Fighting for Beautiful

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Self-confidence isn't something that I am naturally blessed with.

Growing up, I was very self-conscious. My childhood best friend was one of those naturally attractive, great-bone-structure and perfect-skin types. When I hit my pre-teen and teenage years, I became hyperaware of how my nose, my hair, my acne-prone skin fared compared to her, even as we grew apart. My insecurities could range from mild to crippling depending on the day. It's not that I was bullied, necessarily, but people I knew and loved were, and that affected me. It made me worry and hope that I was good enough--attractive enough--to escape that fate.

I wish I could say I have blossomed into a confident, strong woman who leaves the house ready to take on the world each day. But even today, those same demons often haunt me.

You probably wouldn't know this if we met casually. You wouldn't see the anxiety and insecurity that bubbles under the surface. You wouldn't think that I "should" be self-conscious.

And maybe I shouldn't. I did all right in the looks lottery of life: average-to-tall height, no skin deformities or birthmarks, a dress size on the lower end of the spectrum ... with makeup and a little work on the hair, I can turn it out pretty well. Hell, on a good week, I can even fit into a pair of jeans I wore in high school. I am clearly a lucky woman. A wonderful and very attractive man married me and tells me 
I am beautiful.

So why is it so hard to believe him sometimes?

Why do so many women find it hard to believe they are beautiful?

Of course, the simple answer is the influence of the media: Look at the magazine covers Photoshopped to unrecognizable levels, the celebrity endorsements of product upon product upon product meant to turn your "grotesque" attributes into something a person might actually find appealing, or the fact that 90 percent of the lead characters on television shows and in movies are insanely good-looking. There are shows and blogs and websites devoted to picking women apart: their looks, size or 
fashion sense.

We are increasingly growing up in a world that insists on little girls being "gorgeous" rather than cute, where 8-year-olds suffer from anorexia, and teenagers resort to plastic surgery before they are even out of 
high school.

The media have changed our perception of health and beauty. These days, "healthy" means a size 0, 2 or 4--regardless of the damaging steps many girls take to achieve that dress tag. "Beautiful" has come to suggest utterly flawless skin, hair, face--even though most of the population isn't born that way.

It's a lot of pressure, and it's no wonder more and more women are developing eating disorders and workout obsessions (and worse) to keep up.

But the complicated answer is that it's complicated. It's not just the media--it's us. Women constantly feel judged because they are--and not just by men or the fashion police. Far too many females instinctively critique one another. Studies show that the majority of women internally assess, size up and criticize other females upon first meeting them--even if they don't mean to. Not that we need studies to tell us that--how many times have you made a snap judgment or felt judged within two minutes of 
meeting someone?

I'll be the first to admit, I love a good snarky website on celebrity fashion, and I've been known to talk trash about a Kardashian or five. And if I am truly honest, in my darkest places, I have found myself mentally cutting down the stranger in front of me, despite my best intentions. I'm not proud of that, but it's evidence of the 
larger problem.

It isn't a solely female issue, of course. Men suffer from insecurity, judgment and media pressure to reach unobtainable physical goals. Men can be hard on each other, and GI Joe is just as poor of an "ideal" for kids as Barbie is. And these issues get even stickier when less straight-forward (pun intended) ideas of gender and sexuality come into the picture.

But women are uniquely targeted, bombarded with the idea of physical perfection to the point that we may surround ourselves with things that are subconsciously damaging without even realizing it. It's ingrained in us.

These insecurities can be a weird thing to talk about, to write about. People often brush off others' feelings, saying they "shouldn't" or "don't deserve" to feel self-conscious because other people have it worse off. But, truthfully, although I know there are plenty of people out there genuinely suffering (from not only real health problems like obesity, but poverty, injustice and more), it doesn't make my zit feel any less giant and attention-grabbing.

Then there is the advice out there--focus on your positive attributes, learn to laugh at yourself, etc.--which tends to amount to, "Well, just feel good about yourself, already." But it's not that simple.

There are days I feel stunning. But there are days where I struggle to keep from comparing my own attributes to those so blessed with preternatural beauty--the ones with perfect figures, lustrous hair and a face that needs no makeup.

I'm not knocking makeup by any means. I feel most lovely with red lipstick on. And concealer is, in many ways, mankind's greatest invention. There is an element of luxury associated with a good haircut and quality makeup that makes me feel good. Being active and healthy is obviously important no matter who--or what size--you are. But makeup and exercise should be things that enhance and that celebrate your features, rather than things to be shackled to in the hopes of covering up or hiding yourself.

That size 2 over there? She might be hoping her clothes cover up a scar she's embarrassed of. That woman with the gorgeous head of hair? She might be worried about how big her butt looks in her jeans. That man in the expensive suit? He could be wondering if his date tonight will think he looks old.

We're all going through stuff. Today, tell someone they are radiant. Be specific. Today, look in the mirror and find something you like. Slap some concealer on that blemish and go out into the world knowing that most people won't even notice it, because they will be so busy hoping you don't see theirs. Throw that trashy magazine with the headline about "So-and-so's Magic Diet!" in the garbage.

All women should feel beautiful. All people should feel amazing. Let's start today.


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