Body Image, Confidence & Society: A Talk

I wanted to upload this talk somewhere, so here is the assembly I gave on confidence at school. Plus I was too lazy to write another post this weekend, but I wasn’t meant to tell you that. Enjoy.

“I guarantee that every single person in this room has read at least one article, had at least one conversation, or seen at least one video on the topic of body image or confidence. And in that article, or conversation, or video, you would have been told that you are beautiful. That you should love yourself. Since the media, celebrities and the majority of people have finally realised what a huge problem it is that so many teenagers and young people hate the way they look, they are making an effort to solve it. So now we’re bombarded with this message, all over magazines and pop songs and YouTube, that we should stand in front of our mirrors, smile, and say “I am beautiful, no matter what they say.” And while we’re at it, buy some foundation and concealer and blush and eyeliner and mascara and lip gloss and a thousand other things, so that the beauty industry can make more money too! It’s that simple.

But it looks like this effort isn’t working. If the statistics on self-esteem are anything to go by, only about 75 of us in this room are ok with our bodies, and 259 of us have tried dieting or seriously considered it at some point. And why isn’t it working? Because the people telling us that having confidence in the way we look is a piece of cake are the very people who are causing the problem. The fashion industry, the beauty industry, the film and music companies…they’re all constantly telling us we’re not good enough, we’re not the right shape or size, we’re not allowed to be interesting characters unless we also fit all their standards of beauty. They’ve created an image of this imaginary woman who is tall and skinny and straight and white and has so-called flawless hair and flawless skin and a flawless body and a perfect mix of thinness and curves and purity and sexuality. And this standard is forced on us, through celebrities, through characters in movies and TV shows through both pop culture and indie culture. It’s as though a toxic smog of media-induced self-loathing has been wrapped all around us, choking us. So no, having a good body image is not a piece of cake. But it is possible. If you convince yourself of one thing. That these beauty standards we have in society? They’re stupid.

Though that is easier said than done, something that’s going to help you out here is how, when you think about it, the standards we have in society actually are stupid. In our current economic system, businesses are so crazy about making money that they will resort to making us uncomfortable with ourselves so that we buy products that are supposed to make us better. They will tell you that no matter what you look like. The fashion and beauty and entertainment companies don’t care about giving you a true judgement of your character, they care about getting you to buy things. And they get you to buy things by continuously shaming the way you look no matter what. They’ll tell you to lose your holiday season weight, then to get your bikini body, then to get rid of your blemishes, until you have to start rating your toe alignment (long second toes are so in right now). This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard! So why should you listen to this? In the same way, if someone insults the way you look, why should you listen to them? Honestly, if they have to resort to mocking the shape of your face or the angle of your eyebrows or the amount of flesh you have on your bones in order to insult you, you must be a pretty amazing person. There are always going to be people who try to hurt you, and those people who insult the way you look are just using those beauty standards that have been forced on them by society to get to you. But at the same time, you have to remember – and I know I forget this a lot – that it isn’t that one girl who left a mean comment on a picture on Instagram who is the problem, it’s the whole of society. It’s the culture that we have of shaming ourselves, of mistaking confidence for arrogance, of being defined too much, especially as women, by how we look. This culture sometimes gets to people too much. So if someone close to you has started worrying obsessively about how they look or making nasty comments about other people’s appearances, they might have another problem that’s disguised as caring too much about how people look and might need your support.

So far, all we have as our method of building confidence is a whole lot of censorship, but that’s not all it involves. In today’s society, we try to find happiness by consuming – by buying, eating, watching and indulging in things that have been made by others. But happiness really comes from producing. This becomes easy to see when you consider, for example, how much stronger, wilder and longer-lasting your happiness is when you create or achieve something great compared with when you buy something you want or watch your favourite TV show. Finding what you love doing and what allows you to express yourself will not only improve your happiness, but will allow you to find happiness, confidence or any other emotion by yourself, and make you more aware of who you are and what you’re good at so that you can accept yourself. This next idea is going to sound like “life lessons from a mad person,” but if the media is convincing you that you’re ugly, if people aren’t saying nice things to you, you have to learn to say nice things to yourself. Think of all the good things you’ve done, all the things you’re good at. Whenever you achieve something or someone compliments you, write it down and   revisit it when you’re having a bad day. Playing a mind game with yourself by tricking yourself into thinking you have confidence will boost your confidence in reality, so just fake it to make it. Pretend you think you’re beautiful and have absolute faith in yourself, and practise walking and talking as though you know what you’re doing. Soon, this act will blur into reality. Other people are also a good source of self-esteem boosts. By this I don’t mean whining “I’m so fat” so that whoever you’re with assures you that you’re thin, which we’ve all done before, I mean being around your friends and those close to you and seeing how much you all appreciate each other. Just let yourself go a bit, have fun, do what you love and stand up for what you believe in, and you’ll be a happier person with a brighter outlook on everything, including yourself.

Something that really comforts me when I don’t feel confident in myself is just considering how tiny, how insignificant we all are. That sounds strange – if I’m already fat and ugly and stupid and worthless, how does it help to add “insignificant” to the list? But the thing is, humanity is united in its insignificance. Only .1% of your genes set you apart from Megan Fox, or Cara Delevigne, or that person who insulted you, or whoever you wish you were, and none of those people matter to the Universe any more than that pimple on your face. What’s more, that .1% of genes still makes you so unique that your parents would have to have another quadrillion babies to even stand a chance of having one with the same genes as you. The fact that you’re so unique, that you function so perfectly, that you can walk and talk and laugh and cry and think and dream and create, that you even exist despite the odds of intelligent life forming being so low, shows that it’s riduculous to worry about the distance between your thighs or the marks on your skin when you’re worth so, so much.

Too often, we’re told that confidence is just about thinking that we’re beautiful, that if we just “felt beautiful” it wouldn’t be an issue. In reality, confidence is infinitely more complex, and infinitely more satisfying – it’s being comfortable with who you are, with all your flaws included. None of us are beautiful, because beauty is nothing but an impossible standard set by society. But we are all unique, complicated, flawed, multidimensional people with strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes and personalities. This is what makes us human beings. And at the end of the day, we’re all too busy being who we are and living our lives to worry about whether we’re allowed to or not. Thank you.”