Why Saying “You Look Gorgeous” Is Not Helping The Body Image War

She IS beautiful.

She IS beautiful.

People can be ten thousand things, and really, looking beautiful is only one of them.

I recently participated in a photo shoot, and the photographer posted one of the images on Facebook.

Most of my Facebook friends posted underneath, You look [insert fabulous adjective here]! 

However, one person commented:

This is the true essence of you. Inside and out. This is the ultimate picture of the Amanda I know.

That comment made my day.

Because it was about who I am, and what makes me beautiful, rather than about the way I look.

We tell friends and family how they look eight million times in our lifetime.

You look strong. You look healthy. You look tired. You look sick. You look beautiful. You look stunning. You look like you just saw a ghost.

But how often do we tell those friends and family what we think they are?

For me, that photo shoot was a hard one. I'm two years into eating disorder recovery and my body looks radically different than it once did. Seeing pictures of myself still shocks me, and although theoretically I know there's nothing wrong with my size, it still surprises me when I see the fullness of my face and the width of my arms. I know that those who posted on that picture meant well, and were trying to show support for my journey and the fact that I have come so far, regardless of my drastic change in appearance.

But the comment about the essence of who I am, clearly stating that just because the outside of me has changed, doesn't mean the inside of me is any less amazing?

That is the kind of lifting up a girl needs.

That is the kind of lifting up that every woman needs.

As we move forward in this body image war that plagues so much of our country, how amazing would it be if we showed up to an event and someone told us that we are stunning, instead of that we look stunning? Not to mention how great would be if be if a friend asked us if we are tired, and do we need a pick-me-up, rather than telling us that we look tired? And furthermore, what I really want to ask, is if we can we take things further, and start to question our wording surrounding little girls.

As a dance teacher, I face a constant struggle when my girls get ready for a performance. They show up to the event, hair and makeup done for the stage, in a costume full of feathers, sequins, and fringe, and everyone oohs and ahhs, telling them how fabulous they look — myself included. It's extremely difficult not to gush over a 9-year-old who just rolled up in tap shoes and polka dots with a fierce red lip.

You look amazing! I exclaim. Are you so excited to perform?!

I catch myself doing it all the time. However, what we as adults are slowly instilling in our children when we exclaim these things during dance recitals and princess parties is that they only look beautiful when they are done up and dressed up. I don't know about you, but I want my girls to know they are beautiful without all that stuff too. I want them to know that they're gorgeous when they roll out of bed in their footie pajamas. I want them to know that they are breathtaking when they are sweaty and covered in bruises from a four-hour dance rehearsal. I want them to know that they don't just look strong, they are strong.

I also want them to know that they can accomplish anything in life without standardized beauty. I want them to know that the ability to carry on a conversation, or tell a good joke, or go after something that seems unattainable in this life is what really makes women strong, which in turn makes them undeniably beautiful. It's not always about the glitter and the lipstick. The glitter and the lipstick just make everything more fun.

I believe, with awareness, we can move forward to look at compliments differently. It takes work to change old habits, but it can be done.

Lead by example. In the office, at a party, at a wedding, at a coffee date. Tell the woman you are with that she is beautiful, she is amazing, she is hilarious, she is strong, she is fabulous.

And with the little ones in your life, try your best to do the same. Instead of telling a little girl how cute she looks, tell her how strong she is, how funny she is, how smart she is. Tell her she’s a rock star.

Tell the women in you life what they are.

That's how we build each other up. That's how we raise little girls to be badass women. That's how we support dreams, pave the way for feminism, and empower those that we love. If we want to change the way this world works, we have to bring it back to basics.

People can be ten thousand things, and really, looking beautiful is only one of them.

So let's spend some time praising the other 9,999 things. And when we do compliment the beauty of the people around us, because let's face it, it's a delicious part of life, let's just change our choice in words a bit. Make sure they know, without question, how beautiful they are, rather than how beautiful they look. And watch the world change.

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