It takes a lot to love yourself. Most of us aren’t even sure what that means. But in the last few months, I’ve seen a LOT of body hating. Some of it is directed inwardly, some toward other women. I mean, really? Voting Gwyneth Paltrow to a most-hated celebrity list? Just the existence of a most-hated celebrity list concerns me. What is the point? Why be so mean? And then there was the Dove Real Beauty ad, which felt like a little salve for a wound. A forensic artist drew pictures of women as they described themselves—they sat out of view. Then a stranger described the same woman and he drew another picture based on that description. When he finished both drawings, he hung them together and revealed them to the subject. Universally, the subject’s self descriptions were far less flattering. There are holes in the campaign, but it still struck a chord with me.
I’m probably feeling a little raw having just birthed a baby girl a few months ago. Thinking about my daughter feeling she is “less than” shatters my heart. I trace over her smooth, clear skin; kiss her baby toes and chubby thighs; inhale the scent of her peach-fuzz head. She is so happy and she is perfect. How to keep her believing that is going to be the challenge.
I got mad. I got sad. I got frustrated. I took to Facebook. I posted the Dove ad and challenged women to name something about themselves that they loved. Responses were tentative at first and I had to go to people’s profile pages and call them out when they “liked” my status—in which I set the example by listing things about myself that I liked (big blue eyes, a body that grew and sustained a baby)—but didn’t follow the directions to leave something about themselves. But slowly, it snowballed.
My favorite answers—though I loved them all—were the surprise-not-surprised ones: one mother loves her stretch marks from her pregnancy, another thought she had a great nose for piercings, another cited her fine lines as a touchstone for a life fully lived. One friend said she loved her thick thighs. Another friend said she loved her pointy chin because it was like her grandma’s. When I read over the list again, I cried, because most of the things that women valued were not things that we are told are beautiful—even though they absolutely are. It haunted me how many of my friends declined comment. Was it because they really couldn’t think of something? (Telling.) Or was it because they think the container that holds their brain and personality really doesn’t matter? I want them to wholly love themselves.
We are not who we are because of how we look. But image matters, given the broken system we’ve inherited. And I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t stand taller when she wears a dress that makes her feel like a million bucks. We need to accept and love ourselves—and be kinder to one another. As someone who works in the beauty industry and wants to see change, I am asking you to pick a few things you love about yourself. Accept them. Nourish them. Be forgiving and kind. Give compliments freely. (I have a policy of telling people about compliments I hear that are given out of earshot.) Rein in judgment. Lead by example. Make this a safe and happy world for girls and women to live in.
I had a yoga teacher once who would ask this at the end of every class: “If you could call it perfection, what would it look like, feel like, be like? In this moment, call it perfection, and know that it is enough.”
Did you hear that? Can you try to internalize that? If you’re having trouble, here it is, from me to you: you are enough. As is. The style stuff is just icing for your amazing cake.