As a young woman, you are criticized for everything: your body, your clothes, your walk, your talk, your attitude, your lack of attitude…everything is categorized into either: a gift, or a curse.
Your voice isn’t high pitched enough? Sucks for you ‘cause during grades seven through ten you will be mocked by boys who don’t think you’re “girly enough.” Your body developed a little early and as a result, you have bigger breasts or a butt?…like, in grades five or six? Sucks for you ‘cause you will be most likely be teased by boys in middle school, then ogled, cat-called or groped when you reach high school.
In a world where young girls are inundated with images from the media of every form—YouTube, to television, online articles, and advertisements in store fronts—we as young women, are blatantly encouraged to hate our bodies, and are always expected to strive to upgrade them.
Natural beauty is nonexistent in today’s culture. As a young woman, I can firmly attest to the fact that I have struggled with body image issues, weight issues, and issues associated with having a ‘womanly figure.’ Coupled with the fact that I grew up an only child and raised by a single mom who never had my body type and thought there always needed to be “less” of me, and who stressed the importance of dressing modestly, I never came to terms with my curvy figure. It is an immense struggle to try and be smart and well-mannered in school, yet stay thin and pretty, so as to attract male attention—but never too much attention (because ya know, that could lead to a misrepresentation of my morals and my reputation), so that I may satiate my need to be desired.
Women in today’s changing world are expected to cultivate the domestic skills to run a household, but at the same time pursue a practical, financially stable career, and change the status quo of “men always being the bread winners” in families. And while yes—some women are doing quite well with tipping the scales—how are we expected to do it alone?
The term “natural beauty” is defined by everyone differently; every man, every woman, every child, in every nation. Simply googling the phrase “natural beauty,” you will see that it has lost all meaning. The first things that come up when searched, are advertisements that can help you achieve a more “naturally [and fake] beautiful you,” and articles from reputable media outlets informing you on “[Unrealistic] Ways to be a Natural Beauty.”
Women are trained from young ages to wear make-up, to conceal blemishes, to exercise—not just for health benefits, but so that they can be thinner (because as a woman you can always be thinner)—to accentuate their bust and waistlines, to tighten up their glutes, and to get a “swimsuit body.” As a woman, you are defined by your image, and everything else is secondary. As much as the feminist in me would love to proudly exclaim to the world that the education and confidence we strong-willed women try ever so strongly to achieve is the first radiant thing the world sees when we walk out the front door each morning, I have to acknowledge the reality that it isn’t so. Appearance is numero uno if you live in society.
It’s absolutely infuriating to know that I—a young woman who would like to think of herself as idealistic and well-educated, who does not have her head stuck in the sand when it comes to important issues plaguing this world—has fallen victim to all of the social criticism of “not being pretty enough” (‘enough for whom?’ I might I ask myself now in retrospect), and for wanting to always be thinner, and taller, have perfectly flawless skin, and a whole myriad of other things that I simply cannot change about myself (read: gift or a curse?)
Since I became a teenager, and became forcibly aware of the media, become more self-critical of the skin I’m in. I’ve changed my career interests based on what I think is “suitable for a girl,” and then changed my mind numerous times after that, because “I’m a girl, and it’s my prerogative to be indecisive” (and a stereotype!), and then snapped myself out of that poisonous train of thought more times than I care to count.
But most importantly, I have become addicted to the face I see in the mirror when I put on a pound of make-up…the way I look when my breasts are pushed out a little farther, or when my legs look a little longer in those “come hither” stilettos, or when my waist looks a little tinier trying to squeeze into that size 6 (because the number on the tag felt so important). As horrible as it is to admit, I did not make these changes or perceive myself in these ways because I felt euphoric about them. I did them, and I feel this way about myself, because the society we live in preaches a very hypocritical message to women: we should remain objects to be desired, to be pretty to look at and be wanted by men—yet at the same time, be emotionless, rational leaders (like our forefathers?), and tip the scales of social, political, and economic inequality…all while being home to tuck the kids into bed.
But how can we even attempt to juggle all of that if no one is willing to see that women are perfectly beautiful, capable, and intelligent creatures without ever having to even pick up a wand of mascara, or go to the gym 6 days a week to shed her post-baby fat? Or that a teenage girl, no matter what her build, does not always need to lose another five to ten pounds here and there?
Natural beauty is more than just skin deep. It is exuded from every person since the day they were born, something God-given. And for girls who’s hormone levels are consistently never right, and who are far more susceptible to criticism and low self-esteem at young ages, it is important to empower young women to be okay with who they are; to not always want to change yourself because society says “you look better that way,” or because “women are supposed to cook and sew and raise the kids.” It is a toxic environment that we live in.
And it is so incredibly difficult, from the perspective of having been a typical American teenager, to stay positive about my image—the thing we are most immediately judged upon by everyone—when my genetic make-up says I will never look model-perfect. How do you live with that? I can only imagine it gets worse as you get older. Moreover, I do not want to be around to see the day that this pressure has succeeded in ruining us.