What is beauty? The definition of beauty has changed through the ages and continues to do so even in the present day. In our society women have become fixated on trying to achieve the image of beauty that has been pushed upon us by fashion models, movie stars, and magazine covers. We must be lean and thin with only a slight hourglass shape to our silhouette. We must have flawless skin with no blemishes or stretch marks from head to toe. Our hair must be glorious shining waves that float around our head in a perfect halo. We spend hours at the gym each week and then countless more hours plucking, scrubbing, waxing, moisturizing, curling, and who knows what else, in our attempts to be beautiful. Well at least some of us do. Those of us (myself included) who do not spend our valuable time obsessively trying to achieve the impossible are looked down upon, and even ridiculed for the misconception that we just don’t care how we look.
In recent years there has been a move towards dispelling the myth of the perfectly beautiful fashion model or movie star. Revelations on just how much the photos used in magazines are airbrushed and the use of different lighting and lenses for filming movies have begun to get women to accept reality. There is no such thing as perfect beauty, and the relentless pursuit of that ideal is futile. It is slow going, and most women still do not see themselves as anywhere near beautiful. We still compare ourselves to other women and most of us fall way short of beautiful in our own eyes. I don’t personally know anyone who is completely comfortable in their own skin, and I certainly do not think that I am beautiful, even on my best day. I don’t think that I am a hideous troll that should be living under a bridge somewhere. But beautiful? Nope, not me.
Why am I writing about this today? A couple of days ago, a dear friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post that started me thinking about perceptions of beauty. The post was a video put out by Dove as a part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty.” The campaign is 10 years old now and aims to celebrate the physical variations of women and to inspire us to be comfortable with ourselves. This particular video is almost four minutes long and shows women from different parts of the world approaching the front entrance of a building. There are two doors for these women to choose from; over one door is the word “average” and over the other door the word “beautiful.” The vast majority of women shown chose to enter through the “average” door. The point of the campaign is to get women to choose to see themselves as beautiful.
As many of you know, my 22-month old daughter has a congenital heart defect. She has already had two open heart surgeries, and she will need at least two more surgeries in her lifetime. She has a “zipper” scar along with several scars from drainage tubes on her chest and tummy area. As she grows up, she will have to battle all of the normal insecurities that young girls go through regarding her appearance, but she will have the added insecurity over her scars to deal with. The subject is something that my husband and I have talked about a couple of times already. How can we help her to be proud of her scars instead of ashamed? How can we guide her into loving her body, scars and all? At this point in her young life, she is fearless and confident, and we do not want for her to ever lose those qualities. While we still have time to figure it out, it is something that is on our minds already. For us, her scars serve as a reminder of what she has fought against, and proof that she has won those fights.
Earlier this month a Facebook request from country singer Mark Gentle went viral. His son, Carter, is 7-years old and has already had five open heart surgeries. Carter expressed a fear that people would think he was ugly because of his scars, and Mark asked fans to comment on a picture to help his son feel better about himself. The response was amazing, spreading well past Mark’s fan base and out into the larger world of the internet. That photo received more than 200,000 likes the first day after it was posted, showing that there are so many kind people in this world. Those people, and the countless others who have commented their support since that first day have done a lot to ease the fears of that frightened and sad little boy, and it warms my heart.
After my friend tagged me in that Facebook post, I began thinking about my own self-image. More importantly, I began to question what impact my own lack of self-esteem will have on our beautiful girl as she grows up and begins to face her own insecurities regarding her body image. Children learn everything about how to cope with life and the world at large by watching the people around them. How my husband and I think and feel about ourselves will have some influence on how she views herself. This realization is startling because, to me it isn’t a big deal that I don’t see a beautiful woman looking back at me from the mirror. But to my daughter, it will make a huge difference. So from this point on, it is my goal to choose beautiful.
I would welcome any thoughts on this subject. Any suggestions on how to help not only my daughter, but myself as well.