Image need not be ideal focal point of a woman

by Sena Hughes

I was 4 years old and it was an average day of preschool. My mom dropped me off in the morning, as was routine and my teacher greeted us outside. The first thing she did was comment to my mom on how beautiful I was. My mom’s response? “Yes, and she’s smart too.”
That day my mother wasn’t trying to be an extremist and deny her young daughter the accolade of being called beautiful. Rather, she wanted to emphasize that my identity was not just in my physical appearance, but in my whole God-created self.

She’s referenced that story again and again as my sisters and I have grown up to re-iterate the same message: yes, you are beautiful, but you are more than just your outer beauty.

Such a viewpoint feels awkward, or perhaps radical in culture today. It’s safe to attribute this to the enormous magnification of a female’s physical appearance instilled in our society.

The National Institute on Media and the Family reports that more than half of 13-year-old girls are unsatisfied with their bodies. By age 17, that increases to 78 percent. These girls’ fears and insecurities are legitimate. Beauty and appearance matter in this culture; perhaps more than anything else.

The NIMF also indicates that one in three articles in leading magazines for teen girls focus on appearance, while 50 percent of advertisements targeted at them will appeal to beauty enhancement. That means the significant amount of time spent telling girls what it takes to be gorgeous and glamorous is not being spent empowering them to challenge themselves academically, dream big about their futures, take up new hobbies, create art and learn to love who they are as individuals.

Then we wonder why the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that approximately 90 percent of the more than 8,000,000 people in the U.S. struggling with an eating disorder are women.

Is this an issue for females only? In short, no. Men are also bombarded with unnecessary pressure regarding appearance; though women still take the brunt of it. Fifty-six percent of television commercials aimed at a female audience will advertise a beauty product, compared to just 3 percent of those aimed at men. Not only is an unhealthy weight placed on the physical appearance of a woman, but it also continues to preach the message that women are to be judged by both men and women alike for their beauty.

Do not get me wrong, I believe it is absolutely necessary to tell our little girls and our grandmothers alike that they are stunning. It is natural to crave that compliment. But in an effort to empower women, the world needs to know that it is wrong when it comes down to beauty. Some people are tall, some people short, some thicker and some thinner. Some have darker skin, some have lighter skin, some have curly hair and others have hair that  is stick straight. Those are not the traits that define who we actually are.

When we look inside and see the intelligence, the creativity, the talent, and the heart of someone, we will see true, natural, God-given beauty. I believe that when we can begin to see everyone in that light, our world will begin to be just a little bit brighter.

Contact Sena Hughes at shughes15@my.whitworth.edu

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