I am her biggest critic. I’m quick to notice any flaw she has when she’s in front of me, be it an off-center hairline or an unflattering angle. I cringe at her imperfections; they jump out at me before she’s even said a word. Has she gained weight? I think to myself each time I see her. Yikes. I frown at her stretch marks; I wince at her bad hair days.
How do I notice this girl so much? She lives on the inside of my mirror.
Transitioning into middle school is undeniably rough. As teenagers, girls start seeing things in themselves they wish were different. Girls become sucked into a cycle – as we start to look more and more like women, the media pays more attention to us, and so we pay more attention to ourselves. We get really, really introspective. Girls look at themselves and think, I’m not thin enough. Muscular enough. Curvy enough. Tan enough. Petite enough. Sexy enough.
Enough! I say enough. Can you imagine treating your friends the way we do ourselves? When I see my friends, my supportive, outrageous, effervescent friends, I see none of the flaws I’m so eager to attack in myself. I see women who get so much out of life, because they’re putting so much into it. When I see my friends, I don’t see numeric measurements, heights and weights and body mass indexes. I see students and performers and leaders and athletes and adventurers and confidantes. See what I did with that last sentence? Every word I named goes along with an action. Those words have everything to do with doing something and nothing to do with how someone looks while doing it.
Today, girls’ self-images are under intense scrutiny. Women in the pre-internet era had fewer numbers to worry about – say, weight. Enter social media, and now we’re being quantified in all sorts of ways. Likes. Followers. Favorites. Retweets. Meaningless numbers, that somehow have the power to influence mood, perceived social status, and sometimes even our entire self-image. Yikes.
Complementing your friend on how hot she looks in her beach Instagram post is great and all, but it says nothing of the person behind the Ray Bans. Let’s try something new. The best way to counteract this crescendo of self-scrutiny? Congratulate your girlfriends on the things they get done. Make sure she knows how proud of her you are for saving that goal in the soccer game, or landing that internship, or nailing that solo. If we can’t change the absurd expectations popular culture places on our appearances, we still can change the way we decide to value one another.
In these posts, called ‘in her shoes’, you’ll meet some of the many ambitious, accomplished women in my life. You’ll see their shoes, too – and all of the things they’ve made happen for themselves and the places they’ve been while wearing them. Because honestly, it’s not about what your body looks like. It’s about what it has done, and does, and will do.