You Don’t Have to Be “Beautiful” to Be Beautiful

I’m not beautiful. Maybe you’re not either. Should it matter?

This might seem to contradict everything you’ve ever learned about body positivity and self-love. But for me, it’s the only message that ever genuinely helped me appreciate myself for who I am without feeling like I needed to focus on society’s physical beauty standards. It helped me understand that looks shouldn’t—and don’t—matter.

It’s no secret that women are held to fluctuating, but seemingly always-unreachable standards of outward beauty. Recently, women have been trying to redefine that standard by making physical beauty more inclusive and accessible. Ever seen a “smile, you’re beautiful!” sticky note on a bathroom mirror? Or something on your social media feed cheering on a company that had makeup-free models? If those messages haven’t really improved your self-image, you’re not alone.

University of Iowa freshman Meredith Bateman observed that “… these makeup-free models…they just alter their bodies to look naturally pretty. Before, if you didn’t wear enough makeup, you weren’t pretty. If you aren’t naturally beautiful now, you aren’t pretty. Nothing’s ever good enough.”

Actress Jennifer Lawrence, makeup- free for Dior

By redefining the outer beauty standard, you’re still pushing a standard. And as long as this standard exists, women and girls will feel excluded. Seeing those sticky notes and “inspirational” posts always leads me to think, “Well, that beauty doesn’t apply to me.” Merely having this standard leaves the impression that physical beauty is inherently fundamental to being a woman, and that your appearance is something to be concerned with.

All the positivity posts in the world won’t help women and girls gain self-confidence unless they learn that outward beauty isn’t important.

I spent a long time trying to cram myself into a box labeled “beautiful” because I thought it was necessary for me to look beautiful. How would I date if I wasn’t pretty? How would anyone love me if I was just average-looking?

Eventually, I found myself wondering why I cared so much about how I looked. I had better things to do than pick apart my reflection in the mirror, better things to do than doubt whatever outfit I put on because of how it made my hips look.

What I should have been doing was telling myself: Hey, it’s okay. Even if you look average, even if you look “ugly,” that doesn’t take away from you as a person. It doesn’t take away from who you are. Looks are irrelevant compared to all other aspects of yourself. It genuinely does not matter if you’re not pretty. Working on who you are as a person, working on your friendships and your relationships, is far more important than the shape of your face or the length of your eyelashes. Focusing on your exterior, which is so temporary, only takes away from the focus you should be putting on your thoughts, ideas, and character.

Instead of convincing yourself that you’re beautiful, tell yourself that it’s okay to not be. Taking the focus off of outward beauty will allow you to open up to a new kind of self-confidence—one that doesn’t depend on whether your eyeliner is cooperating with you or whether your eyebrows decided to go “cattywampus” for the day.

It takes time to adjust to this method of thinking, and it can be extremely difficult. I struggled—and continue to struggle—with placing myself outside of the definition of physical beauty. But focusing less and less on how I look and unlearning the obsession has been one of the healthiest choices I’ve ever made. Developing a self-confidence reliant on who you are as a person, instead of your exterior self, is a process that’s well worth the end results.

So yeah, I’m not beautiful. But I don’t care. I have better things to be.

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