Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, young girl, with gorgeous, long, magical hair, full lips, high cheekbones, large eyes, perfect breasts, and body. This girl had a difficult life, but since she was so beautiful, everybody loved her and wanted to help her. Then one day, she met a rich, perfect prince, who fell in love with her beauty, married her, took her to his castle and all her suffering was gone forever.
In early childhood, we begin believing in the fairy tale that physical beauty can save us from pain and misery. This belief is supported by television and the Internet, where every day we watch beautiful girls and women being incredibly happy and successful.
Dostoevsky said that “beauty will save the world,” but was he right?
I cannot help but wonder how we survive under so much pressure to conform to the beauty standards that social media imposes on us. I say “social media” because it is the most popular source of information today. However, the problem of imposing “beauty standards” began long before social media.
A couple of years ago, I saw the pictures of one girl in her twenties. Each time I saw her photo I would think about how perfect she was. I recently met that girl, and I was surprised to learn how dissatisfied with herself she was. She told me that she didn’t like her nose and she hated her “thin” lips. She was constantly on some diets and she was unhappy if she would eat even a piece of bread. My very successful friend is making plans to change almost everything on her body, my cosmetician had to have two surgeries because something went wrong with her breast implants, my colleague had a blue face for weeks because a blood vessel burst when she did her “tiny lips”…
How far are we ready to go and can changing our personal description also change our life?
While in high school, I was a real “nerd” and “a weirdo”. I loved reading books, writing stories and poetry, reciting poetry, making theater plays, drawing, acting, going to concerts of classical music… The greatest pleasure to me was in knowing that I can speak several languages. I was lucky to attend a “smart school” (a philological gymnasium) where the smarter you were – you were more popular. Popularity was not measured by the physical appearance, the number of guys you dated, make up, and how much beer you can drink. Was I beautiful in high school? I think I was. Certainly, it did not matter me at that time and it was not my priority in life.
My perception of life has changed drastically when I moved to the USA in my junior year. Somehow, I was placed into a High School in the rich suburb of Chicago. The children of that suburb grew up having completely different living standards, upbringing and beliefs from Belgrade children. I know, there were also such children and such schools in Belgrade. However, they were somehow in a minority or had their own separate groups. They definitely did not brag about their wealth.
In my new school, nobody hid their wealth. Moreover, one of my schoolmates told me how other kids were mocking him because he was poor. My “limited” brain could not comprehend that. Mocking someone because he’s poor? Madness! Certainly, for the first time in my life, I met new standards of “popularity”. The most popular were skinny girls (although they are popular in Serbia, so that was not so new to me). Girls made up as if for the fashion show, tanned even in the middle of winter, dressed in designer clothes. Girls who drank half a bottle of whiskey, smoked cigarettes and often with whiskey used various types of drugs. The main topics for the conversation were gossips, who dated whom, hair, new designer bags, discount in tanning places and similar. A brand new world for one nerd from Belgrade!
But let me turn to myself. This story is supposed to be more personal. While in America, I gained 30 kg in less than 6 months! How? I was simply uneducated in the field of nutrition and health. Accustomed to my mother’s healthy food and walking at least an hour a day in Belgrade, I suddenly started eating burgers, tacos, and other fast food and using a car instead of legs. Did I consider myself fat and ugly? I did not! Believe it or not, I was the most confident at that time! And I guess I had such a kind of energy, so the opposite sex found me very attractive as well.
When does the problem start? It begins in my sensitive twenties. After moving from America to England, I sort of naturally started losing weight. Also in 2009, the UN diet was very popular in Serbia. I remember my sister telling me that all her friends were on that diet to get fit for the prom night. I thought that the diet was not bad and that I could try it, just to lose a couple of pounds. To make a long story short, I started losing a huge amount of weight and completed the entire diet.
2009 and 2010 were one of the worst years of my life. The period was marked by the divorce of my parents, university, changes, and poverty. I had an eye injury and hundreds of life problems that I would not wish to share this way. I did not know what I wanted from myself and from my life (ah those sensitive years!). And in the years to come, everything was going wrong, except for one thing – I became a “hot chick”.
In this superficial world, suddenly I started getting so much attention that being “beautiful” became my life priority. I spent hours getting my hair and makeup done, dressing up and doing all the things “popular” girls are doing. I had so much fun, it was amazing!
Was I happy? Has beauty helped me in life? Did everyone help me until a prince charming on a white horse came? Has beauty saved the world? Unfortunately, young girls and everyone else reading this, I must disappoint you! I’ve never been less happy in my life. I was so obsessed with physical appearance, that from all making up, tanning and other activities of popular girls, I neglected my soul, heart, and brain. I neglected everything that I really like to do. I neglected my intellectual and spiritual development.
I was so scared that I would gain weight again, that I starved myself for years. Always on new diets, missing out best cakes and pizzas, and being depressed if I would gain even 2 kg!
I got so much unnecessary attention, that I lost the greatest love at the time because of his jealousy. But that was not the worst thing. I got hired for three jobs that I wanted. And I lost them. Why? Well, to some employers, my physical appearance was more noticeable and more important than my many talents, dedication, discipline, and the ability to work as hard as a mare!
None of those men could see beyond my physical appearance. And I know, and I always knew that my physical appearance is the least I can offer! I’m three hundred wonders in one body, and I have a big heart and even bigger brain! Do you want to be loved because of the beautiful breasts or because of a big heart? Whatever the answer is, go in that direction.
I’m not saying we should not take care of ourselves! On the contrary! If beauty gives you happiness, just go ahead! But before you get your nose done, ask yourself whether it is a real problem, or if there is a deeper root of your unhappiness.
HOW AFRICA CHANGED MY PERCEPTION
The beginning of my return to my true self. We all know how hot Africa is. In Nigeria, the constant temperature is at least 30 degrees Celsius, and humidity is at least 60 %. Now, imagine what it looks like to wear makeup in such weather! Useless! Makeup literally melts and mixed with sweat is bad for skin. The first thing I did after less than a month of living in Nigeria – I stopped using makeup completely! The amount of time and money I saved in the past years, I cannot help but smile with pleasure when I think of it! If you see me wearing makeup in the picture, know that it is for some event outside of Nigeria or I have made myself up in some mobile app.
Next and maybe the best thing I’ve done for myself, and I did not plan it – I stopped tanning! For the first couple of weeks, after I moved to Abuja, I went to the pool and tried to sunbathe. But the African sun is not like the sun above Europe or USA! I’ve burnt so much, that it was actually suffering. Suddenly I became pale. For years I was dark thanks to seas and tanning beds. But I learned to love being pale. I’m so special, I’m just different! Not to mention how much younger my skin looks.
And now my favorite thing about Nigerian culture – in Nigeria I’m skinny! Here, thick women, or let me be precise- overweight women are popular! Having extra weight and big tummy is associated with health, wealth and fertility. And that’s a real beauty to them (crazy, right?). I do not know how many times I heard that I “have to gain weight”, that I “look sick” and that “I have no curves”! It is a compliment here when somebody tells you “you’re getting fat”. Oh, cultures and diversities! Feels so good after years of suffering and starvation!
Of course, I do not take their advice to “get fat”. Not because it is my obsession or priority to be “skinny”, but because of my health. I’m still trying to be beautiful but in a different way.
Instead of putting makeup on with my morning coffee, I read articles about success, love, and happiness. Instead of tanning, I read books and write. I’m not hungry anymore, so I have much more love for myself and for others. My priority has become to be happy and to improve myself and the world around me.
If it really makes you happy to change your body, go ahead! After all, the most important thing in life is to be happy. But if you have already changed eyebrows, lips, nose, and breast, and you are still not happy with yourself, maybe it’s time for you to work on beautifying the inside and to start doing what you love. Always remember, the beauty will fade with time, but your personality will remain forever.