We live in a society that glorifies self-hatred. This is especially true for women, who are constantly bombarded with the message that they are not good enough, but it’s true for men too.
Women are constantly told that they must be physically attractive if they want to have value in our society, and in order to be physically attractive, they must have the breasts of a porn star, the booty of an athlete, and the stomach of a girl who hasn’t eaten in a week. They must have plumped up lips, fake eyelashes, make-up that creates the illusion of looking like they aren’t wearing make-up. They must be sexually available, but not promiscuous. They must be mothers, wives, daughters, students but not perfect students, making money but not so much money that they intimidate the man. They must be hard and soft, all at once. They must be something that is perfectly impossible to be, and if they fail to be it, then they aren’t good enough.
Men, too, are expected to fulfill an ideal, though perhaps not quite to the same extent. Men do not receive the message that they absolutely must be physically attractive if they want to have value, but if they do want to be physically attractive, then they must be tall and muscular, regardless of their body type. Men are expected to do well financially. They’re expected to be successful, ambitious, hard and unemotional, unfaltering, sometimes inhuman.
And somehow, if someone does manage to succeed in fulfilling one of these ideals, they’re expected to act oblivious to the fact that they did. A traditionally attractive woman is still expected to blush at a compliment that she receives and say, “oh no, me? No, I’m not that pretty.” As much as we’re over-saturated with media that tells us what, exactly, we’re supposed to be, we’re also over-saturated with media that tells us that we can’t be proud when and if we accomplish that. The One Direction song What Makes You Beautiful asserts that the thing that makes a woman most beautiful of all is not having this bride of Frankenstein body that we’re expected to have, but rather it’s being unaware of the fact that you have that body. In movies and television, it’s not the girl who knows she’s beautiful who finds love and happiness in the end, but the girl who’s self-conscious about the way she looks in that outfit, the girl who doesn’t think that she deserves happiness specifically because that other girl is so much more beautiful than she is. Self-consciousness is rewarded in our media, and maybe that’s because so many of us are plagued with self-consciousness – and why wouldn’t we be? We’re surrounded by the message that we should be! But at the same time, why can’t we be proud when we do manage to succeed?
I’m not going to lie: I know I’m beautiful. Maybe I’m not traditionally beautiful in every single way (I don’t know if it’s possible to be), but I do think that my face looks nice, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve put into my body at the gym. So if you were to tell me that I look beautiful, I wouldn’t blush and pretend to be unaware. I am aware. I worked damn hard to be beautiful, thank you, and I’m going to reap every benefit from it! And I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think that it makes me any uglier to know that.
A person shouldn’t spend their lives constantly reaching for this unattainable definition of what they should be, of course, but when they are successful at something – whether it be reaching a definition of beauty that they’re comfortable with, or achieving something in their career, or proving that they have an impressive intellect, then why can’t they be aware of it? Why can’t they be happy about the fact that they are successful? Why can’t they brag a little bit – they’ve earned the right to, haven’t they?
Well, perhaps the reason is that we as a society are so afraid of hearing someone brag about their success because they worry that, in doing so, they are inherently putting someone else down. And, yes, sometimes when people brag about themselves, they turn it around and make it all about how much better they are than someone else, and that isn’t okay. Comparing yourself to someone else is never okay. It is cruel and belittling to stunt someone else’s personal growth by telling them that you are better than them, and often times, that sort of behaviour doesn’t come from security, but from insecurity, a need to tell yourself that you are better than another person. But so long as that isn’t what you are doing, rather you are merely being proud of your own accomplishments, then why can’t you do that? What’s so wrong with being secure in yourself?
We live in a society that merely seems to be obsessed with low self-esteem, and it makes sense. Perpetuating low self-esteem in women for their appearances convinces women to continue buying products that they hope will make them better match society’s definition of beauty, and perpetuating low self-esteem in a person’s behaviour ensures that they keep acting in a very specific way. And as much as we should never stop trying to improve ourselves, low self-esteem can be very toxic as well. It can lead to depressive thoughts and cruel behaviour, and more than that, we deserve to be proud of our accomplishments. We deserve to feel good in our skin and our abilities. So, really, why can’t we?