Amid the countless videos on YouTube teaching women how to contour their cheekbones and over-line their lips, a video posted by Rachel Levin last month stands out. The well-known beauty blogger recently uploaded a short video titled “I Am Ugly” that held a powerful message about women’s struggle with body image.
The video shows Levin applying makeup in front of a mirror while she picks herself apart bit by bit. Staring at her reflection, she points out what she sees as flaws—too large of a nose, lips that are too small. As she starts falling deeper into the black hole of self-criticism, her reflection changes to show a younger version of herself. The innocent girl asks Levin to point out what else is wrong with her, pressing her to keep generating criticisms. But Levin is unable to continue, knowing how wrong it is to tear down a child’s worth based on something as shallow as reflection in the mirror. Instead she tells the girl the truth: how beautiful she actually is. Her younger self poses the painfully simple question: “If you can say that about me, then why can’t you say that about yourself?”
The video undoubtedly strikes a chord in countless women, as it has gained more than four million views. Many women can personally relate to the mental warfare that goes on in their minds when standing in front of a mirror.
While fighting self-criticism would be a lot easier if Levin’s mirror were made in a compact size and sold worldwide, there are other ways to stop women from tearing themselves apart. The first is to start with ourselves. In our minds it seems silly to think that accepting our hips or our lips can impact anyone else but ourselves. However, our own self-acceptance is proven to have significant impressions on how others view themselves. Research shows that body image issues can be inherited from how a girl’s mom looked at herself. A study done by Rodgers and Chabrol in 2009 found that appearance-related criticism, pressure to lose weight, dieting behaviors, and body image concerns demonstrated by parents are strongly correlated and prospectively predict poor body image among adolescent girls.
It would be trivial to think that negative influences on body image cease to exist once you cross the family boundary. So many outlets influence women nowadays, whether it is friends, celebrities, social media personalities, or advertisements. While we don’t have our younger selves by our side to constantly remind us of our individual beauty, we do have each other. We are often our own harshest critics and talk ourselves into a needless place of self-doubt and loathing. Maybe if we follow Levin’s lead and channel our inner child more often, we could talk ourselves off the ledge.
There’s reason to believe we could do better to encourage each other to climb out of these dark places and be the little girl voicing the reality that beauty is not dependent on trivial elements such as your bra size or the number on a scale. Issues with body image may be difficult to see in others, but that does not mean they aren’t there—and the impact goes beyond mother and daughter. A friend of mine, who I wouldn’t have assumed struggled with body image issues, posted a picture this summer where her body was altered. I was shocked to see that she had Photoshopped her legs to make them appear longer and thinner to achieve that desired “thigh gap.” I was stunned; why would she edit herself, especially knowing how beautifully strong her legs were in reality?
This wasn’t a celebrity on a magazine cover; it was my friend. But it dawned on me how clear of an example this was of a woman struggling with how she perceived herself. I wondered how many women saw an edited picture like this one, unaware of its alteration, and longed for legs like hers—legs she didn’t even have! Rather than ignore the edit or call her out on it, I simply started complimenting her in person, pointing out how strong and attractive she was. I can’t know for sure that it’s made a difference, but she has yet to post an edited picture since.
It is wonderful to know that spreading a little bit of love has the power to go a long way. But we must never forget: how we treat others starts with how we treat the woman in our mirror’s reflection.
Photo Credit: Ashley Crawford Photography