“Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn’t put on makeup,” Alicia Keys wrote earlier this year in May. “These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me.” Last month, Alicia turned up to the MTV Video Music Awards sans make-up and faced an onslaught of remarks about her courageous #nomakeup revolution.
Now, I’m no celebrity and I’ve yet to enjoy a red carpet moment – although let me dream! – but I can resonate with much of what she wrote, especially this : “We all get to a point in our lives (especially girls) where we try to be perfect.” In some way we all strive to be perfect. Desirable. Flawless.
Is it any wonder that one in seven girls in the UK are unhappy with their lives overall and a third of girls are unhappy with their appearance? According to the Children’s Society Good Childhood Report released just a few weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of 10-15-year-old girls across the UK don’t feel happy with the way they look. In all of their uniqueness, quirks, character and diversity – these girls’ bodies are simply making them unhappy. How on earth did we get here?
Arguably girls and women throughout history and all over the world will have faced, or still do face their own cultural pressures to be perfect. In the West, the craze of contoured faces, thigh gaps, the Kardashian Kulture and beautifying snapchat filters compel girls to cover up who they truly are, and, I believe, pretend to be someone they are not. We live in a context that intensifies any ideals we naturally place on ourselves. I feel the pressures of my culture’s lies every day:
“If I learnt to apply my make-up better, I’d feel more beautiful.”
“If I own that new handbag, I’d be happy.”
“If that person notices me on Instagram, I’ll be successful.”
“If he retweets me, I’ll have a better reputation.”
“If I was photographed at that event, I’d be appreciated.”
“If I had less freckles, I’d feel more confident.”
My happiness, confidence and contentment become dangerously dependent on other people’s opinions, or Instagram likes and Facebook comments. The opinion I have of myself is like a wave tossed and blown around by the wind. I am tempted to become a “chameleon” as Alicia puts it, never fully being who I was made to be.
I forget to listen to the opinion that matters most.
In the West especially, we can be fooled into forgetting that what matters most is the depth of your character, not the shape of your eyebrows. Earlier this year, I spent time meeting and photographing young girls in Kenya as part of a project for Compassion UK. I was deeply moved by the humble self-assurance of the girls I met. I distinctly remember a conversation with one of the girls. I asked her what it meant for a girl to be beautiful: “Don’t spoil yourself,” she exclaimed, following up: “The way God made you is the best way!” Surely this statement holds the key to truly allowing a girl to be herself. It displays a refreshing liberation to all of the above. It’s not that make-up is wrong, or enjoying putting together an on-point outfit is selfish. No. That’s definitely not what I’m saying here. But this girl’s simple insight touches on something bigger and better.
What if we are a thousand times more exquisite than our very eyes can see, than our hearts believe? What if we truly believed that every fibre of our being was woven together with purpose and character by a master Craftsman who never, EVER makes mistakes? What if we treated our own bodies as being intrinsically valuable and precious, as grace-full gifts to be treasured and used to bring peace, joy and good news to others?
Imagine if we helped each other to understand this compelling kind of beauty. It’s a beauty which serves a cosmic, eternal purpose – and which never perishes, spoils or fades.
I know I for one, could begin to be truly myself.
The ‘Any Girl’ exhibition is showing from 12-16 October. Check out more details here.