I’m walking down a busy city street and end up behind her. She’s perfect. Her soft balayage hair, silky camel trench coat and pointed black leather ankle boots. She walks with an air of both confidence and sophistication- not asking for anything but not hiding either. As my faded green sneakers tread behind her I feel as if I am sinking into myself. I just recently had my hair done, but suddenly it feels frizzier than normal. My untidy eyebrows begin to itch and my two-year-old, no-name coat weighs me down, outdated.
I walk another block behind her and watch as men and women alike take not so subtle sideways glances at her- their eyes pass right over me. I’m short but I feel shorter. I’m skinny but I feel out of shape. I’m waxed, but I feel prickly. I know you can relate to this feeling. The thing is- for the longest time I couldn’t. Feelings of self-loathing and self-consciousness never crossed me. I’ve been surrounded by extraordinarily beautiful women my whole life- women who make careers out of their beauty- and being surrounded by this only uplifted me. I felt more beautiful and more confident in their midst. Recently, I am hesitant. I shrug away from the second glances and wonder if it’s because they can tell I haven’t tweezed my eyebrows. I curse every picture taken of me rather than celebrate them as I use to.
What is going on?
I have a couple theories.
One: being surrounded by inner and outer beauty is different from staring at it through a flat non-dimensional phone screen, scrolling and mindlessly double tapping. We are hyper-exposed to the highlight reel of everyone’s lives. Selfies that take half an hour to capture and 3 seconds to post hit us right in the comparative jugular throttling our reasoning skills and convincing us that everyone looks like this all the time, and you should too.
Two: we exist in a beauty obsessed society that only lets us feel like we are “enough” when we’ve hit the beauty standard for the day. Day in and day out. While I know there’s a countering wave of women who are choosing to grow their armpit hair in retaliation, the truth is, the majority of us fight back against these harsh and unforgiving beauty standards with the very same “medicine” that is making us sick. We keep plucking, toning, tanning, dyeing, and painting until almost every inch of us is modified.
I will not get caught in the trap of guiltlessly blaming everything external to me for my internal feelings of emptiness and self-consciousness. The truth is- I buy into it all. I have Instagram and I love fashion, makeup, and beauty. I find art in it all. But sometimes it leaves me feeling hollow.
What I have personally observed is that it’s only when I am consistently glued to my streams of intake rather than output- that the trouble begins. By this I mean, I’m reading more than I’m writing, I’m listening more than I’m talking, I’m scrolling through galleries of rich forests rather than walking through them with my own two feet. This I believe is the crux of the matter. We are creatures of balance, and if our intake weighs heavier than our output we will feel it in our bones.
I have a proposition- an experiment if you will. Next time you’re feeling a little empty and self-conscious, don’t run to a mirror to fill yourself up. Try this: be beautiful in your actions. Tell someone else they’re gorgeous. Compliment someone’s smile. Help someone struggling down the stairs with a heavy suitcase or stroller. Drop some change in a homeless person’s cup and don’t just walk away. Notice them. Take them in, say hello. Call your mother and tell her what inspires you about her. Call your father or your brother or your sister and say thank you- thank you for simply existing. You can’t Snapchat these moments because they are real, they are fleeting, and they are of monumental impact. These moments are the foundation of true inner beauty that will shine outward, and you don’t have to worry about matching them to your skin tone.