My computer started up as I sipped on my coffee, enjoying the morning sun peeking through the blinds. We were house-sitting, and it was a pleasant change to patter around in a big, luxurious kitchen instead of my tiny apartment. My e-mail chimed, and I started to scroll through each one, reading comments on my blog and jotting down reminders to call back a few people.
My finger paused, trembling over the mouse, as I read the e-mail from a girl named Vit. “I am seventeen years old, live in Canada, and was diagnosed with bulimia when I was fourteen. I began my first diet when I was eight,” the e-mail read. “I have spent my entire life trying to be perfect and thin. It has ruined my life. My teeth have almost no enamel on them; my heart rate and blood pressure goes from too high to too low weekly. I get ECGs and blood tests at least once a week ... My hair is falling out ... I’m always cold ... I have wasted so much time and truly put my health at risk, but I still can’t stop.”
I pause in the middle of the e-mail, closing my eyes as the familiar feelings of sadness and urgency washed over me.
As the editor of OperationBeautiful.com, I regularly receive heart-wrenching e-mails from girls, women, and even men who are struggling with body image issues. The site is a community art project of sorts, and participants post anonymous, esteem-boosting notes in public places for other people to find and enjoy. Many people take pictures of their notes and send them in to be included on the site, which I update daily with new stories and photographs.
The site often attracts people who are struggling with depression or an eating disorder, as it provides them with a positive, healthy outlet for their emotions. I never become immune to e-mails like Vit’s. I never forget how deeply people struggle with their self-image. I never forget the pain that our society’s false Thin Ideal can wreck on a person’s consciousness.
Vit continued: “The reason I’m writing is because on Friday, I was at my weekly hospital checkup and one of my therapists made me eat a 500-calorie meal, which I haven’t done in ages, to desensitize me. I was on my way to the bathroom to throw up after my appointment, and I had just locked the stall when I saw a sticky note on the back of the door. It said, ‘You’re beautiful. You are good enough. OperationBeautiful.com.’ No one has ever said that to me. I didn’t throw up today. It was the first time I ate something solid and did not throw it up in years.”
Reading the end of the e-mail, I break down. I openly cry in my in-laws’ kitchen, my shoulders heaving as wet sobs escape from my mouth. I put the coffee down on the counter and quiet my trembling hands.
Not every e-mail I receive is as extreme as Vit’s, of course. But Vit’s email is a perfect example of the strong emotions that one little Post-It note can elicit. Women from all walks of life are drawn to the movement because of the positivity that surrounds it. I hear over and over again that women are tired of flipping through fashion magazines and seeing no sense of realness, of authenticity. We’re constantly bombarded with messages of fake beauty.
Most of the images in magazines are Photoshopped –- even tabloids! Even covers of teenage girl’s magazines are Photoshopped, the models altered to appear thinner. The effect of such alterations is devastating -- in a sample of Stanford undergraduate and graduate students, 68 percent felt worse about their own appearance after looking through women's magazines. Men aren’t immune to this editing, either -– Men’s Health has received negative attention for Photoshopping their model’s biceps to be larger and abs to be more defined. This false sense of beauty isn’t limited to the page, either. Did you know the hair in shampoo commercials is computer-generated?
I wish we could remove that horrible filter of negativity imposed by society and the media and see our unique, authentic selves. I wish we celebrate women for their strength, courage, morality, and talent. I wish we treated ourselves and others with more kindness.
The next time you look in the mirror, study it closely for signs of your true beauty. Don’t look at your cheekbones or hair, at your lips or chin. Study your eyes. Look past the colors and into the fire inside you. It’s time we focus on something real. Your own beauty is truly something to celebrate.
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Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.
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