One must suffer to be beautiful.
That’s what every woman is told when she complains about the excruciating pain of waxing her legs, the bunions and corns a day in high heels has left her feet with, or the hunger, dizziness, and nausea she feels when she’s on a too strict diet.
We sighs, wish things were different, and then, the next day there we are again, enduring pain to improve our looks. It’s not like women have much choice. With the exception of makeup and a haircut, pretty much every beauty treatment hurts.
Waxing, threading, diets, peels, botox and derma fillers, plastic surgery, lasers… Every year a new treatment is invented, and, while you can’t be sure of its effectiveness, you can rely on it being painful. Sometimes, even dangerous. We’ve all heard those horror stories about women ending up in hospital with serious waxing injuries, chemical peel burns, or infections from botched botox. Or plastic surgeries gone horribly wrong and diets turned into eating disorders.
But that doesn’t seem to deter us. We keep spending a lot of money, and time, on anything, however painful and dangerous, that promises to remove our flaws and make us beautiful. Why? Because feeling inadequate, flawed, and worthless hurts a lot more.
We are bombarded, every single day, with millions of images of perfect, flawless, young, and thin women. We know these images are digitally enhanced and manipulated. We know no one, not even the women in those images, look like that in real life.
But they still affect us. They make us wish we had thinner thighs, perter breasts, smoother skin. If we don’t, we feel like we have no business even walking down the street, let alone don a bikini at the beach. We feel like we have a spotlight on us all the time, and are sure that everyone around us is scrutinizing every inch of our bodies, pointing out all our flaws, and wondering why we were allowed to leave the house looking that hideous.
And so we pluck, tweeze, squeeze, peel, diet, and force our feet into shoes that hurt them, all in the hope that, one day, we will finally feel beautiful and worthy of love. But that day never comes. Instead, the standards of beauty keep getting narrower and narrower. Ten years ago, size zero did not exist. Now, it’s not small enough. Hair has become unacceptable anywhere bar the head. A thigh gap is seen as a “must”.
The media and beauty, diet, and fitness industries keep creating illusions, promoting standards of beauty impossible to achieve in order to make millions. They need to convince women they aren’t pretty enough and destroy their self-esteem so that then they can generously offer them the solutions (which rarely, if ever work) to their problems. Problems those industries have created. In women’s heads.
I don’t want to shame anyone who tried any of these treatments in the pursuit of beauty. I did too. I still tweeze my eyebrows and wear high heels from time to time. But I think it is important to recognize what we are suffering for. If we endure the pain to achieve the happiness and love that we are told only beauty can bring us, then we are setting ourself up for failure and a life of misery.
We need to redefine our definition of beauty. True beauty is not about thin thighs and luscious hair. And it certainly is never painful. True beauty is fun, happy, positive. It is in your soul, and comes from within. It’s about who you are as a human being. Your values and your personality. It’s about love. It’s embracing yourself for who you are and striving to be the best person you can be. True beauty is imperfect, but never flawed.
There are a lot of ways to learn to embrace true beauty and inspire others to do the same. Here are a few:
- Refuse to engage in “fat talk” and body shame. Speaking negatively about our own bodies is not just common. It is expected. It’s how women bond these days. But the price is too high. When you say nasty things about your body, you negatively affect your own confidence and negatively impact those around you. So, stop. Refuse to say anything bad aloud and ask your friends to do the same. Soon, those negative voices in your heads won’t be so loud anymore.
- Be kind. Instead of putting yourself and others down, be positive. Complement the women in your life for their talents, accomplishments, and character traits, like honesty and kindness. Those are the things that really matter, that makes us feel appreciated as human beings, and that encourage us to be the best people we can be.
- Put yourself in his shoes. Have you noticed that men are never told they have to suffer in the name of beauty? And they don’t worry about every little “imperfection”, like women do. Although the beauty, diet, and fitness industries are starting to target them too, men are a lot less likely to try drastic diets, laxatives, and waxing, especially in their nether regions. So, next time you are thinking of trying some painful treatment, ask yourself: “would my man do this too?” If not, don’t. Chances are what you are trying to fix is not a real problem, but one created by the beauty industry to make a profit.
- Ask why. Before you go see a plastic surgeon or decide to embark on another diet, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it because you are ashamed of yourself and the way you look? If so, don’t do it. Shame has never solved anything. It can sometimes be a powerful motivator, but a very dangerous one. Shame is what prompts us to make bad choices – like taxing laxatives to lose weight or try non FDA approved treatments to get rid of any perceived flaws – that only compromise our health.
- Go on a media ban. Ignoring the media completely is impossible, but try to stay away from as much of it as you can for a week or two. When you then come back to it, you’ll notice how much more carefree you were on your ban, and be more sensitive to the images and messages the media promotes. You’ll notice how unhealthy, unrealistic, and plasticky those airbrushed images really are, and learn to appreciate your body a lot more.
- Become an advocate. Once you learn to be critical of the media and its messages, help others do the same. When you hear someone say something negative about her appearance, tell her to stop. Tell your friends why you have stopped buying that magazine or watching that TV show. Share positive body image articles on social media. Start discussions about the unrealistic standards of beauty perpetuated by the media on forums. Take every opportunity you can to make people think about these issues.
Beauty shouldn’t hurt. If it does, you’re doing it wrong.
What painful treatments have you tried in the pursuit of beauty?