I wrote this letter below as part of an assignment in a body image program I recently took part in. Whether you’re a girl or a ‘grown-up girl,’ I hope this letter is helpful.
I see you. I see you reaching, grasping, obsessing trying to achieve the appearance ideal. And I feel you. I understand, because I’ve been there before.
The truth is, we all want to be seen. We all want to be loved. We all want to feel like we are enough. We all want to feel worthy and valuable. And our society and world constantly tell us that the ‘appearance ideal’ is a key to this love, value and worth. They may not put it in those exact terms, but that is what they are selling.
But their product is a fraud. Or at best, it’s like a piece of Juicy Fruit gum. Tastes great for a moment and then quickly the flavor goes away. Making strides toward achieving the appearance ideal may feel great for a moment or two – when someone compliments you, or the number on the scale goes down, etc. – but that feeling always quickly fades away. It fades away because your body will inevitably change (it’s supposed to!). And the feeling has to be fleeting so that companies and media can continue to make money off of you. The feeling is fleeting because trying to achieve the appearance ideal is an endless cycle. The “destination” doesn’t exist on a map. Trying to achieve the appearance ideal is exhausting and it will cost you so much more than it could EVER give you.
There are so many things I want you to learn on your own in life. But I pray and hope you don’t have to learn this through your own experiences. I hope my and thousands of other women’s receipts – the costs we’ve encountered trying to achieve this appearance ideal – will keep you from experiencing buyers’ remorse later in life.
Costs of Pursuing the ‘Appearance Ideal’
- Money: Thousands of dollars on makeup, teeth whitening, brow blading, tanning, manicures and pedicures, cleanses/juices, gym memberships, fitness apps and personal trainers, face masks and anti-wrinkle cream, diet programs, blowouts, haircuts and highlights, the “right” clothes, and on and on.
- Time: All of things listed above take time, so much time. If you enjoy some of the activities (I do enjoy a pedicure!) then that can be a valuable use of time. But if you don’t enjoy the activity, that is time that could be spent on something you truly love. Ask yourself, am I doing this because I want to do this? Or I feel like I should? You could also ask yourself, ‘If no one ever sees the result of XYZ, would I still do it?’
- Relationship with Self: You were born with everything you need. Do you think your three-month-old self listened to an Instagram influencer to decide if it was OK to drink a bottle of milk at 10 p.m.? No. Your body is powerful and will tell you what it needs and when, but so many of us have lost that relationship with our bodies. We look outward instead of inward for the answers.
- Mental space – Ideas, energy, and peace: One of the biggest costs I’ve paid is this. I am saddened by the amount of space achieving the appearance ideal has taken in my brain and in my thoughts. In the book Untamed, author Glennon Doyle estimated that her body image struggle occupies about 50% of daily thoughts. She doesn’t want that. I don’t want that, but years of unconsciously consuming millions of messages about the appearance ideal can have this effect. But our brains are amazing and can be rewired. The more we can recognize and reject those messages, the more ownership we take of OUR brain. And girl, there are so many amazing ideas in that brain of yours. Ideas that the world needs. Ideas that can have a meaningful impact on your friends, family and the world.
- Living in the moment, laughter and memories: Always striving for the appearance ideal robs you of the moment. When you’re thinking of how you look, what people are thinking of your looks, how many miles you’ll need to run if you eat this piece of pizza, you are robbed of everything going on around you … the beauty of your surroundings, the deliciousness of the gooey hot pizza, the connection and conversation with your friends and family, the laughter and levity that can come when your mind and heart aren’t heavy with guilt and shame. I’ve exchanged amazing getaways/vacations for prisons when I’ve worried about how I’ll look in a swimsuit or when trying to eat and exercise “perfectly” beforehand. I’ve missed out on social engagements because I didn’t want to consume extra calories. And I deeply regret all of those decisions today. I don’t want you to miss out.
Dear girl, you are not alone. There is hope. And there is help. I am here with you, every step of the way.