Is Our Obsession with “Glowing Up” Toxic?

Op-ed

If you're on any social media platform, it's highly likely that you've come across multiple glow-up videos on your feed. People post pictures of their younger selves and then show their current selves- who are almost unrecognizable in comparison. The comments are filled with praise and delighted surprise, but is it possible that this seemingly ageless trend is toxic?

What is a Glow-Up?

According to the Urban Dictionary, glowing up is to go from the bottom to the top to the point of disbelief. An incredible transformation.

This doesn't necessarily mean a physical change, but can also mean improvements to your mental state. Despite this, when we think of a 'glow-up' we usually think of a physical transformation- probably because physical changes are more noticeable than mental ones.

Why Do We Find Glow-Ups Necessary?

On the whole, glow-ups are seen as an essential aspect of your teenage years. Often in teenage movies, the female protagonist has a 'makeover', including straightening her hair and learning how to put makeup on. This causes the jock to fall in love with her and the popular girl to befriend her. Had she not taken off her glasses and put a dress on, the movie would have had a completely different ending, and she would have remained the same 'unpopular loner' as she was at the beginning. As trivial as it sounds, it sends out the message to a lot of teenage girls that glowing up is necessary to wrap up your adolescence, and if you don't look like a supermodel by the end of it, you failed.

Another thing that feeds into this whole glow-up culture is social media. Most of us don't follow many 'ordinary' people besides people we personally know- we follow influencers and celebrities who often don't look like average people in their posts. This is down to a variety of different reasons, such as filters, angles and even Photoshop, but it's hard to consciously bear that in mind when you consume hours of their posts. If you're not careful, you internally normalize an unrealistic standard, contributing to the need to have a glow-up.

Are glow-ups impossible to achieve?

For most people who live 'normal' lives and earn an average salary, extreme transformations are near impossible to achieve. Maintaining a 'perfect' look costs a lot of money and time that most of us simply don't have. We can't afford braces, surgery or top of the range cosmetics because all our money goes towards university funds. We don't have the money to spend on personal trainers, nutritionists and beauticians because we're saving up for a car, or a house, etc. And we don't have enough time to be at the gym 24/7 or take hours trying to figure out which hairstyle suits us best, because we have to work.

Some people are at the point in their life when they can afford to do all that, which is great. But most people aren't, and it doesn't make you a slob, or ugly, it just means you have different priorities.

Toxic beauty standards!

It's no secret that beauty standards suck. They're illogical and horrible, but they're there. Glowing up only reinforces these standards that we all so desperately want to be free of. In a lot of cases, glowing up doesn't mean getting prettier, it just means fitting into society's ever-changing beauty standards. You don't need a nose job, because your nose isn't ugly. You don't need lip fillers, because your lips aren't ugly. When you think about it this way, it begs the question: what exactly are we glowing up from? It could be low self-esteem, but it certainly isn't ugliness.

Are glow-ups toxic?

So, back to the question on hand. Based on all this, is this trend toxic?

The short answer is yes. Changing the way you look isn't possible for a lot of people, because of our capitalistic society, so all it does is build resentment and lower self-esteem. It causes people to base their self-worth on the way they look- after all, who cares if you're a kind person if you have crooked teeth? This illogical argument stems from glow-up culture. Plus, as cheesy as it sounds, everyone is beautiful in their own way, so why should we change the way we look if we're already beautiful?

Having said that, perhaps we need to go back to what a glow-up actually means. It doesn't necessarily mean a physical transformation, it could also mean a mental transformation. Instead of using artificial methods to glow up, we could use healthy habits (such as journaling and meditation) to have a glow up. If glowing up means becoming healthier and happier within yourself, then how is it toxic? Yes, physically glowing up may make you feel more confident, but it's just not attainable for most people. Note that as long as you're doing it for yourself rather than to please the people around you, glowing up can become a wonderful thing.

All in all, if we divert attention from looking 'better' to feeling better, we can remove the toxicity of glowing up. We are made up of so much more than the dress size we wear, or how white our teeth are. Our character is what defines us as a person, and if we become the happiest and most authentic version of ourselves, what bigger glow-up can we ask for?

Alisha Bilal
10k+ pageviews

Alisha is a 16 year old girl. She loves reading, writing and learning about new languages and cultures. She particularly enjoys researching and critically thinking about the society in which we live and hopes to pursue a career related to English in the future.