Beauty is Pain
"Beauty is pain." Boy, were they right.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard how toxic social media can be, I’d buy out Instagram. But we never dive deep into the “why’s.” We are the first to acknowledge the negatives of a comparison culture, but we are also the first to feed into it. Why?
Why is the world’s standard of beauty something that doesn’t represent me? Why am I regularly finding myself trying to become something I know I am not for the sake of others? What is the real truth behind this “toxicity”? What can I do about it?
This pressure we feel to look unrealistically "beautiful" is something that is hard to put into words. I mean, after all, no one is forcing us to do anything.
I was introduced to the idea of the panopticon, and it has given me the vocabulary to best explain this feeling of “pressure.” A French philosopher Michal Foucault created the panopticon as a way to explain the relationship between systems of power and those who were forced to follow them. He explains this metaphor in the form of the “perfect prison system.” It has helped me a lot.
In this prison, all of the cells containing inmates form a large circle with a tall surveillance tower in the middle. The surveillance tower located in the center enables the guards to view the cell at any time. Now let's add one-sided mirrors to the tower- no prisoner can see inside the prison guard tower, but the guard can still see the prisoners. So not only can the guard see every inmate at once because of its circular architecture, the prisoners can never tell if they are being watched or not. This causes the prisoners to self-regulate, self-discipline, and always be on their best behavior. Now the best part about this is the guard doesn't have to even physically be in the tower because the prisoners would never know the difference.
Let's apply this to beauty. No one is putting a gun to your head telling you to get Botox or a boob job. No one is forcing you to have a flat stomach and a curvy figure. No one is telling you drop some pounds and Face-tune your muffin top. No one is making you do anything.
But why do we still feel like it? We can't point blame at an individual, or an influencer, but rather the system that constantly puts pressure on us to fall into these unrealistic beauty standards.
So, what is this “system?” Abusive marketing practices, magazines, social media, aspects of porn, oh my! Today’s youth are brainwashed to believe in these false standards of beauty: the model with 3 million followers, the porn star with the submissive personality and designer vagina, the Playboy Bunny with thousands of dollars of work poured into her. Our standard of beauty is someone who is unrealistic, unattainable, and just not us.
Those women are beautiful in their own right and good for them! They should be proud, and we should be supportive. But know you are equally as beautiful! Even society's "most beautiful" women feel this pressure too. Both men's and women's ideas of beauty put pressure on us all to change into something we aren't and never will be.
The worst part is how many industries capitalize on making us feel ugly. Ugly is a powerful political tool. Companies will forever make you believe that you need their products if you want to be "beautiful."
Think of how many beauty commercials or advertisements you see in a day. Who are they usually catered to? Why do I see so many commercials geared toward fixing physical “flaws” of women and very few toward men? Should our number one priority life be looking beautiful? It seems as if the advertising world thinks so. Who has the most influence over our hyper consumption lives? The advertising world. What they say goes.
As prisoners in the beauty panopticon, we self-regulate to societal pressure while the prison guards strengthen their power by profiting off our low self-esteem.
Jessica Valenti describes beauty standards as a "shut the fuck up tool!" Beauty is our biggest roadblock in the way of achieving who we want to be. The beauty myth distracts women from reaching their full potential. Imagine if we spent as much time and money trying to look beautiful as we did work on who we are. The unspoken systematic mechanisms feed off our body image issues to maintain the power, control, and profit they gain from us.
Have you ever noticed how many programs and hosts are dedicated to judging women's appearance before anything else? Why do girls always have to worry about their appearance online or to the public, and guys don't? Why will I always get more likes on a swimsuit picture rather than a picture of me doing something I love?
So, what is there to do?
Flip your middle finger off to the system! What do THEY know about beautiful? What is beautiful about you is your spirit, your intelligence, your kindness, and your drive. Not your ass, your boobs, or anything else that is going to fade away in twenty years. When your body fades with age, your inner beauty will not. Let’s start to invent more in who we are, rather than what we look like.
Remember to prioritize your health. Health is not a shape, and it comes in all different sizes.
Confront your "why." Why are you really posting this, eating this, or editing this? It is really difficult to admit that you are doing it to please others even though it is slowly killing you. I can't tell you how many times I have posted on Instagram, so that way, people will make me feel good about how I look. Sometimes even just to get boys' attention. That is okay! That is normal! But let's start working toward acting upon things that genuinely make you feel good about yourself inside. We all know how devastating it can feel to think we are looking our best on social media, but as soon as we scroll and see someone hotter, we are back to the self-deprecating place we started from. Admit why you do certain things, and then reclaim it.
That being said- don't feel bad about appearance boosters either! Let's rock heels, boob jobs, makeup, and skirts because WE want to. The point is to do what makes you feel incredible about yourself without being a slave to the system. I love putting on mascara, blush, and braless tops, and I am proud of that! Those things actually make me feel more like myself. Buy your products because you want to- not because you feel like you have to for someone else. Whatever makes you genuinely happy makes you powerful. Never feel bad about buying whatever you want...but recognize your power in having the choice to oppose the screwed-up systems and even more screwed up social norms whenever you want to.
Defying these made-up beauty standards opens doors for other women. As a young woman, nothing is more powerful than seeing a strong woman I look up to not cave into that BS and march to the beat of her own drum. Challenging the system will challenge the people. Force people to see us for who we are instead of only knowing what we look like. In doing so, you’re contributing to something greater.
Lastly, try to love yourself a little more. Trust me, I know it is easier said than done. It is about time we stopped hating ourselves so much. It is time we start taking ownership of our lives and becoming the leaders we all know we are. Loving yourself a little more each and every day is the most badass act of rebellion in the world.
You aren't alone in how you feel...which is why we need to tackle these problems together. Change starts in small acts of resistance. So, go out and be a little more unapologetic about you today.