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Where Did My Confidence Go?

Lately, I’ve received messages from friends who have recognized that my ‘Insta-Game’ is not as strong as it once was. If you are not well versed in low-brow millennial speak, it effectively means I have not been posting frequent, valuable content on Instagram. Instagram was a social media platform that I was rather fond of, but I was often taken aback by its competitive nature and the sad comparative feelings that follow.

Now, this is not an opinion piece on ‘Is Instagram good or bad for your mental health?’ - the topic has truly been exhausted and I doubt I have any comment to contribute that you haven’t already heard. Still, I have been paying attention to my thought patterns lately and I recognized myself falling down a negative space, and perhaps the Instagram link has re-emerged.

Last year, I was a girl on fire. I felt wonderful, I thought I looked pretty and I radiated confidence. I posted content that made me feel good. If I uploaded an image of myself, it was an image that I felt beautiful in just as I was – I didn’t want to keep up with everyone else because I accepted that I couldn’t. My best offering was myself. Recently however, I’ve been plagued with negative feelings about how I look. I have not gained weight, there have been no radical changes to my features – but I don’t feel as confident as I once did. I make less of an effort with fashion, I shun the opportunity to be in photographs, I avoid nights out and I am stuck in a pattern of wishing myself different… a little bit more toned, a little less freckly. In my mind there’s been a vanity-themed Cluedo game running overtime… where did my confidence go?

With the homecoming of the reality show ‘Love Island’, where startlingly attractive single people all date in a villa, there have been a lot of jokes made by females that they feel their self esteem has been lowered by seeing an abundance of alluring women. I think to myself: perhaps I’ve drawn these comparisons too, after all I have become an addict to this reality TV show – however, I don’t feel quite compelled to put down the biscuits and hit the treadmill after watching. Although, there is an obvious link, and it’s working on me unknowingly. A lot of us females do compare ourselves, often subconsciously. A TV show which fails to represent diversity, can quickly have us thinking – ‘so this is what beauty is’.

Which brings me to my next obvious link: the unachievable over-editing of female bodies. With social media and an image editing application - a little nip and tuck is within everyone’s grasp. We can all now represent ourselves in whatever fashion we want to, it’s just miserable that so many of us elect to conform to what we think is the image of beauty. After discussing with one of my friends recently the trend of women manipulating their images to have the ‘Kim Kardashian’ big hips and a tiny waist, I discussed how it did not make me feel better about my body type, despite having broad hips and a petite midsection too. I have the body type that many women give the illusion of or try to achieve, but I have the unsightly, realistic version – the one that comes with cellulite on my thighs, tiger stripes on my bum and ill-fitting clothes. The lack of representation of women with cellulite and stretch marks, perhaps too, is what makes me feel in many moments as ‘not attractive enough’.

I understand many of you will be hearing the tiny violins, and I apologise if it seems I have invited you all to my pity party. Some people think I am ‘lucky’ to have my body type and to be really tall with blonde hair. But most of my life I have heard comments that ‘tanned, petite brunettes are stunning’. It’s harder to see beauty in yourself, especially when you are constantly drawing comparisons. Over time it can become ingrained that if you don’t look like the popular ‘trend’ of beauty, you are not attractive. Visually, I’m essentially a big sunflower – but why would I want to be a sunflower when roses are the notoriously beautiful ones?

I believe all people should be able to style themselves however they like and do whatever makes them feel good. But am I the only one who is tired? Surely it’s not practical that we all strain to look the same with all of the same features? There’s a lack of diversity that I have always known, but when I am not making the effort to repeatedly acknowledge it – it manages to brainwash me all over again! Kim Kardashian is whom I would regard as today’s icon of ‘beauty’, but that doesn’t mean we are not gorgeous human beings because of our own ways. It’s cliché but it needs reiterated time and time again that all races, all sizes and all people with all kinds of features are beautiful in their own way. The beauty standard changes as time goes on - once we believed stick-thin models were the most beautiful, now it’s women with specific curves. We can’t expect ourselves to constantly evolve how we look to keep up with what the media and society regard as ‘gorgeous’.

When I round up all my thoughts, it becomes clear. I started to withdraw myself from social media because I thought I couldn’t keep up with all these tan, curvy brunettes, and that I was always going to be the lanky woman with freckles. The vanity Cluedo gives it up: I have been indoctrinated once again.

I addressed my toxic thinking just last year when I had noticed the brewing of low self-esteem through comparing myself. The argument I make is not new, and we all know that there are constant endorsements of unrealistic beauty standards – we have all heard this argument before. However, the sad reality is, if you don’t make the effort to stay aware of what’s going on, you could be influenced subconsciously by the repetitive images of what’s ‘beautiful’ just through exposure to it.

So starting from now: I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop dodging photos with family and friends. I am going to wear the things that I used to wear that made me feel good, and go forward intentionally oblivious to what other people are doing. I need to reaffirm to myself that the qualities that make me different, are what make me enchanting.

In a garden full of roses that I will never look like, I’ll just stick to being the sunflower.