I do not look like a model.
I don't have a perfectly flat stomach, or a perfectly rounded butt, or perfectly perky breasts. My legs aren't tan; they're pale and splotchy. My hair, I've never seen on someone in a magazine. I have big hands and feet. My nose is weird. Cover-up can't fully hide my acne scars. My eyes aren't large or sparkling; they're shadowed by dark circles. I don't look like someone who could be in a magazine ad, or on television, or even in a Macy's catalog.
Sometimes, it's difficult to love my body. To love my gray hairs, my asymmetrical face. Sometimes, I wish I looked like somebody else.
And when I went to Korea, it was even harder.
Women seem so perfect there. Girls my age wear a full face of makeup everyday. They don high heels and have perfectly cut, dyed, and styled hair. They all have manicures. And boyfriends. And they are small, and skinny, and seemingly everything a girl "should be."
In Korea, plastic surgery is much more prevalent than in the US. It's common for girls to get their eyelids done (a crease surgically created, to make the eyes appear larger and more "Western") as a gift after graduating high school. Celebrities – even the guys – have nose jobs. American celebrities might be beautiful, and just as fake, but they don't come close to the perfection of Korean celebrities.
Is changing your appearance as easy as getting a surgery?
I considered it for half a second. That's literally how long it took me to realize that I will never, ever get plastic surgery for as long as I live.
I am a product of my mother and father, both of whom I love very much. I love the details of their faces, and how they reflect in my own. Would I change that about my face? Would I trade in my history, the story written in the lines of my body, just to look more like society tells me I should?
Never. I refuse.
I'm not what you would call pretty.
I'm lucky enough, I suppose, to be kind of average. Sometimes people tell me I'm pretty – mostly my friends, and my mom – but it never feels like enough. In fact, sometimes I think I'm worse off for it; having heard just those few times that I'm pretty, I want it to be true all the more badly. I want something to prove it to me, to prove my worth. To prove to me I'm beautiful. If I could land a modeling job, I think, then that's all the proof I'll need. I could tell people, I'm a model. I'm professionally pretty.
I know it'll never happen.
It's just not going to. Sometimes, that honestly... makes me want to cry. Sometimes I look in the mirror and worry about all my flaws, and wonder if someone could possibly find me attractive. Want to be with me, when they could be with someone so much prettier.
But then I stopped, and thought, "Why am I doing this to myself?"
At some point, I stopped and asked myself: why? Why do I need someone else to tell me I'm pretty? Why do I think I need to look like a model in order to be beautiful? Attractive? Loveable? I don't hold my friends to these impossible standards – so why am I holding myself to them?
My friends, it's a totally different story. I could go on about how beautiful they are all day. How valuable, special, perfect, lovable, amazing they are!! How Marissa's smile lights up her entire face and her big, brown eyes could melt anyone's heart. How Erica's kindness fills my whole world with sunshine, and how her eyes are the prettiest in the entire world. Sara has the most amazing body, and the most fun personality of anyone I've ever met. I'd far rather spend time with any one of these girls than with someone who's super beautiful, and yet super shallow (not that I'm saying beautiful people are always shallow – just that beauty can't replace personality. No offense here!!).
Fact: less than 2% of the female population is able to achieve the ideal that the media sets forth for women's bodies.
But we are still buried under images of skinny women with impossible cleavage, legs ten feet long, and perfectly symmetrical faces. Today, young women see more images of exceptionally beautiful women in one day than our mothers saw throughout their entire teenage years.
No wonder 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance.
It's strange to realize I'm so caught up in this harmful thinking. It's weird to me that lately, I've been so stressed about my outer beauty, when I've always believed very deeply that beauty comes from inside.
We are told that our external attractiveness determines our worth – but it isn't true.
Do you hear me? It isn't true. You are worth more than your appearance could ever even hint at. Of course, it's funny that I can tell my friends that all day, and yet for the life of me, I can't get those words to sink into my own brain. It's a process. A little bit at a time. That's the way any negative attitude is turned around, isn't it? Gradually. We can't expect ourselves to have perfect confidence and self-esteem in one day. Even though I'm impatient, and I want it so badly.
How can I feel beautiful when society tells me I'm not?
I think it's got to be all about attitude. I need to adjust my thinking patterns – stop with the negative thoughts, stop concentrating on my flaws. Stop looking in the mirror and frowning. Instead, I need to go deep inside and first, question myself about what I believe true beauty is. Is it a perfect tan and glossy hair? God, no. My whole body cringes at the shallowness.
To me, beauty is a light that shines from inside of you, and fills the world around you with love, joy, kindness, and compassion. Do you give of yourself? Do you take time out of your day to love and help those around you? Are you a good listener and a good friend? Do you give yourself the permission to let go of your insecurities and let nothing hold you back from enjoying life, and living each day to the fullest? Do you smile because you can? Do you encourage others to do the same?
Then you are one of the most beautiful people I've ever had the honor to meet.
I want to smile more. Look in the mirror, and do one of those cheesy hand pistol gestures. I want to forget what other people say and be a total badass, someone who doesn't care about society or the world's opinion and just KNOWS she is beautiful just the way she is. Even when I've just rolled out of bed and my eyes are all puffy. Even when I'm not wearing makeup. Even when I'm not the "prettiest" or the best-dressed girl in the room.
I want to love myself better. Stop putting myself down. Throw this stupid modeling dream in the trash, where it belongs – next to my unrealistic ideas of what I need to be, and my self-doubt, and my anxiety about what other people think. Oh, and my need for external validation.
If you're going to feel beautiful, feel loved, feel accepted – it has to come from within.
So that's where I'm starting: inside myself. I'm going to try to give more, love better, smile often. Reach out to others, see how they're doing. I'm going to try to brush away my negative thoughts and give myself love instead.
If you've ever struggled with self-love, self-acceptance, and feeling beautiful as you are, then I'd love to hear your story. I think it can really help to talk with others who've experienced the same struggles as you. And that way, we can encourage each other on the journey :)
It's a tough road, and the journey certainly doesn't happen in a day, but we're on our way. We can do this. We're strong, capable, and yes – beautiful. Someday, we'll see the light that shines from inside us as though through another's eyes.