By Amy Power
March 21, 2018
It has been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the old adage remains true: what is beautiful and perfect to me, may not be to you. This construct is reflected in so many ways throughout society, including our personal style choices. But, what shapes our perception of beauty, and by extension, our relationship with our own bodies? In 2014, Journalist Esther Honig sent a picture of herself to 40 photo editors in 25 countries to see just how much cultural values are applied to standards of beauty. The Huffington Post remarks that, “[t]he results throw the idea of ‘the perfect woman’ into sharp relief.” Esther herself writes, “Photoshop allows us to achieve our unattainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more elusive.”
I find this project absolutely fascinating, and it makes me think: beauty is a concept that we teach and are taught. We pass down these ideas and ideals through our everyday actions, conversations, and our own insecurities. When we sit around the dinner table on Thanksgiving day and comment, “I really shouldn’t have the pie, you know it goes straight to my thighs.” When we are in the dressing room and are trying on a garment and remark, “[u]gh! This makes me look huge!” When we are at the birthday party and say, “a minute on the lips a lifetime on the hips!”; or, “is this really worth an extra hour in the gym?” When we bemoan swimsuit season, when we lament not being able to lose those last two pounds, our children hear us; they see us. They absorb the messages we send, both subtle and overt. Intended and not. Our children are sponges and we project our insecurities onto them. We pass down our strengths and our weaknesses, our struggles and our ideas. They are not born with a perception of beauty. We shape their idea of what is beautiful.
That thought is scary, but also empowering.
WE shape their construct of beauty. So to me, this means: WE have the power to cause a cultural shift; WE do not have to pass down our paradigm. WE can create a new one.
Payson Swan wants to be a part of that shift. As a mother of two young girls, she is very aware of her interactions with herself and the implications of those actions for her girls. She has made the conscious choice to “walk the walk.” Payson shared that she wants to instill a sense of self in her daughters, and she intends to do this by showing them, not telling them. “I try to avoid putting myself down in front of them, I don’t say I look fat in something, even if I feel that way sometimes.”
And that’s the start. The tip of the iceberg. The foundation of the snowball as it gains momentum and rockets down the mountainside, growing with every turn. We have the opportunity to model the change we want to see, to shape the world we will pass on to our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, friends and strangers alike. We can all be a part of the movement to shift the paradigm of self-hate, self-deprecation, commodification, or objectification of our bodies and the bodies of others. We simply need to see people. Hear people. Become interested in people, regardless of race, gender, body type or creed. Comment on a child’s strengths, remark on their wit, find common interests. Do the same with others we meet, because we all deserve to be truly seen. Focus on people. WHO they are, not what they are, or what they look like.
When I asked Payson what lessons she has learned in life that she wants to pass down to her kids, she didn’t hesitate. She noted that she has learned to wear clothes she feels good in, rather than just following a trend. She said, “You won’t look as good if you don’t feel good. You’ll look best in what makes you feel good.” She is absolutely right! I think people look their most beautiful when they are genuinely happy. So to that point, let’s not make fashion about other people. It’s shouldn’t be about men OR women (women can be hardest on other women), rather, let’s reclaim fashion as a way to make ourselves feel good about our bodies and as an act of self care not an act of conformity. Let’s shift the paradigm for ourselves, for our kids, and for a future of confident, empowered, and inspired people.