When I think about the worth of a person, I think of traits, morals and values. The way people try every day to live their lives intentionally – to be kind, to be helpful and to be authentic. I think of worth being the ability to be present with others, a willingness to grow, to learn about self, to show up for self and the people you care about. I encounter worth in people who are actively visible, who acknowledge and question. I experience worth through dedication, promise and action. It shows in our power, protection and pride. I would be lying if I said none of our self-worth comes from physical appearance or from the feedback from others, but for me, I don’t see my own or others’ worth as the number on the scales or the label size in our clothes.
Capitalism is screwing us, not just financially as consumers, but psychologically as beautifully imperfect humans. We all know the global beauty industry is worth over $511 billion and feeds off the idea that our worth comes from our aesthetics. If we are good looking, fit, have a ‘beach body’, are cellulite free, have perfect complexions, the most hair possible on our heads, as little hair as possible on our bodies, we have worth. If we have plump lips, big bums, abs, tanned skin, 2-inch eyelashes, perfect makeup, we have worth. I could go on. Let’s throw in extra pressure from the global diet industry worth a $193 billion ($2 billion a year from the UK diet industry alone), especially in January and we have a very toxic, self-deprecating message coming our way.
The pressure to look a certain way for female presenting people is huge. I am focusing on female presenting people because the beauty & diet industry typically do the same. There is an accepted expectation for thinness – under 60kg, flat stomach, toned but not muscular, minimal fat and cellulite, large breasts that must be 50% on show at all times, unless you are breastfeeding and then you should throw yourself into a dark toilet or cupboard. These standards are in place to please the male gaze. Now, we know that is not the whole story, but it’s a strong, prominent narrative. Some people do this to make themselves feel better, but often after some exploration, this is because they are received better and therefore treated better by others. Attractiveness is a currency in our society, if you fit beauty standards you get into the club of respect & dignity. If you don’t, you are denied and are fair game to be torn down for daring to step outside society’s expectations.
If you can relate to this, in that a large source of your worth comes from the way you look and you would like to challenge that, then I recommend trying the following:
I want you to picture three people in your life that you admire. Spend time thinking about each person and what it is you admire about them. Some things may be physical, but I imagine more points of admiration will be skills, acts, or personality traits. Do you admire them because they are driven? Artistic? Fun? Impulsive? Consistent? Compassionate? Interesting? Challenging? Do you see parts of yourself in them? If not, would you like to?
Once you have collated the reasons you admire the 3 people you chose, turn this exercise on yourself. What do you admire about yourself? What gives you worth outside of your physical appearance? If you are struggling to list admirable traits, try listing things you would like to be/have. If you could orchestrate how a friend described you (ultimately describe your worth), what would they say? If this is still too hard, ask a good friend to help.
Lastly, once you have this second list, I recommend making mantras out of them. Repeating these to yourself every day can help to create new pathways of positive thinking in the mind. The more we say things aloud, the more we internalise and believe it. This daily routine helps you feel empowered and reach self-actualization. This simple exercise is not going to overturn the lifetime of messages about how central beauty and body size may be to your worth, but it’s a starting point. Just this small change in thinking is a radical act of rebellion against a society who wants you to believe your worth is skin deep.
Image credit @billiebodybrand