Updated: Apr 9, 2021
This past week, a Facebook post was shared with me that sparked lots of conversation on the social media platform, and lots of personal reflection as well. The post featured the image below, a photo of 25 year old supermodel and reality television star, Kendall Jenner juxtaposed beside a photo of 19 year old astronaut, Alyssa Carson. This image was accompanied by the following caption:
“A few days ago, the photograph of American model Kendall Jenner in swimsuit was viral online, showing what for many is the perfect body in a woman. On the right, a photograph of Alyssa Carson, the 19-year-old astronaut who became the youngest person in history to overcome all NASA's aerospace tests and who is now preparing to be the first human being to travel to Mars.
It's not hard to deduce which of the two is most popular and globally admired, yet this situation shows us the disproportionate value that society gives to exaggerated beauty stereotypes. While many women struggle every day to belong to historically male-dominated positions and trades, society continues to reward the superficial; the aesthetic; what it sells. Woman is not a being destined to be aesthetically perfect.
Let's stop creating plastic idols, who sell their products at the expense of other people's complexes. Life is too short to beg for acceptance of people deceived by the multimillionaire cosmetics industry.” - La Guía Del Emprendedor
I had seen Kendall Jenner’s selfie circulating on social media for days, and each time it appeared on my screen it was accompanied by the all too familiar feelings of jealousy, awe, insecurity, self-doubt - a gentle reminder (as if I, or anyone needs one) that I don’t look like that. But this was nothing out of the ordinary. Whether we choose to follow celebrities, supermodels, influencers, and reality stars on social media or not, there is no escaping these images. Every single day, we are bombarded by representations of a nearly impossible standard of beauty; it’s the age old story. As I sit here typing, I find myself thinking “Why am I even spending time articulating this? We all already know, it’s just the norm.”
After seeing this post, I spent a good amount of time reading the comment section (a guilty pleasure of mine, people say the funniest things in comments), and was surprised to see a very wide array of responses. Of course, there were many commenters who wholeheartedly supported the post’s message: We need to stop idealizing unrealistic beauty standards and teach all womxn to strive for greater, more meaningful accomplishments than a KarJenner-esque body. However, there were also many comments who criticized the post for “being too critical” of Jenner’s selfie, and career in general, who saw the post as pitting two young womxn, each extremely successful in their own right, against one another. Now, I don’t agree that the latter response is an accurate interpretation of the post, I think its goal was wholeheartedly to call attention to what we are taught to aspire to as womxn; but, I do feel it sparks a conversation worth touching on.
Not everyone can be a supermodel, just as not everyone can be an astronaut, and that is okay. I am not, nor will I ever be, either one. And that is okay. Kendall Jenner is an extremely privileged individual, she was born into fame and fortune, and to many, she is the winner of a genetic lottery. Does she work hard? I’m certain she does. Is she disciplined in her fitness and nutrition routines? I’m sure she is. Does she face hardships and struggles just like anyone else? Yes, she does. But does she work for and participate in an industry that is extremely exclusive, inaccessible, and harmful to marginalized groups? YES. So, I think it’s very important to distinguish that one individual supermodel is not the problem. There is something bigger going on.
The problem is: I had never heard of Alyssa Carson before last week. This young individual is representative of perseverance, intellect, dedication, courage, strength…. the list of positive adjectives goes on and on. And yet, Carson does not have hundreds of millions of followers on social media, she is not a multimillionaire, she does not have a reality television show. Because perseverance, intellect, dedication, courage, and strength are not attributes we are traditionally taught to aspire to as young girls. These are not things womxn are often rewarded for embodying. From a young age we are given Barbie dolls to play with, a plastic representation of a woman so disproportionately built she couldn’t physically hold herself up or house all of her vital organs - and yet, we think we’re supposed to look like her? Barbie is not an astronaut, she is not an engineer, a firefighter, a computer programmer, a Ph.D., a CEO…. Barbie is a physical representation of what a long time ago, a man decided a woman should be: thin, white, blonde, and docile.
As womxn, we spend a lot of time thinking “I want to be like her” - whoever “her” may be, it’s typically not the person in the mirror. I think we should start asking ourselves “why?” Why do I want to be like her? Is it because she exhibits qualities that I truly admire? Is she hardworking? Is she kind? Is she strong? Or is it because she looks like what I think I’m supposed to look like, because all my life I’ve been taught how I look isn’t good enough?
I want to finish off today’s post with one of my favourite quotes and let you know that if nobody has told you today, how you look is good enough. But there’s also a lot more to you💜
“We get so worried about being pretty. Let’s be pretty kind. Pretty funny. Pretty smart. Pretty strong.” - Britt Nicole