I’ve long pondered what it means to be beautiful. What defines beauty? What is it about the Serena van der Woodsens — the golden girls — that is so breathtakingly beautiful?
Beauty is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. I was nine years old when my mother first told me that I needed to start exercising before school — sending me the message that I was not skinny enough. I began to compare myself to my peers, not understanding why they didn’t have to go through this but I did — they were all thin and everything seemed to come easy to them.
I continued to fall into this trap as I got older, as I started to see stretch marks on my hips and thighs. I couldn’t bear the thought of looking at myself in the mirror — a chubby 13-year-old girl who had a big nose and big teeth. I hated the way my face contorted when I laughed and eventually felt like I forgot how to smile.
As I became a teenager in the age of Instagram, I continued to become more self-conscious. My nose was too big, my lips were too small, my forehead was bumpy and red, my cheeks were too chubby, and so was my stomach. The girls around me wore form-fitting clothes, while I hid myself under big t-shirts. I hated eating. I avoided mirrors — I couldn’t bear the thought of looking at myself and only hearing the word “ugly” echoing in my head.
In junior year of high school I got really into makeup. I spent all my time watching makeup artists on Instagram completely transform themselves. I found myself spending hundreds of dollars on eyeshadow palettes, foundations, contour palettes, even eyelash extensions.
I begged my mother to let me get my eyebrows microbladed so I wouldn’t look like a 12-year-old without makeup. And yet, even after caking the makeup on my face, I felt wrong. This wasn’t what I was supposed to be.
My skin wasn’t clear, I wasn’t thin, my lips weren’t big enough, my hair was too frizzy. I had no idea where to go from there. I let my insecurities get the best of me. I looked for solace and comfort from the men in my life, knowing that all I wanted was to feel beautiful. I let them take advantage of me, simply for fleeting moments of security. They made me feel beautiful at a price. I fell apart.
This behavior didn’t leave me once I left high school, once I left social media, once I entered into a new space where I saw all types of bodies and people. I’d walk around the University of Washington campus, looking at all the alt and sorority girls, with a lingering feeling of never being good enough. I wasn’t tall enough. I wasn’t thin enough.
I stopped eating. I fixated on exercising, going to the gym before class every single day. I stopped indulging, and started punishing myself for eating too much. I lost 15 pounds in one quarter. My mother kept asking what I was doing, whether I was eating. I got defensive, told her that I was just exercising a lot, but eating all three meals. I lied to myself, I told myself that I was too busy to eat in between classes, work, and extracurriculars. I can only now admit to myself that I was starting to develop an eating disorder.
It was around that time that I really began to question whether I truly felt beautiful. I’d get approached on the street, and I’d have all my friends telling me how pretty I was constantly. The affirmations from those around me were what made me feel safe; they made me feel beautiful.
But only now have I come to realize what the concept of beauty really is. How it’s been transformed from something that is pleasing to the individual eye, into something used to foster insecurities that can be capitalized off of for monetary gain. Beyond that, how it’s been shaped by race — how whiteness is the epitome of beauty.
The inherent racialization of the concept of beauty can be seen across the world and throughout the changing trends. In the early 2000s, having big lips and a big butt, qualities most apparent in women of color, were looked down upon. And yet now, as the Kardashian-Jenners continue to get implants and lip fillers, they’ve become the definition of beauty.
There seems to be a worldwide fascination with whiteness. Whiteness is beauty, it is perfection. This is pervasive within Indian culture too, as seen through the sale of skin lightening products and a plethora of Indian aunties enforcing the idea that the lighter you are, the more beautiful you are.
There seems to be a worldwide fascination with whiteness. Whiteness is beauty, it is perfection.
Whiteness is just one element of beauty that has pervaded the world. The fatphobic ideals that have long dictated American society and beyond remain strong. This has only been exacerbated in the media, as celebrities continue to advertise detox teas and, more and more ridiculous diets that promote unhealthy eating habits.
Women are told that they have to be skinny in order to be pretty, and that they can do that by investing in ‘flat tummy teas’ and Keto diets. The narrative equating beauty to body size is only perpetuated by the fashion industry.
Victoria’s Secret, for example, has long sent the message that thin women are bombshells. Their sizes aren’t meant to fit everyone, and the company acknowledges it. “We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world,” Ed Razek, the CFO, said in a VOGUE interview in 2018.
The media uses shifting trends to send messages of what is beautiful in different stages of life. Products are advertised to us with the guise of “making us more beautiful” — clear that skin, shed those extra pounds!
And, as consumers in an overwhelmingly capitalist society, we eat that right up. We develop these insecurities based on these beauty standards perpetrated by patriarchal capitalism, only to feed the economy, and never feel like we’re enough.
I’ve spent hours realizing how deeply ingrained these standards and ideals of what I should look like are in my head. I’ve struggled with my womanhood, equating white, thin beauty to femininity. But now it is time to unlearn. It is time to remember that what the media says I should look like is a ploy, just a way to package me up and sell me to the beauty industry.
It is time to remember that what the media says I should look like is a ploy, just a way to package me up and sell me to the beauty industry.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t look like an Instagram model, I’m not conventionally thin, I still get acne. So what?
I am beautiful. I am my own golden girl.
Last updated 10/1/20
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