As an oral topic, the grade 10 team at school had the students to respond to and present on articles that they found relatable. I teach three classes in the grade and found that many young girls read articles that spoke about body image and confidence. They encouraged one another to find their strengths and recognise their own beauty, regardless of the messages sold to them on social media. I admired them for speaking up and found their orals courageous, but I was deeply saddened by the fact that our ‘sharing’ has damaged our girls. It affects them negatively because they are bombarded with images of perfection and, in comparison, they feel inadequately ordinary. While they confidently talked about rejecting the ideas sold to them I wondered how they were doing heeding their own advice.
I know what insecurity feels like; my hair is my daily fight against conforming to common standards of beauty. I often turn to humorous self-ridicule to show that I relate to the feelings of imperfection, but my ridicule is merely another negative response to an already negative influence that the world has to offer. What I should do more is highlight the freedom that my acceptance of my difference has given me.
Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that I’m anti-beauty or against posting the perfect picture. If anything, I admire the skill that many makeup artists, photographers and fashion bloggers have at creating beautiful images; it’s that I see what it is doing to our girls and I want to tell another side of the story. I want us to find a way to celebrate natural beauty- minus perfect eyebrows, contoured foundation and false natural-looking eye lashes. I want us all to understand that people believe what they see, because we wouldn’t gain popularity if they didn’t. I want us to know that caring about people matters more than likes on a post; I want us to know that we can have both, but in selling perfection, we need to tell the truth about it.
We need to care enough to protect, uplift, encourage and save our girls. We need to teach them that their beauty lies in who they are.
One of my students shared a story: she has noticed how little girls are often complimented on their pretty dresses and their ribbons in their hair where, in comparison, boys are more likely to be asked about their dreams and encouraged in their abilities. It is just an example, but this idea that a woman’s worth lies in her beauty often starts early in our development. I realised that the problem that young girls face is a lot bigger, that social media reinforces messages communicated to us long before we were old enough to log in.
A friend of mine, who is educated and beautiful, often feels that her success means very little because her family members value a certain idea of beauty and have already prescribed roles for women they deem worthy of their praise. I pray that she will be free to see her light and her worth.
In a text conversation, a friend added, “We forget to just celebrate who we are because social media has given us a different perception on who we should be… setting unreal standards.”
The challenge we face has so many layers to it, but it exists. I do not know where one would begin to make changes and I’m not saying that I have the answers, either. All I know is that I want us to find ways to change the conversation, that I want us to mend what we have damaged and that I want us to save our girls.