Beauty Becomes Her

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There are few places left in the world where we feel free to sit, wait and read–except for waiting rooms. They can turn routine visits into revelatory encounters. The dentist’s office is rarely seen as a place of pleasure, never mind awakenings, but with the right outlook on wait time, it can turn into a visit with new ideas and self-reflection.

National Geographic was one of my favorite magazines growing up in the ’90s. Before computers gave us access to worldly knowledge, we had encyclopedias, grandparents and National Geographic. It contained captivating, bright images of cultures around the globe and equally colorful stories of what great people were accomplishing all around it. I wanted to be a photojournalist for the magazine, recording people’s stories and sharing them with readers back home. I guess that’s what blogging and the internet is for nowadays.

This was the January 2017 Special Issue entitled, “Gender Revolution.” I picked it up because of the striking pink hair the young girl on the cover had. Instead of reading the main article about her (a 9 year-old transgender boy), I started at the back and thumbed my way through photos of FGM, powerful female role models and charts with statistics on women in today’s world. My fingers landed on a text-rich article that featured small, artistic collages of women assembled from magazine clippings.

“Comparison is the death of joy.” -Mark Twain

These representations reminded me of similar artworks I had executed back in high school and college, which questioned female imagery and the authenticity of media portrayals. After diving into the article, I realized that it was about young girls today with eating disorders who were struggling to find beauty within. Having been one of those girls growing up and still learning to practice self-love, I had already forgotten about the drill in my mouth.

What makes matters worse for girls today is the emergence of Photoshop, where what seems to be photographic truth to the naked eye is actually a well-manicured version meant to leave us feeling insufficient and thus, selling us unneeded commodities. In addition to comparison with the media, another suspect is what Rosenberg calls “a factory for the mass production of insecurity”: social media. Do you ever fall short when up against social media feeds and the images people portray of their lives?

Dr. Melody Moore founded the The Embody Love Movement as one of these self-loathing young women. They hold workshops that mix yoga with powerful group discussion and self-reflection for female peers who suffer from body shaming. I come from a decade in the beauty industry and realize how powerful witnessing and reflection can be for women of all ages. We are constantly in a state of comparison with each other, but if we could instead see, support and provide much-needed recognition to ourselves and the ones we are hopelessly comparing ourselves to, then we would see that we all suffer from the same fears.

In one exercise, the Embody Love facilitators ask each girl to point out one thing they don’t like about themselves and then record that on a sticky note. When each girl has exhausted her list of self-deprecation, she then places the sticky notes on each one of those body parts or attributes. Most of the early teens in the workshop end up like fluorescent pink and yellow mummies by the end. Now, imagine if we had a room of 50 year-old women doing the same exercise? Wrinkles here, cellulite there, sagging skin here, thinning hair there, etc… Are there enough sticky notes for the amount of dissatisfied women in this world?

“Women have alway relied on their peer group to set the rules for how they should look. For the first time in history, that pressure is coming from peers who do not even exist. Is it any wonder girls find themselves wanting?” -Tina Rosenberg,  “A Challenge for Girls Today: Moving Beyond ‘How do I Look?'”

Can we use the tool of mirroring to report back to others what they don’t see in themselves? What if everyone in the room had wrinkles and couldn’t see each other’s defects, because they were looking at the whole being and experiencing them as a holistic force, not an outside shell? If someone could have talked to me about that when I was comparing myself to Kate Moss in Calvin Klein campaigns in the early ’90s, then maybe the self-inflicted torture of eating disorders and body dysmorphia would have seemed a little extreme for a normal girl.

All in all, after reading this article, I realized that women of all ages and stages need to be reminded of their natural beauty, their uniqueness and their ability to choose self-love over comparison. It is perhaps the only thing that can ease our eternal struggle and an effort we must make daily to heal the scars of insecurity and doubt: practice self-love.

 

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