A recent Dove Campaign called "Choose Beautiful" has been doing the rounds on the internet asking women to choose whether they see themselves as "Beautiful" or "Average". Dove claims that only 4% of women would choose "Beautiful", while the rest would consider themselves "Average".
That makes it sound like there's are real self-esteem epidemic among women out there - a good thing for Dove and their marketing team.
Digging a little deeper however, reveals a more subtle (and optimistic) truth: many women are satisfied with their beauty and consider themselves of average attractiveness, while only 10% of women consider themselves unattractive. Statistically, that makes perfect sense - most of us are average looking with parts of ourselves that may be attractive and other parts less attractive, so to speak. It makes sense that only 4% of the population would be bold enough to consider themselves "beautiful". Choosing average can mean that you are in the company of a majority of women who have a healthy self-esteem and generally feel good about themselves - without overly obsessing about their physical attractiveness.
The Dark Side of Beauty: An Impossible Standard
What is at issue (and a major problem) is the way that the word beautiful has come to be defined in our media saturated society. Beauty has been reduced to an impossible standard of physical attractiveness that no real woman can actually live up to, and turned against women to minimize their voices and steal their power. Documentaries such as Killing Us Softly and Miss Representation showcase the worst, yet all too common examples of this pattern in advertising and entertainment. That kind of pressure can make it difficult for "average" women to claim beauty for themselves.
Feeling beautiful is a powerful concept that is connected to value and confidence. Media portrayals can and do have an impact on how your feel about yourself. If you don't watch your thoughts, you can think that because you don't look like the images of women on magazine covers, you're not beautiful - and therefore not valuable. Like the Dove campaign is getting at, that's a real problem.
You deserve to feel your best and to live your best life everyday - no matter who you are. You deserve to face life's challenges with all the confidence that you can muster. Taking the time to define beautiful in your own terms is important. There are long entrenched cultural and societal issues involved in beauty, and hopefully campaigns like Dove's Choose Beautiful will help create positive changes. But change also starts with you. So here's four aspects of beautiful to help get you started with your own definition.
1. Beautiful is a Mindset
Beautiful begins with your thoughts. Walking around telling yourself that you are average, nothing special, or even ugly feels bad. It just does. You can't live a beautiful, satisfying life thinking like that, and you can't be happy comparing yourself to the 4%.
Turn things around by asking: "What does beautiful mean to me?"
While there is a physical side to beauty, there are also other sides like character, personality, attitude, abilities, and energy. All these things make up unique expressions of beauty, which is why everyone can be beautiful in their own way and in their own circumstances. By choosing your own mindset around beauty, you take control of your thoughts and feelings, which gives you the power.
2. Beautiful is a Choice
Dove's campaign gets this right: You must choose beautiful for yourself. Nobody else can do it for you.
When you disown your beauty (whatever you have defined that to mean for you), you will always feel an uncomfortable gap of emptiness between you and any positive attention that comes your way. It's a sign that your refusal to accept your beauty is a lie that people around you don't believe. Even those women in the 4% will feel empty, lonely, and unhappy if they don't simply accept their beauty and make it their own. While physical beauty is elusive and always changing, the non-physical aspects of beauty can grow and last a life-time.
To experience beauty, you first have to claim it for yourself. Once you have clarified your thinking around beauty and owned it, every compliment you get from someone confirms your beauty. And that's not vane or shallow or egotistical. It's not saying that you're better than anyone else. It's just a simple acknowledgement of truth that you love yourself and you have a valuable place in this world.
3. Beautiful is Created
Beautiful is not the default. It needs to be created every single day.
Whether effortless - or a lot of work - beauty requires daily actions of self-care to become reality. A previous campaign by Dove, Evolution, shows just how much work goes into creating the beauty in ads.
Caring for your body is the starting point of beauty because your body is the physical expression of your thoughts and attitudes. In Dove's study, most women report that self-care is a part of feeling beautiful. How you care for your body reflects how you will care for anything else in life. Simple habits like personal hygiene, grooming, and choosing what clothes you wear all keep you healthy - and create the beauty you've chosen.
Neglecting these habits is telling yourself and others that you don't really care. You don't take yourself seriously, and neither should anyone else. That's choosing average.
The habits of caring for your body empower you to take care of others throughout the day. By taking responsibility for yourself, you are laying a foundation that enables you to give your best to others. That's choosing beauty.
4. Beautiful is Local
It's a rare person that is world-class, celebrity-level, magazine-cover beautiful.
Even though the faces and bodies of celebrities seem endless because they fill the media we are exposed to every day, they are few in number. But being on a magazine cover is not a real standard of beauty. Real beauty is created in relationships - not in photographs. Photographs have the power to capture a moment, communicate an idea, project a feeling, and inspire - but beauty that is real takes place moment by moment in your life. It's local to you.
You don't need to be beautiful for the world, but you can be beautiful for yourself, your partner, your children, your friends, and your colleagues. When you choose beauty, it's a choice to make your life beautiful, and the lives of those around you. That's powerful. And that's why it's important to choose beautiful.