Beauty: Mind or Media? by Jen Leather

She stares at her reflection in the mirror, naked. Slowly, she traces her curves with the tips of her fingers, a chill heading up her spine. Her eyes follow her hand down her stomach as it caves into her gut. She closes her eyes while inhaling, hoping that if she stayed this way long enough it would all disappear. Her eyes wander to her thighs and she  feels the fat around her bones expand throughout her body. She feels suffocated. She remembers feeling sick when the words “you need to lose weight” came out of her doctor’s mouth, every appointment. Those nights with her friends eating ice cream, hearing the words “Should you really be eating that?” All the times she goes shopping, immediately searching for a plus size section. That time she was set up on a blind date but once the guy saw her, he didn’t even give her a chance. She lets go of her breath, and opens her eyes, looking at her naked body one more time. Will she ever feel beautiful?

The media gives her a goal to achieve in her life and then gives her a solution for getting there. Will she ever love her body if she isn’t loved or desired by the public eye? Will she ever be strong enough to look at herself and realise that her beauty isn’t determined by others? Will she ever understand that the only opinion that matters is her own? Or will social media’s influence on body image, once again, triumph over her ability to love herself the way she is?

Starting at the age of three, princess Disney movies has affected her, along with many others, by making her think that the key to happiness is simply love and the ability to be desired. According to TvTropes.org, Disney Princess movies use “the Power of Love …[to] be applied in dire situations to make things better. In fact, in many Disney movies, love is the solution to everything.” This stands true in her life. As a child one of her favorite Disney princess movies was Sleeping Beauty. When she falls into an eternal sleep, she can only be saved if she get the true love’s kiss. Not only does Sleeping Beauty get her kiss from Prince Phillip, but also has the luxury of this man showing his desire for her by going through hard obstacles, such as being kidnapped and imprisoned, in order to save her. This engraved the idea in her head that love and desire is the cure to everything. This perception on what love can do is morphed by these movies and resonates with her along with many other children throughout their lifetimes. She also noticed that in every princess Disney movie, the main character (the princess) has long legs, skinny waist, flawless features, and beautiful hair. This gave her the impression as a young child that she had to be tall and thin in order to be desired. Almost every little girl wants to be and look like a princess, but she never considered that it may be impossible.

Luckily for her, as she becomes older she finds that media, along with telling her what is important in life, gives her a solution on how to reach the standards that are set, which are love and the feeling of being desired. Though she started to become involved in social media at the age of twelve, according to a Daily Mail reporter, “more than half of children use social media by the age of 10”. As she got older, self-image negativity heightened as expectations increased significantly. She felt that the stakes on self image start to rise as the exposure to social media increases dramatically. When accessing Instagram, images appear on her screen. When paying close attention to likes on other pictures, she found that pictures of girls who were thin and wearing provocative outfits, like bikinis and tight shirts, get a lot more likes than others. These likes on these pictures represent the people who post the picture, and make them appear to be more desirable. On Instagram, getting likes literally determines social statuses, not only on Instagram, but also in other social situations such as high school. According to TheUltraViolet.com, “Instagram photos become part of someone’s virtual image” that carries with them through other situations. The amount of likes she gets on her photos create a lot of high stakes in her life, because in order to be popular and desired in real life, she first needs to be popular and desired online. Since teenagers spend most of their time on social media, she’s constantly being reminded of what it takes to be praised for your beauty, once again sending her the message that, in order to be desired, you must be society’s definition of beautiful. When she post pictures, since she doesn’t match the social norms of beauty, she notices that, unlike those other girls, she is not getting nearly as many likes. When looking at these other girls getting a lot of likes on their pictures of themselves, she quickly finds that something is wrong with her body. She is fat compared to them, and when she looks in the mirror, she is disgusted with what she sees. Knowing she has to lose weight to fit the social norms and find happiness, she started to go on multiple diets along with working out, often depriving herself from foods that she loved. She became depressed when the results weren’t as she thought, and the longer she tried to become perfect, the farther away she was from perfection. Though she did not go to this extreme, a good amount of teenagers will self harm in order to be like those other girls and get the final result of being desired and loved. Cameron Russell, a model, states in her Ted Talk that “of 13 year-old girls in the United States, 53% don’t like their body, and that number goes up to 78% by the time they’re 17.” Following the rules of what she knew, starting many years ago, she craved the ability to be loved and desired, and thought that those two things were the path in finding happiness. She is incapable of losing weight in order to be beautiful in the eyes of society. If she isn’t loved and desired by society, she figures that she is worthless.

The girl being described in this article is me. I wrote this in third person, by telling a story about this girl to emphasize how relevant these feelings of self hatred are in the lives of many, not only myself. After struggling for many years, and still struggling with the way I look, I have slowly come to the realization that social media shapes who we are, or at least who we think we are, and causes us to feel the need to live up to some expectation of beauty in order to gain true happiness. It’s true, everyone wants to be desired and loved by others. But what happened to being loved and desired by ourselves first? Our bodies, just like those Instagram pictures people post of themselves, are a representation of what isn’t. I’m aware that a lot of people read these types of articles thinking that it will change their mindset, and are disappointed when they fail to do so. But by writing this article, my point was never to fix you, because only you can fix yourself. It’s important to fight against society and find beauty within, without anyone else having to find it for you. I’m here to tell you that you’re beautiful. I know that may not be enough, but at least it’s a start.

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