Today’s Daily Prompt was “Look in the mirror. Does the person you see match the person you feel like on the inside? How much stock do you put in appearances?”. Funnily enough, I wrote a post on this topic a few nights ago, and published it without really proof reading it… I’ve been meaning to edit it, but on seeing this prompt, I have decided to re-jig it a bit and re-publish it today. This post is really important to me, so I really want to make sure it says exactly what I mean. Here goes, take 2!
Every morning when I get out of bed, as I begin to get ready for the day ahead, I look in the mirror, and examine what the night’s sleep has done to my hair, my skin, my eyes. Some of my first thoughts of the day are ones that criticize my appearance. How many of us is this true for?
The more I think about it, the more I realise that there is a lot more to this simple morning ritual than just a bad way to start my day. It’s just the first moment of hundreds throughout the day where I monitor my body, and judge whether it looks acceptable. At the gym, when I’m out for a run, when I sit down in a lecture, when I walk out the door… Every time I readjust the way I’m sitting, or rearrange my hair has become an apology for looking the way I do.
Almost every day I ignore the fact that my body is capable of so much more than being looked at. That I am capable of so much more than being looked at. I ignore the fact that my body has kept me alive through the night, that a part of my brain ensured I was still breathing when I was sleeping, that my heart kept beating. I ignore the fact that I feel more energetic than when I went to sleep because my body healed itself and recovered as I slept. I just look at my body in the mirror, and seek out ways in which it is not up to scratch.
I ignore how lucky and privileged I am in that waking up warm and dry, having slept in a bed last night, is something so ordinary to me that I don’t even give it a second thought. I ignore that I am healthy enough that I can get out of bed. I ignore that I can walk across a room unaided. I focus solely on my appearance.
I don’t mean to imply, in any way, that acts or thoughts concentrated on body image are vain or self centred or selfish. That is the last thing I’m trying to say. I find that spending time taking care of myself and working on my appearance can be very empowering. I believe that you should step out the door feeling invincible everyday, and if make up, clothes or beauty products help you achieve that feeling, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I also believe that we should never feel that there is something wrong with the way we look naturally. I don’t think any aspect of society, magazine, photo-shopped image, advertisement or beauty company has the right to make us feel that way.
But they do. Every single day.
Which makes me wonder what kind of world we could live in if society didn’t teach us that our worth is determined by our aesthetic conformity to an externally determined standard, if we didn’t learn, from a young age, to self objectify, and to see ourselves in terms of how of how aesthetically pleasing we are to others. Maybe then, some of the hundreds of billions globally spent on beauty, could be put to better use. Maybe the thoughts and time and energy we put towards body shaming and comparing ourselves to others could be channelled into making real improvements in the world.
But of course, that kind of world won’t just form over night. It will take a long time, a lot of small changes which will add up. It will take a lot of people raising their voices, speaking out against the way society tries to make us all feel, and supporting people who are already doing this.
When there is some aspect of my life that makes me uncomfortable, I try to change it. This time, I wasn’t sure how at first. But I decided that I will develop a more critical way of examining the images and messages that have an effect on my self esteem. I decided that I will think more when buying new beauty products, and every time I do buy a beauty product, I will donate an equal amount of money to a charity which works on improving the lives of other people. I decided that I will work on letting go of any thoughts about my body that are not empowering or positive. I decided that I would learn to focus on all the things my body is capable of that don’t involve being aesthetically pleasing to others, and that I would start a notebook full of photos, facts, and times that show what I am capable of. I decided that I would run a mini marathon for charity, and kick ass. I will channel the energy and time and money I usually spend on self hate into something constructive. I decided I would challenge the power I let mirrors and appearance have on my life.