The topic of self image and our society’s objectification of women is something I’m passionate about. Even more now that I’m raising two girls. I might eventually write more on the topic, but direct it towards men. For now, this post is mainly directed at women.
As a teenager, I was a crazy perfectionist. Okay, sometimes I still am, but I’m working on it. I used to care way too much about what others thought of me.
I’d worry that I’d say the wrong thing, so I wouldn’t say anything.
I had been convinced I was “uncool”, so I became obsessed with trying to become cool.
I was scared to death that people would discover how weird I truly was, so I tried to be someone else.
I hated telling people I was home schooled because they automatically expected me to be, smart, nerdy and socially inept. I never believed the part about being smart.
All this accomplished was people thinking I was stuck-up because I wouldn’t talk to them, wasted hours trying to look a certain way, the pain of not being myself around my peers and a messed up sense of self worth.
I wish I could tell my teenage self how trivial perfection is in the long run. I wish I would have known then what I know now. Perfection is not real. It’s a lie. It doesn’t exist. Our society would have us think perfection can be bought in a bottle or in the department store. Countless lives are being wasted trying to achieve the perfect image. I heard a statistic the other day (I can’t remember the source, I heard it on the radio.) that said a third of women would trade their IQ for larger breasts. Seriously? That’s deplorable. Heartbreaking. Is that what we’ve come to? Wanting to be defined by our looks? Wake up women! We are worth a hell of a lot more than that.
A couple years ago, I worked in the beauty industry doing hair and I can’t tell you how often I heard women complaining about their looks. They’d pick themselves apart saying, “I don’t like my nose”, “I don’t like my hair”, “If I could just lose a few pounds…”. Not only is this attitude sad, it’s unattractive.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to look nice, I wear makeup and style my hair (most days anyway) and I exercise to maintain a healthy body. I just don’t think a woman’s image is what should define her worth. The most beautiful women I know are not models. They’re real people with hard jobs, they’re mom’s, wives, students. They’re not perfect and that imperfection is what makes them most beautiful. They’ve lived through incredible experiences, good and bad. They’re strong.
The most beautiful women I know are confident women.
They’re confident that they are enough. They’re comfortable in their own skin, they wear what they like and don’t chase trends or spend all their time and money trying to conform to the world’s standard of beauty. Their beauty radiates from the inside. I truly believe that confidence affects your outward appearance.
Learning to like and even love myself was a hard lesson for me to learn. I used to be so insecure, I remember several times as a teenager, hiding in the bathroom at church because one of the boys in youth group made fun of my hair or my clothes. I took everything so personally, I hadn’t figured out that teenage boys can be jerks and not to take what they say to heart. One particularly bad Sunday of hiding and self-loathing, my dad took me aside and gently reminded me of one of the older ladies in our church who was currently being treating for cancer, “She’s here today even through she’s sick and losing her hair and possibly doesn’t feel very pretty.” He went on to tell me he thought I was beautiful and that if God loves us like it says so many times in the Bible, then we must learn to like ourselves and be grateful for the way he made us. I’m quite certain he also had a stern talk with the boys and/or their parents. My dad can be scary when he needs to be.
That talk with my dad was the first time I thought about the fact that not liking myself was sort of disrespectful to God. Like telling an artist that their creation is ugly.
Of course, I’m not perfect, I’m a flawed human just like everyone else, I’ve just learned (and am still learning) to like my physical attributes, talents, interests and life experiences. Even the weird ones.
When Josh first asked me to be his girlfriend, he told me that in order for us to be together I had to believe him when he told me I was beautiful.
I think we often fall into a habit of being self depreciating and rejecting or minimizing compliments. Learning to believe others when they tell us we’re good at something or that we’re beautiful takes a change of mindset. Society feeds the mindset that image is everything and women are objects. We hold ourselves to an impossible standard. For me that change was a long process, but thankfully I have an amazing husband who doesn’t need or expect perfection, he just wants me to be true to myself and be confident in who I am and what he believes me to be.
Women, let this be a lesson. Any man who says you aren’t good enough or doesn’t like you, unless you look and dress a certain way, is not worth your time and effort. If only my teenage self had believed this simple truth.
A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter came home from school and told me the boy she shares a desk with had called her fat. Turns out it was not the first time he’d been mean to her. I saw the pain in her eyes and felt the unspoken questions, “Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Is something wrong with me?” Two things happened at that moment. First, the mother bear in me reared up, I wanted to protect her. (Later, I called the school and made them aware of the bullying and made sure the boy would no longer share a desk with her.) Second, I made a decision to never complain about my own appearance or degrade my abilities in front of my girls. I can tell them they’re beautiful, talented and smart a hundred times a day, but they’ll never believe me unless they know I believe the same about myself.
Ladies, lets start being the women we want our daughter’s to be. I pray that my girls will be strong and self assured, I want them to believe they are beautiful even if someone tells them otherwise, but that will never happen unless I’m their example of a strong and confident woman.
Every time you call yourself fat, your daughter becomes more aware of her own weight.
When you say you hate your hair, she wonders if her own is pretty or not.
When you call yourself dumb, she second guesses her own mind and abilities.
I don’t want my daughter’s role models to be actresses or women on magazine covers, I want their role model to be me. I hope they look up to real women, like their Nana and Grandma, their Aunties and my friends who are all beautiful in the true sense of the word.
Women, lets stop being our own worst critics and start demanding the same respect of ourselves as we do from others.
And trust me, life is so much better when you stop trying to be perfect. As I get older I’ve learned to embrace my inner nerd, to just laugh when I’m clumsy, accept the fact that I’m weird and just have fun.
The first time I visited Uganda, one of my friends there, Simon, greeted me once by saying, “Bre, you are looking so fat today!” When he saw the look on my face he rushed to explain, “I’m sorry, I think in your country that is an insult. In Uganda, when we say you look fat, it means you look healthy and strong. It’s a compliment”. Another common Ugandan compliment is to tell someone they look “smart”. I think in western culture if you told someone they looked smart, they might think it was code for, “you’re a super nerd”.
I have to admit, there is something refreshing about a culture where the kindest praise a woman can receive is to be told she’s smart, healthy and strong.
Originally written on 6/15/2012