We often hear it said in today's world that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and yet many of us have been lulled by unrealistic societal ideas of what beauty is supposed to look like. From fashion magazines to celebrity-laden TV shows and movies, these images distort our understanding of what is considered attractive and desirable—namely a tall, slim, white physique. And we internalize this ideology when engaging in one of our favorite activities: comparing ourselves to others. We measure ourselves based on skin shade, facial structure, eye color, hair texture, and body type, finding ourselves falling short in comparison to those who fit the socially accepted standard of white beauty. We constantly weigh ourselves against those "perfect" examples, leaving us too discouraged to pursue our own paths to happiness.
It's essential to note that this doesn't just apply to physical features; white supremacy can stretch beyond the reach of our image into other areas like wealth and career aspirations. Despite media armchair activists calling out systemic racism, minorities are still faced with stereotypes and subconscious bias preventing them from equal access to economic opportunity. This unequal playing field contributes to the cycle of oppression, where encounters with white privilege only further foster unfettered imaging of what success is supposed to look like—only furthering the power imbalance between racial communities that struggle to break from their standstill positions.
At the same time, comparison can also be damaging for those lucky enough to start at a place of privilege. Melani Rogers, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist points out the dangers of comparing ourselves to those more perfect than us—both physically and professionally. Those in positions of comfort tend to strive harder to attain personal perfection than those who have been edged out from society's elite group due to class or race barriers. "It's human nature that as soon as you get something, you want more of it," she explains. We feel pressure not only to achieve aesthetic standards of beauty but also professional excellence according to preordained arbitrary measures—not limits set by the individual.
As these expectations become more demanding, the anxiety takes hold and spins faster each day. It can consume us in our search for perfection—but such perfection cannot exist in reality. We must find our own balance between being content with who we are and continually working towards self-growth. Researcher Kira Birditt at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research says "when individuals focus on other people instead of themselves they may feel unfulfilled and unsatisfied with their life." By clinging only to these antiquated ideas woven into our culture, we risk overlooking the potential already within us—something that authentic strength comes from rather than comparisons based on arbitrary standards.
We have known for generations that beauty does not equate to success but that does not mean that we should stop striving for good things in life. Instead of focusing solely on looks or socio-economic status, we need to encourage individuals to chart their own success stories and be mindful of their expectations when starting out. There may be aspects of our lives that will never reach the glitzy heights portrayed in media or embodied by celebrities—and that's perfectly okay. You do not need to copy anyone's path or carry the invisible heavy weight when pursuing your dreams. When we stop trying to live up to others' definitions of success, then we can allow room for unexpected opportunities and growth. It is important to remember that our ability to shine shines brightest when we embrace all of who we are without extraneous limitations--both seen and unseen.