Beauty may be skin deep, but standing up for yourself runs deeper

Validation is measured through heart-shaped buttons and the true identities have been concealed behind filters

Mishkaat Vohra
A representational image of a neon light depicting zero Instagram likes. — Unsplash
A representational image of a neon light depicting zero Instagram likes. — Unsplash

In the shadows of a digital era, where screens glow brighter than stars and self-worth is measured in likes, a twisted tale unfolds. A tale of beauty, illusion, and the relentless quest for perfection.

As social media dawned, so did an era of heightened unrealistic beauty expectations. Yet, it wasn't just the adults who bore the weight of this enchantment. In the dimly-lit corners of their bedrooms, young children also confronted a virtual mirror that distorted their self-perception. Skin colour, body shape, and facial features were looked over with a critical eye. A generation has been brought up under the false belief that success could be defined by flawless complexions, impossibly sculpted bodies, and a never-ending supply of perfection.

Validation is measured through heart-shaped buttons and the true identities have been concealed behind filters. Each of us makes comparisons with people around us. Even though it's a natural tendency of human nature, we should nonetheless work to overcome it for our own mental well-being and to teach a lesson to the culture that has brainwashed us into believing that only their definition of beauty matters. A culture that has given birth to a false version of reality.

“I have been a victim of colour shaming since my childhood. From preschool to high school alongside family gatherings, everywhere I was told to use fairness creams and get treatments done to look fair like my sisters and other kids in the family. I was never selected in school shows because of my complexion, and some teachers made it very clear that I was not pretty enough,” said Aisha Husain, a 21-year-old student.

In Pakistani society, a perplexing and deeply ingrained obsession with fair skin colour has woven itself into the cultural fabric. This fixation, an unfortunate leftover of historical legacies and modern media influences, casts a shadow over the diverse beauty that the nation harbours.

Husain said she was insecure and felt bad about herself during her teens with her wardrobe comprised of a specific colour palette to make her skin look a “little less dark”.

“I had seen the looks, heard the whispers, felt the unspoken verdicts that society seemed to pass based on the colour of my skin. And so, I had sought refuge in full sleeves and long pants, as if they could shield me from the world's penetrating scrutiny. It was as if I believed that by concealing my true hues, I could escape the harsh spotlight of judgment,” Aisha shared.

Many people internalise the idea that their value is defined by how they look as they grow up, which breeds feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. This deeply ingrained mindset fuels a never-ending cycle of comparison, self-criticism, and an eternal quest for validation through conformity. Aisha was strong enough to stand up for herself as she grew up.

Aisha added people around her made her feel conscious and unconfident. But on social media, she encountered narratives that resonated with her.

“People sharing their tales of overcoming societal norms, of turning their so-called flaws into strengths, and of realising that beauty isn't a one-size-fits-all equation. My understanding of beauty was reframed and reshaped by the mosaic of human experiences. I have accepted myself the way I am and haven’t looked back since then. I can now stand up for myself and shush away the negative comments,” she said.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, 23-year-old Alizey Haider shared how her parents body-shamed her, especially in public gatherings.

“I am chubby. My mom keeps pressurising me to lose weight. She tells me nobody would marry a fat girl,” she said, recalling how she used to get defensive and would cry in her room alone.

“I experienced a huge dip in my self-esteem. I’d think if my own family was so bothered by my weight, other people would definitely make fun of me so I avoided leaving my house and meeting people. I wouldn’t even take pictures of myself.”

Places, that should be platforms for acceptance and cooperation, frequently endorse the harmful practice of body shaming due to the unrealistic standards set by society. The effects last long after the incident and implant themselves in the minds of individuals who are affected. People are left to struggle with feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and self-doubt.

Haider too was one such individual. But now she understands people pass negative comments about other people to feel good about their own selves. That is how they seek validation.

“What people say about me is out of my control but one thing that’s in my control is the way I react and respond to it. I have become stronger and more vocal. Focusing on the positive qualities I possess and affirmative self-talk has helped me get through a difficult time in my life. I take good care of my mental health now,” she added.

Maryam Ahmed, a certified clinical psychologist, maintained that living in a modern world that is highly influenced by social media contributes to the unrealistic standards of beauty set by society.

“Young adults especially girls at this age, feel the need to fit in with their peers and be liked by the opposite gender because of which they use fairness creams, put on a lot of unnecessary makeup and get certain treatments done,” she said.

Ahmed added that individuals do not have a sense of belonging and this sudden exposure to media leads to comparisons with other people and ultimately leaves them with the feeling of not being enough.

Speaking about the way the formative years of a child are significantly influenced by the pivotal role primary caregivers play, she said: “The words used by parents or caregivers when their children are very young have a lasting impact, shaping their self-esteem and sense of self-worth hence they should give positive affirmations to the children so they feel self-confident when they grow up regardless of the shape of their body or the colour of their skin.”

The psychologist maintained when children are compared to individuals of their age, it not only causes feelings of inadequacy in them but also leads to conflict and hatred among children. And it is extremely unfair to do that.

As discussions about beauty standards gather momentum, it remains crucial to persistently challenge the outdated notion that one's value is determined by their skin colour. The path to embracing diversity demands not only debunking these deep-rooted beliefs but also recognising and appreciating the rich diversity present within the nation.

Mishkaat Vohra is an undergraduate student pursuing psychology.