Ever find yourself scrolling through Instagram, comparing yourself to influencers and models, wondering how on earth they look so much younger, prettier, thinner or better in a swimsuit?
In fact, as I write this, I can hear myself thinking.. “Am I EVER happy with how I look in a swimsuit?”
Well, if this is you, you’re not alone. I’ve lost track of how often I feel this way - and it is for that very reason that “The Beauty Myth” has changed my life because it has changed the way I feel about myself, and as a result, others. And it is for exactly that reason that I think - no scrap that - know, you should read it too.
You see the irony of comparing ourselves to magazines and Instagram feeds is that we know the beauty standard Instagram elevates is unrealistic and most of the time it isn’t even real - with its filtered and photoshopped images, alongside perfectly-coordinated poses.
And yet, we still scroll on auto-pilot, often linking our self-worth to how many likes, comments and DMs we do or don’t receive. We find ourselves stuck in this endless loop of comparing our everyday selves. And it’s sometimes our frumpy, comfy selves, snuggled on the couch, feeling full, satisfied and guilty (all at the same time) after snacking on chips, burgers and ice-cream - compared to other people’s highly curated, glossed over and touched up highlight reel. The comparison itself doesn’t even make sense. But then, emotions are never logical.
Despite the pain and harm, it becomes an addictive process.
Well, enter The Beauty Myth, written by the incredible Naomi Wolf - my AA sponsor to the addiction confliction of Instagram. Wolf’s wisdom made me realise that we are not irrational at all to compare ourselves to other women. There are compelling reasons why we do this – on a deeper level, it’s systemic and rooted in the historical oppression of women in order to maintain the patriarchy. Reading her words helped me regain some logic back into my illogical behaviour which helped me tap out of the never-ending loath-scroll. I finally understood why I had been programmed to behave that way, and understanding the why helped me regain control.
To give context, the First World War is an early prime example of the orchestrated and systematic oppression of women. It was the first time where women were empowered with jobs while the majority of men went away to fight for their country, and their eyes opened to a new social consciousness. A new way of life, and a sense of independence.
Of course, we know what happened once the war ended - men returned from the trenches and wanted their jobs back. The government wanted to make that happen too. The only problem? Women had grown to believe that they could be more than just housewives - and were truly emboldened by their ability to earn their own salary (oh the gall!).
Rightly so, many women wanted to keep working. So what’s a government to do when they need to get women back into their “place” and relieve fears that male veterans would return to an employment market saturated by women? Create a social narrative that values women’s domestic prowess and flawless beauty over brains and agency, that’s what.
Three million American and one million British women were eventually fired or quit their jobs, while women’s magazines, with the support of the government, swung back to the narrative of domesticity, with the glamourisation of household products offering women ‘spiritual rewards’ and a purpose.
Modern advertisers started selling diet products and cosmetics, with the ad revenue for cosmetics offering $650 million to the magazine industry in 1989. And, voila! The new narrative emerges, one that relates a woman’s worth to their beauty, the attainment of which provides happiness and status.
Fast forward time and we’ve seen industries from media to movies to beauty companies profiting from the unrealistic ideals placed on women. But it doesn’t stop there. The cultural engineering of insecurity in women has been manipulated by so many other industries where men are at the top, in order to achieve commercial gain – whether it’s weight loss, plastic surgery, tanning, fashion - the list goes on.
Today, when we look at Instagram, we can see how it absorbs decades of this oppressive narrative in which so many of us measure our worth by the visual pleasure it provides for others.
So what did I learn from this?
That there are deeply entrenched, structural and socio-political reasons why we say to ourselves, “I must be wrinkle-free’, “I must be beautiful”, or “I must be thin”.
That the reason why we constantly strive for perfection is not our fault – it has the weight of decades of the patriarchal system manipulating us to feel this way.
And that perfection in itself as an ideal was historically fabricated to subjugate us and to profit from us.
We still feel its full force - if we look at the last couple of decades, one minute we’re “told” the ideal is to be blonde, light-skinned and thin like Kate Moss - the next, it’s to be tanned, curvaceous and dark-haired like Kim Kardashian - we can never win. And that is entirely deliberate. It’s to keep us distracted.
I also learned that we, as women, can achieve so much more than we think we can. We are SO much more than mere decorations that exist for other people’s viewing pleasure. That when we free ourselves from this limiting belief, we become free to achieve our potential.
To use Wolf’s words, “the real issue has nothing to do with whether [we] wear makeup or don’t, gain weight or lose it, have surgery or shun it, dress up or down, make our clothing and faces and bodies into works of art or ignore adornment altogether. The real problem is our lack of choice.”
We can wear what we want – eat what we want – do what we want – and it is entirely in our ability to discover our own path, free from oppressed programming, and to find out what composes our own strong sense of identity.
I think this is incredibly liberating to know, don’t you?
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