An open letter to anyone who has ever felt like they were “not enough”:
My friend Courtney recently left for Swaziland to serve in the Peace Corps for 28 months. It was a place I couldn’t locate on a map before April, but now I think of it often. In the weeks before she left, we spoke about what would be different about this country from ours. While we both believe that at the core people are people with similar desires and motives, an ability to be good and do good, we knew there would be cultural differences. It was during one of these conversations that she asked if I’d ever heard of Perfect365. I hadn’t, but I became immediately disgusted.
For those of you who don’t know, Perfect365 is an app that allows its user to enhance selfies to be, well, “perfect.” You can slim your face, raise your cheek bones, and widen your eyes. You can apply makeup – from foundation to eyeliner to mascara. You can change your eye color. You can create a new photo with startlingly white teeth and inappropriately smooth features that in no way resembles a human.
[Side note: I have done pageants, and I have professionally edited photographs of myself. However, I love the face that looks back at me at 7am with bed head. It’s ok to have professional photos and to look great in them. It’s not ok to feel like every single photo you have ever posted needs to look like it was taken in a studio.]
This is what society has done to American adolescents, and even adults. We have created such a desire for unachievable “beauty” that we need apps to photoshop our filtered Instagram selfies. If that doesn’t make your heart ache for the 13 year old who sees her face in the mirror and can’t see her natural skin as beautiful, you might be part of the problem.
Just to put that in perspective, we are taking selfies with our smartphones, editing them into a stranger, and posting them on social media to be validated by our acquaintances double-tapping on the screen. We are doing this while other people in our communities, our nations, our world are going hungry or cold or sick tonight without respite in their sights.
I am begging you to love yourself. You should not rely on the likes you receive or the followers you have for validation. You should not rely on makeup or photoshop to create a face you like. You should not rely on the label of your clothes, the numbers on the scale, or even the grade on an exam to create a definition of you. These things are superficial and fleeting, here today but maybe gone tomorrow. They are part of the material world we live in, not part of what defines you.
God created you in His image, and He loves you for precisely who you are. Physical faults you find looking at a mirror are irrelevant when you leave this world. Your inner beauty is what God’s eyes see, and no mistake you have made is surprising or unforgivable to Him. You are beautiful for the person that you are, so be a person you are proud of.
If nobody has every told you, let me be the first: you are beautiful. There is nothing you need to do or say to be beautiful if you can find love for yourself that is not based on something material. Do not let your hair, your weight, or your house be what makes you feel good. Hair can fall out, pounds can add on, and that house can burn down. If you define yourself in things of this world, your definition of self is fragile and so easily lost by a breeze of bad fate.
I have a sticky note that a (different) friend named Courtney placed on my bathroom mirror a year ago, and I read it every day to make sure I haven’t forgotten.
Sometimes people are beautiful not in looks, not in what they say, just in what they are.
If you are truly blessed, you will find someone on this earth who can celebrate you for exactly who you are, but more often than not, other people are going to tear you down. They are going to find reasons you are not enough. Some days you might even find reasons you are not enough. For God, you will always be enough.
If Christianity is not your faith, this message should still resonate with you. Build the foundations of your self-image and worth on solid ground. For me, my faith is that rock, and it is what I turn to when I start to forget my worth. For you, it can be something different, and that’s okay, too. Just make sure it isn’t something you will lose when the tides in your life wax and wane. I don’t think anybody gets to go through life without at least one high tide, and it’s hard to keep your head above water if you can’t love yourself.
We live in a world where, from a young age, we are competing to have followers. We are counting the “likes” on our photos. Thanks to Facebook, we can now count the “loves” “hahas” “wows” “sads” and “angrys” – as if we didn’t have enough to think about. People clicking a button (approximately 0.05 seconds of their time) has become such an important source of validation that our own faces are no longer “enough” for our social media accounts.
It started with Photoshop. I was probably in about 4th grade when I begged my parents for this software. To what end did I need it? Well, my friends had it, and they were able to crop themselves into photos with Hilary Duff. This was important to me. What I (and the many parents who relented to adding this software to the home computer) did not realize was that my friends were in training to slim their waist line, enhance their breast size, and spray tan themselves later in life.
Photoshop isn’t user-friendly, though. At least, I have never been able to master it. Know what’s super easy? Perfect365 and other apps like it. It identifies the face in any image uploaded to it and gives simple options for the user to pick from. Having issues with your mouth? There’s a mouth button. Want to widen your smile? Slide the bar to the right. Want to whiten your teeth? Slide that bar.
This is the reality of life in 2016, and it is nothing like the smiling faces of the Jetson family. Society is pressuring us in so many ways and through so many outlets. If you are struggling to feel good about yourself, there are a million places you can point fingers. Peers, TV, magazine, Facebook, Instagram… Every advertisement wants you to buy a product so you can be more like the perfect actor in their ad.
Stop blaming others when you feel bad about yourself and look inward. You are the only person responsible for making sure you know that you are enough just the way you are. We can try to create more positivity for and about each other, but at the end of the day, you are in charge of how you feel. If you can love yourself, you can take on anything this world can throw. Just remember, the best is yet to come.