MANILA, Philippines – When I was in high school, my English teacher gave us an assignment. She told us to bring a picture of women we found beautiful. I got home and started tearing out pictures of magazines of all these gorgeous models and started putting it in a folder. My mom asked what I was doing, and when I told her the assignment, she jokingly said, “Hey, where’s my picture?”
The next day at school, we put all these “beautiful” photos in a collage and my English teacher stared at it and said, “How come no one put a photo of their mom?” I sat there in my chair thinking, “Mom was right! Maybe I should have brought her picture!”
The lesson for that day was about media literacy. We were learning how the images that media project shape our reality. Well, obviously the effects were evident. There, in a classroom full of 16 to 18-year-old girls, we all limited our definition of beauty to models in magazines.
Now I realize, beauty is much more than that, and I learned this lesson better throughout the years. When I was younger I used to limit everything “beautiful” to everything physical. It was only about what the eye could see. It had to be soft hair, clear skin, white teeth, to a great wardrobe and the perfect appearance. I think every young girl goes through this phase of wanting the perfect shell. And despite the fact that I worked on this shell tirelessly, I had this sense of hollowness within.
Especially when I entered the modeling industry, I was unprepared for the tough lessons I would face. Because I was young, I was always looking for reassurance from others that I was beautiful. “Did they like that shoot? Did they want to book me?”
This assumption put my happiness in someone else’s hands. It was believing, “Well, if they say I’m beautiful, then I am. But if they don’t, then I’m not.” As I type these words, I still can’t believe how ridiculous my thoughts were; but here I am and sharing lessons with you.
I don’t want this to be an article about blame, not to media or the modeling industry. Because I don’t think we should leave our notions of beauty in their hands. This limited idea that our beauty comes from the definitions and approval of other people is something I want to correct. I think we should personally ask ourselves the question “What is beautiful to me?” and take the definition of beauty into our own.
Because when we allow other people to define what is beautiful, we fail to express and accept our own individuality. The physical and personal traits that make us unique are submerged. In changing times, we have an opportunity to expand the ideas of beauty to become more inclusive of differences.
As I grew up, I found myself expanding my own definitions of beauty, and not limiting them to what lies on the outside. I would meet several strong, intelligent, courageous women who taught me how beautiful souls look like.
They were the examples of beautiful thoughts, actions, and intentions. These women were really just comfortable in their own skin. They embraced imperfection, and being themselves. Their confidence radiated from the inside.
The most beautiful of them were the ones who have endured the challenges of life. I had a tita who survived breast cancer. She is a symbol of beautiful strength to me. I have a cousin who is a single mom and she works hard to provide for her child. Her selfless love for her child is beautiful to witness. Working with a life coach and watching her strive to empower other people is a beautiful cause for me.
The definitions of beauty have expanded as I witnessed more women who were wonderful role models. And guess what? They weren’t the ones I saw in magazines, but the ones I saw in real life. – Rappler.com
Victoria Herrera is a TV and event host, model, and writer. In 2011, she released her first book, “Unscripted,” based on inspiring conversations on her previous radio show. In 2012, she hosted Runway TV Asia where she interviewed international fashion designers and celebrities. Shuttling between Manila and Singapore, she continues to explore the world of creativity, design, and fashion as a contributor for several magazines and newspapers.