that, my friends, is beautiful!
[i] Fox, Kate (1997), “Mirror, Mirror”. Retrieved from sirc.org/publik/mirror.html, viewed Jan 20, 2014.
[ii] Serdar, Kasey L., “Female Body Image and the Mass Media: Perspectives on How Women Internalize the Ideal Beauty Standard”. Retrieved from http://www.westminstercollege.edu/myriad/index.cfm?parent=2514&detail=4475&content=4795, viewed Jan. 20, 2014.
[iv] Fox, Kate (1997), “Mirror, Mirror”. Retrieved from sirc.org/publik/mirror.html, viewed Jan 20, 2014.
[v][v] Druxman, Lisa (2003), “The Body Image We See and Feel”. Retrieved from http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/body-imagethe-body-image-we-see-and-feelthe-body-image-we-see-and-feelw, viewed Jan 20, 2014.
[vi] Serdar, ibid.