Real. Beauty.

Along with green beer and the promise of spring, March brings us International Women’s Day. Since I happen to be a woman, and I’m simultaneously raising a couple more, I say YAY! to that. If you’re not a woman? I’m sure you know one worth celebrating. So, I figured this might be a good time to dive into a topic that feels forever female to me. Self-image. I am aware that humans of any gender - and possibly that cat named Gary who posts ski-selfies in fancy outfits – might also periodically obsess about how they look, but I’m going to take a ‘write what you know’ angle on this one, and speak from my personal experience. As I attempt to guide my thirteen and fifteen-year-old girls through the complicated emotions that come with self-image, I find myself to be – in all honesty – a big ol’ hypocrite. If I overhear one of my kids exclaiming they look like crap, hate (name any) body part, or wish they looked different in some way, I fall all over myself to correct, reassure, discredit, or feverishly gush that the complete opposite is true. These are my babies we’re talking about. They’re perfect. It sickens me to think they would waste precious seconds believing otherwise. But five minutes later I’ll accidentally turn my phone on the flip image and - rather than chuckle and offer a little mercy – gasp, loudly, while the equally horrified woman on the screen gasps right back, her terrified confusion showing in deep creases all over her face. This leads me to wonder - as mothers of teenaged girls – how can we practice what we’re preaching?

While the new generation has more technical obstacles to overcome, from what I’ve observed so far, the core issue is the same. The image of female perfection that the media crams down our throats is not a realistic one. It’s a fraud. And whether it’s airbrushing and Slim Fast or AI and Ozempic, our kids are fighting the same battle we did. Correction, are. Feeling like we’re not good enough. Because the girls on Tik-Tok are literally glowing with their whiter teeth and better skin. Except, they aren’t. They’re just using a magical filter and a high intensity ring-light and maybe- and this is a new one folks – maybe they don’t actually exist at all. And yet, when we see images of people that look effortlessly beautiful, we want that, too. Feeling bad about ourselves is not a new phenomenon. Half a century ago psychologist Carl Rogers determined we have both a real-self and an ideal-self. If the way we perceive our real-self is a far cry from the ideal-self we strive for, well, we get pretty grumpy. And I’m sorry to report that I think all this fake media we’re consuming has set us on a course that’s doomed to fail. You saw the Barbie movie, right?

Speaking of feminine power and the redefining of beauty standards, I do think the next generation is catching on a lot faster than we ever did. While we might’ve been duped for years by a false reality, 
the Gen Z’s can spot a filter from a mile away. And, even better, they figured out beauty doesn’t have to be painful. We wore push-up bras and laid on our beds to zip up our jeans. These geniuses brought back Birkenstocks, Doc Martins, and when they go out on the town they throw on their ‘dressy’ sweats. So, let’s just keep reminding them how beautiful they truly are, especially when they laugh really hard, hug their sister unexpectedly, or help a stranger push their grocery cart through the snow. And maybe, every once in a while, tell that horrified woman that stares back from your phone that she’s beautiful, too.