TYRRELL: Society sets unreachable beauty standards for women

By Savannah Tyrrel on April 9th, 2014

The downpour of pressures pummeling around the umbrella of what defines success is overpowering. From external demands, we must select what will mesh with internal pressures, allowing us to thrive. As economists say: there are always trade-offs, opportunity costs. For example, if you choose to spend Tuesday at Duffy’s with a fishbowl, the cost is being unable to get up for class Wednesday.

With this onslaught of pressures, many times we choose the wrong things to focus on. Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post, addresses this problem in her book “Thrive.” She encourages a redefinition of success, after she literally ran herself into the ground trying to achieve society’s standards. She summarizes the dilemma we’re facing, “over-busyness … overconnecting on social media and underconnecting with ourselves.” She questions why we spend so much of our limited time on Earth focusing on the things “our eulogy will never cover”. With this, I have personal experience.

My senior year of high school I (subconsciously) chose to focus on the most salient success in my mind, to achieve society’s standard of beauty. The problem: I’m 5 feet tall with Ariel red hair, and no matter how skinny my waist is, I’ll always have a size large booty. Further, I get a sick joy out of pushing norms, especially when expressing my opinions. But, no matter how confident I am within myself, my heart still sinks when those high-waisted shorts that fit “every other girl” refuse to slide over my hips. Because beauty is rarely expressed as the internal qualities that truly define one as a striking person. I’m not alone. According to Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, 4 percent of women consider themselves beautiful. Soak that in.

I lived two years of my life spending hours on the stair stepper, restricting my caloric intake and visiting the scale daily. I reached 108 pounds, my clothes were falling off my body, and I stopped getting my period. But, I mindlessly eyed Forever 21 models and believed: I can look like that by losing just a couple pounds. Wrong. See statement about my height and butt.

My motivation for losing weight came from media, including social media. In a report on beauty images, CNN said, “Before social networks, we had images of … perfect celebrities. We would pass these images on billboards … flip through them in magazines, but we weren’t sitting around staring at them for hours every day.”

Not only do we compare ourselves to professionally edited supermodels, we have countless social media friends to compare ourselves to. When we do this, though, we think of their beauty as realistic. If my friends can do it, why can’t I? We rarely remember that these are snippets of people’s lives – the snippets worth highlighting. We have this assiduous, evil voice that tiptoes into our minds telling us how we need to be perceived by others — of which we have zero control.

This past week, though, I had an epiphany: perhaps it’s the perspective of others that we should truly adopt as our own. My insight came from two sources.

One was the tear-inducing Dove Real Beauty Sketches video. An FBI forensic artist sketched women he had never before seen based on descriptions the women gave him. He then made alternative sketches from strangers’ descriptions of the same women. When both were done, the women compared the results. Every single time, the drawing based on the stranger’s description was more attractive. The underlying theme: “You are more beautiful than you think.”

The second source of my realization was from a statement made by my friend within a conversation about my eating habits. She said, “Sav, you care too much. When I look at you I don’t think about any of that.” So simple, so true – no one cares as much as we do.

What people do care about is our compassion, our loyalty and our knowledge. It’s what we can offer from our souls and hearts that will leave a mark on this world. It took me two years to realize that what I see in the mirror isn’t necessarily what others see; this is something that is so innate in our minds that it is nearly impossible to understand. At first, the complexity of self-perception can be fear inducing. It can also be comforting, because whether you look in the mirror and see your individual brilliance or not, stop for a moment and know: “You’re more beautiful than you think.”

Savannah Tyrrell is a sophomore advertising and public relations major. Reach her at opinion@dailynebraskan.com.

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