Open any fashion or fitness magazine lately and you see beautiful, impeccably groomed, thin, and fit women smiling perfectly back at you on every page.  Perhaps you will see a scantily dressed teenager with semi-circus clown makeup beckoning you to join her in the good life – if you only spritz yourself with a perfume named after an irrational emotion.  Or maybe you will read an article about a movie star bemoaning the difficulties of aging in Hollywood – all the while employing a household staff larger than your high school with nannies working all day shifts, personal chefs, trainers, dog psychologists, and spiritual guides.  This is all very normal right?  I mean, everyone must live that way?

A younger version of me
I remember growing up and being somewhat sheltered.  My parents didn’t have cable television, and yes, I still say cable television, until I was 24.  We read, played outside, and had actual conversations with each other.  Not the conversations where parts of sentences were uttered as Facebook or Instagram were being scrolled through, we had actual discourse with questions and answers.  It was novel by today’s standards.  I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 13 and that was normal for the girls in my school.  But once I got to college and realized how  truly “out of touch” I was and how plain my clothes were, I was devastated.  I spent the better part of my twenties chasing an ideal that was completely unattainable.  I worked out and starved myself to be skinny.  I dressed and redressed and redressed myself before going out.  I plucked, lasered, applied, and exfoliated my body to have the skin that I was supposed to.  But still I felt unattractive, inadequate, and less than.
Today in many circles, toddler girls demand painted toes and nails and to wear makeup, at least lip gloss every single day.  Who teaches them these lessons?  It makes me mourn a little for their innocence.  However, more than that, I mourn for females feeling the pressure to teach this to their daughters and what it means for women.  Air brushed images confront us at every turn while subliminal messages of ugly, fat, thin, beautiful, money, bling, and popular scream at us without making a sound.  Eating disorders and suicide among younger women are rising at alarming rates.  Your body was made to eat (maybe not junk food all the time) and you never should be made to feel suicidal because the kids in your school treat you badly.  Shame on us, all of us.  Are we okay with teaching young girls that their self worth is directly proportional to their physical beauty?  What if you have a disability?  What is the measure of true self worth?
In certain parts of the country, women would never leave the house not looking the picture of perfection.  Why is this?  Do supermarkets turn females away at the door that aren’t ready for the catwalk?  What about our culture makes this okay?  Why does our gender allow this?  We rise up against injustice around the world but happily judge the women beside us at the gas pump with visible gray hairs as “going through a rough patch” or “letting herself go.”  Really?
In my early twenties I bought a book by Susan L. Taylor called “In the Spirit.”  At the time I was too immature to truly understand her words.  I read it, but I didn’t READ it.  She talked about the importance of embracing who we are as women, supporting other women, and learning to love yourself.  It talks about tangible, not plastic growth for women.   Today I just want to hug my younger self and share with that girl all the things I wish I knew.  
I would share that the important things in life are not the superficial.  It is important to feel good about yourself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to feel pretty.  I believe girls should feel good about things they accomplish, their intelligence, or how they treat other people.  What girls do to make the world a better place is more important that what they look like, the length of their hair, or how cool the outfit they are wearing happens to be.  However, our society does not acknowledge this.  Society teaches women to be Stepford Wives; pretty, subservient, brainless women that don’t care about substance.  Barbie is more of a role model for young girls than Mother Teresa.  Why can girls under ten instantly recognize Barbie but not Helen Keller or Marie Curie?  We are failing our daughters by doing them this disservice.  
Since my MS diagnosis, I’ve been forced to reconsider what is important in life and what just doesn’t matter.  Who I am matters.  What other people think of my accomplishments matter.  What other people think of what I look like is bullshit.  I would tell myself at 15, 20, and 25 to stop trying so hard to live up to the ideal of what society thinks I should look and act like.  I would tell myself to focus my ambitions on making myself stronger mentally and physically.  I would tell myself that I’m okay.  Reading beauty magazines tells me otherwise.  My teeth should be whiter, I should work out far more, I should reduce my calories, I should prevent aging at all costs, I should…………or else I’m going to die miserable or alone (or ugly!).
 It is exhausting and a pace that women cannot maintain.  The stories of plastic surgery gone awry dominate the headlines as desperate women in pursuit of that perfect image permanently scar and disfigure themselves in the name of beauty.  When is it enough?  When are we as women going to say, “That’s it, I’m done”?
I hope that girls figure it out way younger than I have begun to.  I hope girls can rest in the knowledge that who and what they are is just fine.  I’m hoping, but I’m not convinced.

You May Also Like