We are all familiar with the impact of unattainable beauty standards. Almost every single woman in America has had her fair share of frustration when considering her appearance in comparison to a Photoshopped version of a woman in an ad campaign. But what about the broader implications these standards have on women?
After a long time of trying to conform to these unattainable standards myself — I was a competitive swimmer for 20 years — I set out on a mission to recreate my body and my self-image. As you can probably guess, Speedos don't leave much to the imagination and when I hung up my suit after the 2008 Olympic Trials, removing that external pressure source provided some much needed distance from a time where only a thin layer of fabric separated me from the outside world. Not that things are any easier for non-athletes, though! Between Victoria's Secret catalogs and hearing an ad for a new diet every five minutes anytime you watch TV, it can be treacherous for any girl's self-image. I started to question whether it'd be possible to exist in a world so laden with external cues about how we're supposed to look, and how we're supposed to feel about how we look, without relying on them to determine how much we love ourselves.
We don't exist in a vacuum, so it will never be a plausible choice to simply ignore these external standards. Since I've started blogging about my own journey towards valuing myself, I've been met with tons of encouragement, commiseration as well as solidarity from other girls and even plenty of men. But what has continuously surprised me is that when I do experience criticism (of the nonconstructive variety), it is always, unfortunately, from other women.
Womankind has been making great strides over the last half-century to achieve more equality with men and to break free from some of the most unreasonable and unattainable standards placed on us. We seem to have arrived at the idea that, in theory, women can do anything that men can do but in practice, we're often still collectively our own worst enemies.
A recent study even found that women are four times more likely than men to be self-deprecating. Unsurprisingly, this tendency helps explain why women occupy only 12.5% of executive board positions. Women who reach these levels are often cited for their traditionally "masculine features; namely, confidence and the ability to assert themselves effectively."
We're encouraged to be brave and work hard to become professional successes, but what about when we meet women who exude confidence in their social lives? It seems so frequent that women combat unrealistic standards for their physical beauty, femininity and abilities that we are legitimately put off by women who seem to be successfully challenging these ideals. But it doesn't have to be this way!
Just like the career women that forged a path into the testosterone-fueled corporate boardrooms, women finding and expressing their individual beauty and strength can help elevate that status of all women. If a woman stands up and declares, "I love myself and I think I'm beautiful and worthwhile," that doesn't mean she believes she is perfect. She's just recognized that there is no such thing as perfect, so her time and energy is better spent on love and support. I started blogging because I wanted to spread the love I was finding for myself and, consequently, for all women.
We're so much better off fighting together against ridiculous standards for the way we should look, think and act than we are fighting against each other. We need to give each other permission and support to love ourselves for the incredibly unique creatures we all are. We need to give each other permission to stop comparing ourselves to each other because we need each other. It's as simple as that.
Second image courtesy of Wellreadhostess.com
Check out Jessica's uplifting blog at onegirlnodiet.com.