“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
“It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
“Beauty isn’t everything.”
These phrases are chanted to us as if they’re a secret mantra with magical powers. Society tells us these words will ease our critical eye when peering into the mirror.
Their messages are clear and correct—we know that.
But they don’t ease the pain of what we deem as imperfections, not really. They don’t perfect our vision and allow us to see ourselves for who we are on the inside. They don’t make us fall in love with our hair, our freckles, or those cellulite chunks on our thighs. They don’t make us content with the way our nose seems to smush into our face or how its too pointy or how even contouring can’t make it look defined. They don’t make it less embarrassing when the woman in the bra store condescendingly eyes the “size A” tag on the bra we just bought. The words don’t help us value our internal qualities more than what we perceive as a flawed exterior.
So many amazing advertising movements try to convince us to stop criticizing ourselves, to accept ourselves for who we are. They remind us many of the images we use as references for perfect beauty are photoshopped. They remind us perfection doesn’t exist. We use #bodyimage and #bodypositive to spread the love. We smile at the Dove commercials for the Campaign for Real Beauty because they inspire us.
We hear them.
We tell ourselves we are pretty enough. We tell ourselves we are worthy, strong, and beautiful in all of the most important ways. We triumph in our beauty battle.
But then we hear it.
We hear the comment from the popular girl in class about how ugly we are. We hear a guy whisper the number “5” in reference to our looks on the street. We hear how we need to lose a few pounds, straighten our hair, polish our skin, or work on our makeup. We hear how our fine lines around our eyes need to be obliterated or how our eyebrow shape isn’t on point. The media, our friends, our family, strangers—it doesn’t matter who we hear it from.
Because suddenly, those words we hear about how we aren’t pretty enough are the words overriding everything else.
We see the picture of ourselves with our best friend and silently weep at how ordinary we look. We base the success of our day on how we feel or don’t feel about our appearance. We spend hundreds of dollars on makeup, curling irons, special serums, and crazy treatments to try to morph ourselves into the model we hope is hiding within. We discount our worth because we believe our looks don’t stand up to other women.
We value ourselves based on an imaginary, impossible standard.
We can be twelve or twenty-one or forty-eight. We can be a size zero or a size fourteen. It doesn’t matter.
Because the fear of not being pretty enough, the words echoing from our critics—we are all haunted at some point. The words ricochet in our minds, lessening the impact of all else.
I, like so many females, have been there. I’ve cried countless tears over being too mousey, too ordinary, too oily, too chubby, too imperfect. I’ve compared myself. I’ve clung to the words of harsh people who told me I wasn’t pretty.
It wasn’t until I started teaching high school I realized with clarity what we as women are doing to ourselves. I’ve seen other girls cry the same tears I’ve cried. I’ve seen girls beat themselves up over “imperfect” hair, skin, teeth or nails. I’ve seen them struggle over a comment on social media berating their looks.
It was only then I realized… the mantras are true. There is no set true set standard for beauty, and it isn’t about exterior appearances. We are destroying our self-worth as women over a false notion that exterior beauty is our sole offering to the world. Young girls are growing up in a world where berating comments about their appearance in a picture can make or break their self-esteem.
We have taught our girls that perfection in beauty is something to be chased above all else.
It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come to realize beauty is so much deeper than what we’ve let ourselves believe it to be. We just have to be brave enough to realize it.
So to the girls who have been told you weren’t pretty enough—you are.
I know it’s hard to completely commit to the sentiment. I know it’s something you’ve heard. I know those two tiny words struggle to overpower all of the other harsh ones floating in your mind.
Be strong enough to hear those two words, to cling to them. You are pretty enough because you are you.
In a world that believes physical beauty is everything, be strong enough to say otherwise. Be strong enough to look your critics in the eye and know they have no right to judge who you are or what you look like. Silence your critics with self-confidence, even if your biggest critic is yourself.
You are not defined by your nails, your hair, your skin, or your sense of style. You are not defined by the number on the scale, your cup size, or the level of symmetry in your face.
You are defined by who you want to be, your goals, your dreams, your brain, and more things than I can list.
Your outer beauty is not everything. It isn’t what defines you.
And only one beholder’s eye can truly interpret your beauty—you.
Lindsay Detwiler is a contemporary romance author and a high school English teacher. You can find out more about her writing www.lindsaydetwiler.com.