Why We Need to Take the Word 'Beautiful' Back
I can’t recall the first time I was told I was beautiful, but I remember it enough to know that this ideal of “beauty” has followed me almost my entire life. From a young age, girls are often praised for their looks and paraded around like little dolls for all to admire. We get new dresses and bows and pose for countless photos as the flashes pop before our eyes, forever capturing ourselves solely at face value. “What a sweet little girl,” and “Smile for me, Sweetie,” are words that are often thrown at girls from their very beginnings; but eventually, these so-called endearing terms can turn sour and can leave us feeling unsettled and under attack. At what age will I finally stop being a stranger’s sweetheart?
With so much value being inherently placed on a woman’s outward appearance, it is no wonder that so many of us grow up wondering if we will ever be enough. One day we could be told we should be stick thin, then the second we achieve that, we are told that curves are back “in.” I think part of being a woman in our society is constantly being told by the media who we are supposed to be in order to be well-liked and successful. After all, no one likes an ugly girl, right?
We often spend sickening amounts of time trying to shove ourselves into the tiny box the rest of the world has deemed “beautiful,” when we were probably never meant to be there. And in reality, most of us will never truly “be there” or achieve the standards thrust upon us by society. I do not know who decided that it was OK to belittle women because they do not fit into one narrow view of what is supposedly “attractive,” but I do know that we need to snap out of that fairytale world and realize what it is we are truly doing to ourselves. This needs to end.
All my life I struggled to feel like I was pretty enough — enough to be accepted by most people and left alone by the harshest ones among us. But I didn’t want to be too pretty because people might chastise me for that, too. There is this delicate balance of being liked enough to fit in, but not enough to stand out, because apparently, beauty like that can also cause problems. Every day we are bombarded with mixed messages of who we are supposed to be, and every day it can get more difficult for women (and men alike) to sift through the deluge of self-deprecating thoughts to try and recover some sense of purpose in their lives. Do we even have a purpose if we aren’t beautiful? According to the world we live in, apparently not.
I think we need to take the word beauty back. It is not wrong to appreciate beauty; beauty is not inherently bad. It is when we twist a word meant to express fondness and joy into one that cuts and wounds so deeply that we begin to destroy something that was never meant to destroy us. People are beautiful for so many reasons outside of their physical appearances. I truly believe that everyone does view beauty differently, and I do not believe that is wrong. What is wrong, however, is to criticize someone for not fitting into your definition of beauty. What I see as “beautiful” might not be the same as what you recognize as “beautiful,” and I have no place demeaning you because our minds interpret the world around us differently. That fact itself is beautiful.
There are so many unique perspectives in our world and I wish we could begin to celebrate them instead of trying to cast them aside. Beauty does not have to be something we fear; we should celebrate it and recognize that all of us have so much unique beauty to give this world, if only we are given the chance to share.
I can remember many times I was told I was not beautiful. Often, I think our minds can recall those negative comments much more easily than when we were praised for our beauty. It has taken me many years to get over some of the harsh words that were used to describe my appearance growing up, and I wish my younger self was less affected by those words — after all, they are just words. Yet what so many people might not realize is that words really can do more damage than anyone might think is possible. Once someone demeans you, it can be hard not to look in the mirror and hear those words over and over again. It is as if they are written across your forehead and down your arms, exposing your flaws for the entire world to see.
As I have gotten older, it has been a little easier for me to recognize that other people’s perspectives of me are not the way I must define myself. But every once in awhile, the wrong person will say the right thing and the self-doubt comes creeping back up, longing to be back in the forefront of my mind.
This is not OK. A woman’s existence should not be consumed or defined by what other people think of her beauty. No one should ever wonder if they would have gotten the job if they were more attractive, or if I would have accepted his flirtations, I would have gotten the raise I worked so hard for. I think it is so sad that women are still fighting for the basic right to be viewed as legitimate, hard-working people, but this is also the world we have built for ourselves. And we are the ones who can take it back.
So start having these difficult talks about how we got here and how we can fix it. And the next time someone tries to tell you that you aren’t beautiful, remember that you have so much more to give the world than a nice dress and a plastic smile. Your unique perspective is what is going to save us all and rebuild what it means to be beautiful.
This piece was originally published on Thought Catalog.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Getty image via Archv