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Loving Yourself in a World That Says You Aren’t Enough

How to stop being complicit in the beauty-by-comparison game

Photo by Omar Lopez

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a compliment that starts with “You’re so pretty for a…”?


You’re so pretty for a big girl…
You’re so pretty for a black girl…
You’re so pretty for a redhead…

Then there are the variations on that theme:

You’re so fit for a mom…
You’re so smart for someone who didn’t go to college…

You’re so strong for a girl…
You’re so sexy for someone with short hair…

It lands like a compliment, flattery first. But then it stumbles. Makes you feel smaller, more self conscious.

Separate.

As though you should feel privileged for being considered beautiful with your dark skin or ample thighs. As though strength, brains, or hotness are things reserved for other people. Other people who are not you.

The problem with these kinds of statements is that the people making them often have the best intentions and zero awareness of just how damaging they really are.

Even more problematic is the fact that it’s not just men or senile grandmas who make statements like this. 

We women do it to each other all the time.

While the health and wellness industry tells us to love ourselves, we continue to tell each other to love ourselves less because we are too dark, too fat, or too single.

We say things like “You’re still single? But you’re so awesome!” or “Wow, that dress looks great on you — I wouldn’t think you could pull that style off!” or “You’re so lucky your skin is so light.”

Why we do this

We live in a society that projects certain physical attributes as better than others — whiteness is better than blackness, thinness is better than fatness, delicate features are better than strong features, big breasts are better than flat chests, long hair is better than short, young is better than old, and on and on.

This damaging hierarchy has inspired countless “beauty” trends like skin bleaching, plastic surgery, hair extensions, and eating disorders that run the gamut from compulsive overeating to orthorexia.

Take the recent controversy over the pulled Dove advertisement, which showed images of a black woman removing a brown shirt, appearing to transform into a white woman. The outcry was immediate — Dove pulled the clip and issued an apology. But the fact remains that many people — including Dove, the creative team who made the clip, and at least some of the public — thought that was an effective way to communicate a message about cleanliness and transformation.

“If there is such a thing as ‘self-hate,’ our entire society undoubtedly engenders it,” wrote Dr. Yaba Blay in her article Beauty and the Bleach: This Issue is More than Skin Deep.

What we can do

Start with an open conversation.

You may not be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but you can walk with them. You can ask them what it’s like and seek to understand. The more that we as women of all shapes, sizes, and complexions can come together and communicate about the emotional damage caused by the discriminatory standards of beauty we face, the less likely it is that we’ll perpetuate them.


Educate yourself.

Do you know the origins of certain beauty trends, like head wraps or waist trainers? Understanding the history and symbolism of certain practices or styles allows you to make informed decisions about how you silently participate in the cultural conversation around beauty and power.


Think before you speak, even to yourself.

The next time you discover you’re comparing yourself or someone else to one of society’s prescribed beauty ideals, take a pause before you say a word. Ask yourself these questions:

Is this compliment based on some sort of “X is better than Y” thinking?
Does this statement celebrate the fullness of who this person is, separate from who the world thinks she should be?
How would I feel if someone said this to me?


Set a good example, even when no one is watching.

Would you talk to a little girl the way you talk to yourself? Would you want your daughter, sister, or niece to feel ashamed about their complexion, their size, or the texture of their hair? If they could read your mind like a textbook, are those things you want them to learn? Even if you don’t have a little lady in your life, the way you treat yourself and the women around you either feeds a more compassionate, empowered collective feminine energy or sabotages it.

Being yourself is important. Self-love is a beautiful, healing thing. But they’re not so easy to come by in a world that insists one standard of beauty or being is better than the other.

When we build each other up, we build up ourselves and pave the way for the next generation, so that it might be an easier road to travel for them.

You’re beautiful, sister.

Originally published at www.besteas.co

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