In the last few years there has been a strong resistance against women portrayed in the media. People rightfully complain that women are sexualized and oppressed with an unrealistic standard of beauty and activists have aimed to instill realistic views of beauty and a higher self-esteem in young women. I fully affirm their intentions and it is important for people to have a healthy view of themselves and others, but the typical model used by such individuals may not be as helpful as they think.
When faced with mainstream views of beauty people often claim, “ that these standards are unrealistic” (rightly so) and “that everybody is beautiful in their own way.” Fair enough—I completely agree. What I do not agree with is how these two ideas are then implemented in culture. The next step from individuals who are anti-media (as far as views of beauty in the strictly physical sense are concerned) is to affirm beautiful qualities in other people. These movements come in the form of “imperfectly perfect” tags or “#flawless”, where people affirm their “imperfections” and proclaim that they are valuable and beautiful in spite (and in some cases because) of them.
These movements are not problematic because they motivate people to appreciate themselves, rather they are problematic because they affirm the concept that in some form or another ones physical appearance and how one feels about their physical appearance affects one’s value. A person in these forums may say something along the lines of, “ I have scars on my knees #flawless,” but what they really mean is that the physical scars on ones knees may seem like a flaw, but really they are an asset to my perceived perfection or “flawless-ness”. This perfection does not refer to ones physicality necessarily, but to one’s very being, their immateriality (personality) included. And may I say that although this is very romantic in nature, we cannot hold physical appearance so close to our value (even positively), because it is just not realistic. Sometimes we are ugly and that needs to be OK.
Ah. Ugly, it is such an “ugly” word. You probably cringed when I said it and if I called myself ugly you would run to my rescue affirming that it were not true. The question though is why? Probably because you are afraid that if I call myself “ugly” then I will think of myself “less than” or “not equal to” others, and this is the notion that we need to kill if we want individuals with a strong self-concept. It is absolutely OK to not be beautiful, in the physical sense of the word. We need to have the self-confidence to admit that sometimes we are ugly (also in the physical sense of the word). When your playing sports, sleeping, crying, eating with your mouth open, wearing those plum pants you might be ugly. That is fine. It is okay. Human beings are sometimes beautiful and sometimes gross, and there is nothing surreal about that fact.
If we want to raise young men and women who have strong self-esteem do not teach them to add transcendent notions of goodness to their arbitrary physical qualities. Because in all reality, one day their skin will wrinkle and their hair will go drab and all they will have to cling onto is the catch phrase that “they are beautiful, if only they choose to see it.” And in the romantic sense that might be true, but it is still an insufficient foundation to build one’s sense of worth. Instead teach them that some days they will be incredibly striking, and other days will be a little rough—but what they should put their faith in is not the physical attributes of their body, but the mind inside it. Because whether or not the corporeal image is attractive, the mind shall always be enticing.. A person who knows that they themselves and those around them are valuable, both when they are physically striking and when they are rough around the edges is a person who has mastered the art of confidence and has shed off shallow notions of love.