Like thousands of others, I recently viewed the Dove short film, “Selfie,” created to explore how social media is shaping — and in some instances — redefining beauty. It’s a touching story: a group of high school girls and their mothers take selfies to be displayed in a unique installation where others can “comment” on their beauty by leaving a Post-It with a positive remark. “Beautiful teeth. Nice eyes. Great hair.” As it turns out, the very attributes that many of the participants were embarrassed by were often the very features that made them different and thus, beautiful.
And I love that. I do. I’m all for boosting the self esteem of young women — particularly at an age where pressures to fit in, mold and blend in are at an all-time high. But there’s something that just doesn’t sit well with me …
When I was in junior high and high school, I was often teased for my braces. I was called Metal Mouth and Shiny Smiles and Tin Grin — you know, the usual. And it was absolutely devastating. I stopped smiling. I stopped interacting. I asked very few questions in class for fear of opening my mouth to reveal the feature that I had grown to believe was my worst.
A mentor of mine had noticed the habit I’d fallen into, especially as someone who — pre-Metal Mouth days — was a smiling, bubbly teen. And she told me something I’ll never forget:
You can only change the inside.
There are crowds that may tease you — for your braces or your clothing or, in the future, your job and personal decisions. Change your inside, and forgive them. There are features that may taunt you — your hair or your nose or your freckles. Change your inside, and embrace them. There are situations and circumstances that may stretch you so thin that you’re left weary and tired, collapsing from exhaustion. Change your inside, and walk through them with perseverance.
Because you can only change the inside.
I fear that we’re encouraging the youth of today that we must seek validation from others to silence our doubts. That what the crowd or the comments or the Post-it notes say are the truth. That, in order to redefine beauty, we must find a new standard to collectively agree upon (starting with our faces, of course).
As a woman, I worry about giving that power to others. I worry about any definition of beauty that doesn’t involve our insides: our grace and our patience and our kindness and our strength.
Because we can only change the inside. And unfortunately, there’s no selfie for that.
What if we taught our young women that beauty is insignificant? What if we encouraged them to turn the camera away from their faces — far from the microscopic pixels of self-study — and end the cycle of looking to others to define ourselves? What if, instead, we showed them how to look into themselves?
You can only change the inside, we’ll tell them.
And I will, they’ll say.
It’s a tall order. But I think we can do it. Because after all, we can always change the inside.