Growing up is a hard thing to do, that's just a reality of life. Finding yourself, your path, and your own little space in the world and in life isn't easy. The media makes growing up even harder. From a young age, many young adults (both boys and girls) look to the media for how they should look. This truly has a strong impact on how one looks at themselves. From personal experience, looking to others, and to celebrities had widely guided how I saw myself, and how I made decisions. To make this more personal, and prove a point, here is how the media has shaped my own decisions about how I've looked at and handled myself.
My entire life I've had naturally curly hair. Long, curly spirals of auburn hair had always been how I've seen myself when I looked in the mirror. When I was 10, I wanted to look like all the other girls in my class. Of course, what girl at that age doesn't? Our public education system begins to tell us about puberty and how we're all changing. Of course, very few of the photos (as well as classmates) had curly hair like mine. Similarly, all of the celebrities I looked up too had straight hair. So naturally, I flat ironed it. Four or so hours later, my frizzy hair was silky smooth. In the few days I kept my hair long and straight I'd never received so many compliments.
Like any 10 year old, I figured this was the solution to my problems. I was willing to spend four hours every few days to flat iron, even invest in treatments and chemicals to straighten my hair permanently. As outrageous as it sounds, I was so happy to be getting attention when I looked "normal" and would go to any costs to keep that look. If I hadn't only seen celebrities with straight hair, only seen hair commercials for making your hair straight, and even advertisements for flat irons, etc. I don't think I would have cared half as much. I never saw things telling me to enjoy my curls and fit in, I saw fit in, be the same as everyone else. That was what I believed would make me prettier, happier even.
Continuing, throughout middle school, I'd sporadically straighten my hair, each time getting compliments from classmates and teachers. Now, a few would tell me they preferred my real hair, or that spending so much time to straighten it seemed silly. Of course, I thought that was silly. Lots of girls flat ironed their hair, so why was it silly for me too? When 8th grade swung around, many girls were wearing makeup. I'd always imagined I'd never want to wear makeup until high school. In fact, I didn't see why I'd even need it, it was just school after all. As more and more girls, more and more friends started to wear makeup, I felt a bit wrong not doing so.
So, I gave into the idea that a beautiful woman didn't leave the house without makeup. It started out with a bit of mascara, and that changed into (horribly) bright colored eyeliner, and of course the same (horribly bright) eyeshadow to follow. To continue that midway through 8th grade rolled around, I swapped out my glasses for contacts. With a different look entirely, the compliments I'd received skyrocketed, and I figured I was doing something right. I'd watch interviews of my favorite celebrity's makeup looks, and I'd ask girls who did their makeup well what they used. I was determined to fit in, determined to look like all the other girls. Though at this point, many people did try and preach that being different was good, I still felt like being different wouldn't make me what I wanted to be. What did I want to be? I can't even answer that question now. All I know is that I wanted to fit in, and if straight hair, contacts, and makeup that faded before the school day was even over would get me there, well then I'd do it, and I did.
When high school approached, the whole game had changed. I'd been thrown into a bigger school with even more people. It seemed my routine of bright blue eyeliner and mascara would no longer fit the bill. Girls would talk idly about waking up an hour before school to curl or straighten their hair, and put on a full face of makeup. Once again, my 10 minutes, if that, felt so insufficient. Once again, I was on the internet looking for ways to tame and style curly hair, looking for quick makeup routines. Many of the things I watched were girls my own age wearing a full face of makeup, and expressing that it was just a natural look. Before I knew it, I'd been thrown into adulthood for a woman, only moments after accepting adulthood for young girls. Graphic tees and sweatpants didn't cut it anymore. As much as it was about fitting in, it was about getting noticed. Those concepts ruined how I wanted to be, how I wanted to dress. I was far too shy to dress up, but I didn't want to go unnoticed either.
The routine got additions, better hair, more makeup, and clothes that were only slightly more complimenting. Clothing that all the other girls wore, what all the famous people wore, that way I would fit in, but I'd put my own taste on it. That was only the first year. The second year, many of my friends and classmates ditched leggings for nicer clothes, and that was terrifying. For a good few months, I wore dresses, heels, and whatever makeup I could manage to match. Then I was exhausted. My creativity to keep my makeup fresh and different, my want to wear things that make me look more mature, I was exhausted with trying to fit in, trying to look the part of a good student, of the ideal high school girl.
Of course, switching from dresses and heels to leggings and knit sweaters sort of smashed my confidence. I couldn't get out of this funk, out of being absolutely exhausted with trying to look perfect, feel perfect. I'd see magazines of celebrities never leaving the house without looking incredible. I'd see musicians and other actors I liked on the internet talking about never leaving the house without looking good, and here I was entirely unmotivated to keep up the charade I'd been showing off. Which of course made me feel even worse, though looking back, I'll never be so happy that I gave up. Though then I felt sloppy, messy, and undesirable, now I can see that I took a breath there. I let go the ideal girl, the ideal person. I let go of what the media said I needed to be, and I even let go of trying to look like the other girls I was in school with. Though some would ask where the dresses went, or even had the audacity to ask if I'd ever wear real pants again after spending a week in leggings, I can appreciate that time. Those months that I felt horrible, were the months I spent really discovering myself. I stopped listening the music everyone did, I stopped wearing what everyone did, I even stopped doing makeup the way everyone did. This left me a bit lost, but in the end, it led me to discover who I really am. Even better? It led me to be happy with who I am.
Little girls grow up playing with their mother's makeup. They even play with their own, dreaming of the day they're old enough to wear it for real. They grow up trying dresses too big and imagining the day that they'll be able to look like an adult. Little girls and little boys grow up watching TV. They see these humans, these people who are considered ideal, and for many, they realize they aren't like that at all. Everyone growing up goes through the crisis of finding their own identity, but having actresses, singers, models, even just famous personalities shoved down our throats, we learn that that is how we're supposed to be, not that we're supposed to grow up being ourselves.
From the age of 10, I'd been trying to change myself. I straightened my curly hair, got contacts, wore makeup, did anything humanly possible to look and feel normal. When buying clothes I'd think about what celebrities wore, and the same with makeup. It's hard to find your own place as it is, being told how you're supposed to be only makes it that much harder. The second I let go of expectations, and external pressure to be someone I wasn't I was 1,000 times happier.
When I leave the house, the only person I want to impress now is myself. When I put on makeup, it's because I truly enjoy it. If I wear clothing that's a bit different, it's because I feel confident in it. While I may never see Lea Michele wearing purple eyeshadow as an everyday eye color, that's just fine because I like it on myself. And while Taylor Swift might never wear black converse with every single outfit she wears, that's just fine because I enjoy them with everything I wear.
Having some form of self-confidence may have taken me 18 years, but it's taught me that the only person I can be to be happy is me. I can't be Rachel McAdams, and I can't be Gigi Hadid, and I most certainly can't be Beyonce. I've got to me, and for some time being just me wasn't enough. I didn't have the right hair, wardrobe, or makeup to be any of those girls, and that got me incredibly down.
I realize now that even with the media still telling us how we should look, still showing us who is the ideal woman, it doesn't matter. The only thing that does is being happy, and the only way to be happy is to be the form of myself that makes me happy. If it impresses someone, awesome, and if I get compliments, great! But now, the only person who matters, the only person I want validation from is me. The only opinion of myself that will ever truly matter is myself.
The things we should be teaching our children isn't to try and look like Demi Lovato, but to try and look like themselves. We shouldn't be telling our little boys that the only way people will like them is to have a six pack, and she shouldn't be telling girls that without a full face of makeup and trendy wardrobe no one will like them. Neither are true. We should be telling them to embrace their face, age, gender, and size, no matter what US Weekly says makes the ideal person, the only person they should be is themselves.
Self-confidence and self-discovery are things all people go through. Some people find out very young who they are, and for others it takes years. Having a looming cloud of 'ideals' makes it even harder to make these discoveries and hold the confidence you need. At the end of the day, all you need to tell yourself is to be yourself. All you need to do is embrace who you are. Embrace what you like, and what you want and be happy with that. The only way to be truly happy is to truly accept yourself. For most of us, the journey to finding out what we want and like is long, but once we get there, we shouldn't second guess. We should welcome those discoveries with open arms and hold onto them for their rest of our lives. Happiness is the only ideal, and that is one thing that needs to be spread around much, much more.