written by Bridgett Burrick Brown
We are so much more than our beauty. Still, unrealistic beauty ideals, primarily for women, are deeply ingrained in our society, teaching us that our worth is closely tied to our appearance. This leaves women spending enormous amounts of time, energy, and money chasing something that is often impossible. From a very young age, girls are taught how to look, act and exist in the world. The constant media messaging enforces an idealized image of women, leaving them to equate a large amount of their worthiness, confidence, and success with their physical appearance.
We have been taught that everything about a woman is secondary to what they look like. When little girls grow up thinking the most important thing about them is their appearance, they often wage an internal war with their beauty, bodies, and mental health. So beauty ideals are not just unrealistic --they are also harmful! The consequences of this pressure to be "perfect" are significant and create never-ending insecurities and mental anguish.
So what exactly is the beauty ideal?
The beauty ideal is a specific set of standards that dictates what it means to be "beautiful." Although we are starting to see more representation in advertising with more body types, genders, and skin colors, the beauty ideal is still woven deep in our psyches as an image of thin, tall, flawless skin and Eurocentric features. This very narrow definition stigmatizes people who don't fit into beauty industry standards, leading to self-esteem issues, perfectionism, body dysmorphia, disorder eating, discrimination, racism, and fatphobia.
The beauty ideal also leaves girls and women waiting until their bodies are smaller, their skin is smoother, or their hair is straighter to participate fully in life. We start to live on the sidelines of our lives, and we don't foster or nurture the other parts of our life that could be magical. Even when I was working regularly as a model and perceived from the outside to be the picture of what society calls beautiful, if I didn't feel good on the inside, I didn't feel beautiful.
We are more than our physical beauty, but it's a conscious choice in a world constantly telling you otherwise.
The beauty industry thrives on our insecurities, creating products that promise to "fix" our perceived flaws. Go to a cosmetic dermatologist, scroll a toxic influencer's Tik Tok or visit a Sephora, and you are bound to walk away feeling like you have at least one thing to improve! But there is no beauty fix for not loving yourself. There is no beauty fix for self-compassion. And there is no beauty fix to living authentically. When we constantly examine ourselves from the outside-in, we are self-objectifying and living outside our bodies. We need to get back in our bodies and let the beautiful wisdom of our hearts and intuition guide us.
So how do we do this?
I have learned that I feel the most beautiful when my body, mind, and spirit feel healthy, whole, and grounded. When I am authentically me — no apologies for who I am, how I show up in the world, and when I'm not trying to fit into the rules or boxes society wants me to. It's time to collectively break the boxes and know that we are more than our physical beauty.
So let's first say no to the noise --- no to the media, advertisements, influencers, etc., telling us something about us is flawed, our bodies should be a little bit smaller, or that aging for women is something to be ashamed of! Let's say no to the rules that society, the patriarchy, and the beauty ideals hold us to. We can do this by supporting and encouraging an inclusive beauty industry that does not discriminate against people based on their physical appearance. Beauty brands, fashion brands, all media, and influencers should be held responsible when promoting unrealistic beauty ideals, as it's significantly impacting our mental health, including our children. Expand your social media scrolls to be more inclusive of diverse body types, skin tones, genders, and other physical attributes (and as your children get social media, encourage them to do the same!). By breaking away from these ideals, we can create a society that is more accepting, inclusive, and compassionate towards everyone.
Next, get in tune with YOU. Learn about your intuition, your inner knowing, and the deep, deep wisdom you have as a woman. Get back into your beautiful body by nourishing it, moving it, cherishing it, and caring for it. Bonding with your body might seem daunting at first, but little by little can get you to a place where you might look in the mirror and genuinely say, "Dear Body, I love you."
Finally, celebrate the things that make YOU unique. Make a list, write them on sticky notes, and stick them around your room. Listen when someone compliments you and try to take it in and believe it. Celebrate the unique beauty of your family, friends, and strangers you see on the streets. We are so much more than one narrow definition of what is considered beautiful.
The obsession with the beauty ideal that keeps us controlled and chasing perfectionism can end, but it starts with us. It begins with us challenging and broadening our view of beauty and following our own definition. Do it for yourself, but do it for your daughter, your granddaughter, your Mom who doesn't yet have the courage, and do it for your friend and neighbor. We can start a domino effect, break the boxes, destroy the toxic environment we've been raised in, and create a loving and diverse one for the next generation! Collectively let's free ourselves from the shackles -- because we are so much more than our physical beauty.