The women of today’s world have a problem. I’m not talking about negative body-image or self-confidence: we’re moving in the right direction with those issues. For decades the women of my generation have wanted smaller noses, darker skin, and leaner figures: anything to look like someone else. Female-empowerment campaigns, celebrities, and media outlets are slowly removing the “skinny=pretty” and “model=beautiful” stigma from women’s minds and I’m over the moon about that. We’re finally being told that our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful and WE BELIEVE IT. A huge step!
But there’s a catch. A significant catch. And it’s perfectly illustrated in one of my favorite movies: Mean Girls. The collaboration between SNL greats Lorne Michaels, Tim Meadows, and Tina Fey not only satirizes the jungle that is high school, but also raises some issues that transcend the teenaged generation and apply to greater society. Specifically, the film addresses the concept of “putting yourself down.”
Regina: “So you’re like, really pretty.”
Cady: “Thank you!”
Regina: “So you agree.”
Regina: “You think you’re really pretty.”
Cady: “Oh, I don’t kn-“ (cut off)
Remember that scene? Lindsey Lohan’s character is gorgeous and was thankful for the compliment, as any normal person should be. Should is the key word. The acceptable response to this praise is more along the lines of “oh you’re just saying that” or “thanks, but you’re SO much prettier!” As far as we’ve come in the realm of body-image, we still have one final hurdle to clear. It’s like when you’re asked to think of a number between one and ten: you’re supposed to think it but not say it. It’s become an unspoken rule that we are allowed to think that we’re attractive: we’re just not allowed to say it.
There is something inherently wrong with a society in which a woman cannot publicly admit that she is beautiful.
I’m not talking about tampon commercials or plus-size ad campaigns in which the women showcased get to say “I’m comfortable in my own skin and I feel beautiful.” I’m talking about real women in everyday life who pretend to shake off compliments even though it makes them feel special. Real women who won’t say “thank you, I’ve been working out” when an old friend says they look like they’ve lost some weight. These women know that they’re beautiful but are hesitant to say it.
Dove recently came out with an ad campaign in which a sketch artist draws a woman twice: once from her own description of herself, and once from the description of a total stranger seeing her for the first time. The portraits on the left are the product of each woman describing herself to the sketch artist, while the portraits on the right convey how a stranger sees the same woman.
The results, though not surprising, make me really angry. The women in these sketches don’t believe that they’re ugly. I truly believe that the majority of women believe that they are beautiful. So why can’t we say it? Is it human nature to default to the negative? Why is it that when I’m asked to describe myself I immediately jump to my squat, flat nose, the abnormal amount of space between my eyes, and the fact that one corner of my mouth is perpetually higher than the other? I believe I’m beautiful: I should be telling the sketch artist about the shape of my lips (which I love), the crazy blue/green/gold color of my eyes (which I love), and my strong chin that makes a V when I smile (which I love).
Maybe it’s human nature to dwell on what’s wrong instead of celebrating what’s right. Or maybe we fear what others will think if we pass on self-deprecation in favor of self-affirmation. Admit it: when I described the things I like about my face, you thought I was being a little vain. That’s the mentality we need to change!
Ladies, we need to stop dwelling on what we don’t like and start focusing on the parts we love about ourselves. More importantly, we need to stop fearing the judgment of other people: it’s not vain to accept and truly believe a compliment someone gives you about how you look. You’re not self-absorbed if you can describe yourself using the attributes you like. Let’s celebrate our beauty instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.