At the university where I teach and advise students, a female student scheduled an appointment with me to discuss her progress in her courses this term. I’ve known this student for about a year now, and while a rather reserved student, on this day she was a little more reserved than usual. As we discussed her courses and her outlook on the remainder of the term she felt confident in all of her courses except for one, Basic Communication Skills. A course which helps to develop a student’s public speaking abilities. While she was describing her experience in the course, instantly, I began to think of techniques to share that would assist with the fear of speaking in front of the class. In my mind, I formulated at least three to four tips that I’ve used in the past and in my opinion would be effective. However, as I listened a little more closely to her I realized that her struggles did not include wrestling with nervousness that most of us experience when speaking to a crowd, forgetting a memorized speech, or even failing to make eye contact with the audience.
Instead, she described a feeling of being judged by others in the classroom because of her appearance. She noticed on several occasions a group of male students in class would look her up and down, make comments and laugh. She noticed when other female students, whom she referred to as “pretty” presented, male students would look at them differently. In her opinion, it appeared they were shown a different kind of attention. As the conversation progressed, and to my surprise she asked, “Do you think that I’m pretty?” Immediately followed by, “I ask other people and they tell me yes but I don’t think that I am. I think they are just trying to be nice to me.” I asked her why did she feel this way, her reply, “because I don’t look like the people on the TV or Instagram who everyone says is beautiful.” “I mean, I would like to have hips like Kim Kardashian but that will never happen for me because I’m not built like that.” She then asked, “Do you think people with that body type are beautiful?” “Do you think they, referring to the Kardashians, are pretty?” (I will reveal my response later)
During our discussion, I thought to myself, “these students have enough to worry about and Social Media is adding too much pressure to their lives.” After our discussion, I realized this isn’t a student issue. Self- image is an issue that all people, particularly women, struggle with at different stages in our lives. Our struggle with self-image has been heightened since the inception of Social Media. Social Media has quickly become a medium where people, women in this case, can appear as they desire others to see them. Rather it is taking 10 selfies to get the right angle in the best light, to staged props and filters that can make your hair, skin and body look absolutely flawless. In an instant we can create illusions or even distorted views of reality and become a person whom we’ve always desired to be or look like.
This internal struggle of worth, comparison and not feeling like we are enough has always existed and the world capitalizes off of our self-esteem and in many cases a lack thereof. That is why the beauty industry, earned 445 billion dollars in 2017 according to Forbes magazine. Don’t get me wrong there is absolutely noting wrong with wanting to enhance your natural beauty, pampering yourself or doing what you feel necessary to feel confident as you present yourself to world. However, Beauty brands know that women often struggle with a “the grass is greener on the other side” complex. For example, women who are curvier in size often desire to become thinner, those who are thinner search for ways to enhance certain areas on their body. Women with long hair want short hair, women with shorter hair want longer hair. Then there is the war between women with “Natural Hair” and those who prefer “Relaxed tresses.” We have all been there. We have all experienced what I call the “she has it and I want it” internal coveting that occurs all too often on our journey to define and accept who we are, embrace our unique beauty and to truly love ourselves.
When I ponder over my student’s questions regarding my perspective of beauty and image, I realize that I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an answer because I too struggle with the same issues and questions at different times in my life. But as a Believer, I have to remind myself not to look at myself as the world sees me, nor to use the narrowed scope of the world’s lens to define who I am. Instead, I must accept, NO, WE must accept the truth about ourselves. As women who are followers of Christ, the truth is that we are PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!! That’s right, PERFECT, no flaws over here…FLAWLESS… filters no longer needed. Hear me out. God who is perfect reminds us in Psalm 119:73 (a) Thy hands have made me and fashioned me. Ladies, a perfect God does not create imperfect people. His hands designed us and created each of us the way He desired us to look, act, think, feel, etc. Need more proof, Psalm 139:14 describes that we should be in praise of God because we are wonderfully made. Imagine that, praising God because of the work He created which just happens to be YOU. He deems before Heaven and earth that you are wonderful. So often, we have been conditioned and have even conditioned ourselves to look at another woman and esteem her while simultaneously doubting our own worth. We examine and harshly critique the coils, kinks, curls or straightness of our own hair and secretly (sometimes openly) desire a different texture. We have been guilty of coveting a body type that wasn’t designed for us. Even worse, many of us have fallen into depression over physical and psychological scars that have left us feeling hopeless and at times unwanted. We do this almost unconsciously, not taking heed to what the Word requires of us. Instead of our heads bowed down in degradation our hands and voices should be raised in adoration of God for what He has created. Now be honest, in this moment, after referencing these scriptures, you cannot deny the power you feel knowing that God reverences you. It feels empowering and liberating to know that He designed you in such a special way. He refers to His craftsmanship of you as marvelous. Now, if that isn’t affirmation and enough to increase your self-esteem meter another 10 notches, I employ you to repeat His Word until your spirit captures hold and embraces the truth about you. The truth that your beauty is unparalleled, your call is unique and your purpose is divine.
So, what was my response to the questions asked by the student? I simply responded, “In media, things aren’t always what they appear, therefore, it is unfair to fashion ourselves after celebrities or anyone for that matter.” Regarding, if I thought she was pretty, I stated, “It doesn’t matter if I think you are pretty nor tell you that you are pretty. You must know for yourself that you are unique and beautiful because the opinion you have of yourself is all that matters!”
Kendra Riley is an Academic Advisor at the University of West Florida is Pensacola. She has a B.A. in English Education, a M.Ed. in Secondary Education and a J.D. Law degree. She believes that when an individual makes a decision to pursue post secondary education there is something within driving them to equip themselves to positively impact their family, community, and the world. She considers it an honor to help others on their journey to achieving success and personal fulfillment.