I saw this ad prior to watching a video on YouTube yesterday, and this time, instead of hitting the ‘skip ad’ button, I just had to keep watching.
The ad shows women of all ages who are camera-shy, and don’t want to have their picture or video taken, because they’re shy or don’t like how they look. This is contrasted with little girls who are beaming and loving the attention of the camera. The Dove ad then asks ‘When did you stop thinking you’re beautiful?’
This is a blog post that I’ve been wanting to write for some time, but for some reason never got around to. After watching this ad yesterday, I couldn’t resist.
When did we stop thinking we’re beautiful? Was it when the world told us only skinny women are beautiful? Was it when we aspired to look and dress like Photoshopped models and actresses? Was it when men told us, through ads, movies, and magazines, that the only beautiful women are those with their clothes off?
I’ll tell you when I stopped thinking I was beautiful.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from low self-esteem. Being rounder than most girls my age, I grew up hating my body and how I looked. I hated having my picture taken because I never looked the way I wanted to look. My skin was too dark, my face and body too round, my height too short. Everything was just wrong.
Things got even worse in high school, especially in grade 10 when I decided to wear hijab as a commitment to my faith. Suddenly, I couldn’t find clothes that fit me and covered me modestly. Everything was so short and so skimpy and fit me so tight, and I ended up hating myself and my body even more.
Shopping for clothes brought me to tears every single time. I didn’t look like the models who wore the clothes, nor like my friends who bought their clothes from expensive, designer shops.
This led to severe depression in high school, as I couldn’t even bear to look myself in the mirror since everything, from the top of head to the tips of my toes, was wrong.
Despite wearing hijab, there was a part of me that wanted to look like everyone else. The girls who were beautiful and who had friends didn’t wear hijab. They had the most gorgeous hair, long legs, beautiful clothes, and light, dewy skin. I had none of that.
Looking back now, I realise I couldn’t have made things more difficult by wearing hijab during a time when things were already so tough. To me, hijab equalled ugly, while hair equalled pretty.
In the end of high school, large chunks of my hair started falling out due to a scalp disorder. The doctor worked on treating the disorder, promising me that the hair would grow back eventually.
Two years later, after doing some tests, the doctor changed his original diagnosis and informed that the hair that I had lost would never grow back.
With more than a third of my hair gone, and large bald spots on my scalp, I withdrew further into depression and felt even more upset about the way I looked. In order to make me feel better, people liked to tell me that it was a good thing I wore hijab (so no one could see), and even went so far as to say, ‘It’s not like anyone’s going to see it, so it doesn’t matter, right?’
But it did matter. Because I saw it and I knew about it. This furthered my belief that I would never be considered beautiful, with my hijab on or off.
Going to all-girls parties, even now, became a source of anxiety and stress, since I was so afraid that someone seeing my hair and know that I’d lost a large chunk of it.
In university, things got better. A bit.
My love for fashion and clothes came back as I was finally able to see what other hijabis dressed and looked like. This is when I started to view hijab differently, not as something that restricted me, but as something that set me free. I was finally able to dress in a way that I liked, while also covering myself according to my beliefs.
But I was chubbier than ever, a fact that the scantily-clad world of magazine ads and movies reminded me every day. School stressed me out, and I ate more junk food to compensate for it. I constantly compared myself to my friends and acquaintances, feeling uglier than ever as I struggled to do well in school and look good too.
I’ve struggled with my weight for almost 10 years now, since high school. Last year, I came to a breaking point, so sick of hating myself and the way I looked that I decided to diet. It wasn’t easy and there were days I wanted to give in, to return to the comforts of chocolate and white bread, but I persevered. I lost 25 pounds.
I wish I could say that I lost the weight to get healthy. Or to feel good. But I didn’t.
I did it to look pretty.
I had this notion in my mind that if I lost weight, I would become beautiful somehow. That I would somehow be more comfortable in my own skin and feel better about myself.
And there are days where I’m proud of my accomplishment, of being able to follow through with my goal. But most days I think to myself that it isn’t enough. I need to lose more.
Because, even though the weight is gone, I realise it’ll never be enough to reach the high standard of perfection that I have set for myself. And coming to that realisation was probably the hardest thing I ever did.
I’m not quite sure how to end this post. I wish I had some uplifting message or moral for you, or even a way to say that these things don’t bother me now. But they do. Some days more than others.
I wish I wasn’t so superficial to care about how I look to the degree that I do. It takes up a lot of my time and energy, time and energy I know I could focus elsewhere. But it’s hard to ignore these things and to pretend that I don’t care.
What does it mean to be beautiful? I wish I could answer that question. There are so many cheesy quotes out there about beauty and what it means to be beautiful, but they’re much easier said than done. Watching the Dove ad made me realise how far I’ve come from that smiling, laughing little girl I used to be, the one I see in old pictures and videos, the one who was so carefree. But it also made me realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with this stuff. Who doesn’t think she’s beautiful. Who wonders if she’ll ever be beautiful, in the eyes of others and in the eyes of herself.
So if you’re reading this and you’re like me, struggling with low self-esteem, know that you’re not alone. We are our worst enemies, and until we recognize the power of destruction we have over ourselves, we will continue to destroy ourselves.
So don’t do that. Smile. Laugh. Love. Live. Be.
Thank you for reading,