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By Emma Weisberg
Why are those the hardest words to believe?
The thing is I believe in what other people say pretty easily. I’m actually an extremely gullible person. So, how can the single phrase, “You’re beautiful,” face so much mental resistance?
I’ve always had a hard time with confidence—with thinking “I love the way I look. I love my body. I love my mind. I love my heart,” and ultimately, “I will be me.” And over the years, I’ve gone through bullying and other situations that have pushed my confidence down even further. I won’t go into the gory details because: (1) everyone has those moments and I’m not sure what adding mine to the table would really do to accomplish anything; and (2) they’re the most painful parts of my memory. Those are the times that made me feel less than. Those words cut and stung me and I have never healed over.
I’ve stopped wearing makeup for the most part, honestly for different reasons than I would normally say out loud. Whenever makeup comes up in conversation, I joke that I just don’t have the time or the care to apply mascara everyday. But truthfully, I’m not sure how it looks on me. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I used to steal my mother’s lipstick and blush, secretly applying them on my lips and cheeks before walking to school. Sometimes I’d smile in the mirror feeling like such an adult. Other times, my lips would drop and I’d think, “You look like a doll.” While my mother would laugh, finding it an adorable little habit, something about it just felt wrong. My fingers would stroke my cheeks, missing their natural texture. It was like I was wearing an elaborate mask, and everyone could see right through it. And as I walked to school, I’d wipe more and more of the makeup off to make it less visible.
Every once in a while I get “dolled up” for a night out in college, and it’s truly fascinating how people react to me. I once had a guy I barely knew from class come up to me and go, “You look…good,” in the most surprised tone I’ve ever heard. Well, I’m sure he didn’t know how many thoughts were going through my head in that moment:
Do I usually look like shit?
What’s different right now?
I’m wearing eyeliner.
Is it the eyeliner?
But for some reason his words made me smile. Just for a second. He didn’t have to say that if he didn’t want to, right? But then his words, that validation, slipped away as the music faded and he dropped his hand off my shoulder, gliding away into the night.
And then there are the times when I’m crying, and a friend will comfort me and say, “You’re beautiful.” And for some reason, those words make me cry harder. She doesn’t mean it, I think. She just knows I’m upset. I’m not sure why, but those words congeal into the same artificiality of the mask—only applied for a moment in time before fading away.
So my question is: why do I have such a hard time believing that I’m beautiful? I know it’s not just me who has an issue with this. Over the years, I’ve had many heart-to-hearts with friends, and I finally understand that while our insecurities seem individual…they’re not. I understand patriarchy to be a structure that encourages women to always be thinking about how they appear to others around them. The promotion of perverse standards of beauty creates a feeling of competition where women are supposed to compare themselves to one another—comparisons like: she’s skinnier than me, she’s prettier, and she has whiter teeth. I’m serious about the teeth. I’ve thought it for sure. And as our minds go into overdrive with insecurities, we are left with a feeling of being less than. Less than whom? Other women.
Why is it that often when a woman realizes she doesn’t like another woman, the first insult she conjures up is, “Well, she’s ugly.” Does this first woman feel as if she has climbed the ranks over the second woman, gaining a sense of authority over her and self-empowerment?
Recently, I’ve made it a goal of mine to do little things to make sure my friends feel appreciated and well loved. When I say goodnight over text, often I’ll end with “Night, beautiful,” or something along those lines. I’m sure someone could critique me and say: “Well, why does she need to be reinforced that she’s beautiful all the time?” And I would say: “So what if she hears that she’s beautiful one more time today. She knows that I’m thinking of her, and that she’s a beautiful human being—her heart, her mind, her body, and her soul.”
I have goals to improve my own mindset too. However, saying “Night, beautiful” to myself before bed is not enough for me to love myself. Words are a temporary cure for a larger wound. I could tell myself “You’re beautiful” one hundred times, but until I start to believe it, those words will just be words. What helps me the most is when I observe others believing those words for themselves. For instance:
The days when a friend will turn to me, smile, and say, “I feel good,” for no other reason but that she wants to share it with me.
The nights when my friends and I are laughing, feeling goofy and at ease, and I notice how beautiful their smiles are.
The moments when I am completely and utterly happy.
Emma Weisberg is a sophomore at Connecticut College, where she is a double major in Theatre and Sociology. She is also a part of SafetyNet, an organization on campus focused on spreading awareness around issues of sexual and domestic violence and stalking. In her spare time, she loves sitting on the floor of bookstores with a stack of plays on one side and an iced coffee on the other.