We are constantly bombarded with subtle and not-so-subtle messages of what beautiful is, thanks to media, advertisements, pop culture, and so on. You’ve heard this before, I’m sure. But have you noticed a growing number of people using social platforms to spread the message that the cultural standard for beauty is all wrong? Many people are out there actively fighting a war against these expectations and standards, whether or not anyone is listening. On any given day I scroll through my feed and click into videos and posts negating these messages, from a plus-size model on The Ellen Show confessing that she loves her body as it is or the “world’s ugliest woman” giving a Ted talk on choosing to be happy. It seems as if, by sharing or “liking” these posts, people are trying to pass on the message that we side with these ladies and their messages, thank you very much.
Yet, we have a long way to go still. I hope some day our cultural expectations will change. Will that be the end of us as individuals worrying about size, shape, or imperfections? It’s a no-brainer that, in addition to helping share these positive messages, we need to begin with ourselves. I do believe there comes a time when we quietly realize we’re more than what’s on the outside. That it’s more important to be beautiful on the inside.
I went through a pretty vain period during my school years where I thought my image was the most important piece of who I was. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, right? But with age (and now I’m closer to 30 than 20) came experiences – exciting ones and scary ones – ones that really make you grow as a person and see what you’re made of. We realize there’s a lot more “inside” that’s worth being proud of than “outside.” Focusing on how we look may still be there, but we begin to value our relationships, our personal successes as humans, and understand there is so much more fragile about our lives than our hair, nails, skin, what have you.
Just make a list of all the things you’ve accomplished where it didn’t matter what size you were, how your hair looked, or whether or not you had a zit on your chin that day. Yep, these are all your real accomplishments.
Unless, of course, you’re a model, where many of your accomplishments are tied into your image. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a model. In fact, here’s a little known fact about me: I went to modeling school when I was a teenager.
Before you go thinking model as in Tyra Banks or Heidi Klum, let me be honest and tell you that my parents signed me up for the modeling program because of my low self-esteem. True story. I didn’t trust (or really like, for that matter) the girl looking back at me in the mirror. I wasn’t comfortable with how she looked or how timid she acted. I’m so glad my parents noticed this early on.
Perhaps the philosophy of modeling school is that beauty and taking care of yourself outwardly go hand-in-hand with confidence and building yourself up on the inside. Not all of us were there to be the next Victoria’s Secret model. In fact, 99 percent of us weren’t and we wouldn’t make the cut anyways — by society’s standards, of course.
I remember learning how to apply makeup and shape my eyebrows (though nobody forced me to pluck them), I remember walking the cat walk in heels and a hand-me-down homecoming dress while demonstrating poise and good posture. I remember being coached on resume-building and personal portfolios. And I can honestly say I remember hearing the message “Carry yourself with confidence” more than I remember hearing “This is what you do to be beautiful.”
Having said that, confidence doesn’t come overnight or even during months of classes at John Casablancas Modeling and Career Centers. For some people it takes years to like who you are or to believe in yourself. Maybe you wait to hear it from others, and unless you receive flattering remarks you don’t believe your own high opinion of yourself. But confidence comes on its own with time, and usually without anyone else’s help. I can tell you from experience, confidence comes from having a full life, a story to tell, seeing the world, being well-read, having hearty conversations, having a backbone and thick skin, being generous and considerate, talking about people and situations positively, living on the bright side, being mindful and balanced, challenging yourself, doing what scares you, making others happy, having a contagious attitude, laughing and making others laugh, achieving your goals, following your dreams, or being authentic.
There you have it – being beautiful isn’t anywhere on this list. Ideally, if you have even a fraction of these things going for you, you won’t care what you look like, because your life will be rewarding in other ways. That’s being beautiful on the inside, that’s having a beautiful life, and that’s having beautiful confidence.
And that, my friends, is what beautiful is.