The Problem with Glow Up Culture

Op-ed

“He doesn’t look like my type. I wouldn’t want to be seen with him.”

“She’s pretty. She must be a snob.”

“Their collar is wrinkled. They must be a mess.”

See, we’ve got a problem. We all have the natural tendency to want to get to know other people and understand them, yet we live in a society run by social media. Especially during the pandemic, it’s taken a prominent role in our day-to-day lives and interactions. However, on any site, we know that the most we’ll probably ever get to know about the stranger on the screen will be what we can discern from a fifteen- to thirty- second clip they probably posted half-asleep at three in the morning.

With so little time, we may lunge at the first opportunity to place them. This opportunity is most likely in the form of their physical appearance, the first and most clear-cut thing we’d notice about them. Forming a judgment based on attitude could take minutes or even hours, but forming one based on how they look is instantaneous.

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Because society is still run by the same beauty standards, this judgment is shared by many and often sticks with the person. Therefore, people feel pressured to align with such standards. This process is often called a “glow-up,” wherein a person proudly shows off the changes in their physical appearance before and after a significant event or over a period of time.

While it may promote a person’s motivation to work on themselves and be more confident, we have to acknowledge that the practice can be pretty toxic. This is especially applicable to preteens, who feel as if they need to mature much faster than they should in order to keep up with the latest trends and standards. Here are three statements behind many glow-ups that show us why.

Toxic Affirmations

1. “I need societal validation”

Let’s face it: we all love looking good, and we take concrete steps towards achieving the particular physical appearance we wish for, may they be as simple as putting on a face mask for glowing skin or as complex as cosmetic surgery. There is nothing wrong, of course, with any of those things. Everyone is obviously beautiful, and it’s wonderful when people finally see that truth in themselves.

It becomes harmful when, rather than striving for self-love and self-confidence, the goal is solely societal validation. This draws the line between growing as a person and changing who you are altogether. When you want to make a positive change in yourself and your life, do it for you. You know yourself best, so you should never let anyone else determine your worth.

2. “I am not enough”

Remember when Adele posted this?

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A post shared by Adele (@adele)

Well, people flooded the comments much more than usual with praises, calling her “gorgeous” and “another woman completely” while congratulating her for her “glow-up” and for “staying strong,” even though she made no mention whatsoever of her physical appearance. Although Adele looked just as stunning here as she has in every other photo on her page, people seem to take the fact that she lost some weight as a call to validate her as a person.

This is just one of the many proofs as to why glow-up culture is toxic. Adele’s previous weight was in no way unhealthy. The comments all showcased how so many people placed value in her physical appearance, and thousands of people who shared her previous body type may suddenly feel insufficient and unaccomplished. Behind the “glow-ups” that may result from this, then, is the sentiment that they are not enough as they are and must lose weight to be considered something special and worthy of appreciation.

3. “Physical beauty is my ultimate goal and the source of my worth.”

This, as we all know, is much easier said than done. But there is more to life than sitting around feeling bad about something there’s absolutely nothing wrong with and waiting for others to tell you you’re worth something. You’re here to stand up for what you believe in, stand up for what’s right, make a difference. You’re here to dance in the rain like the main character you are and not care what anyone thinks. You’re here to make memories with those who can love and spend time with you without giving even a single second to think about your flaws. When your time comes and you look back on your life, I know you’d genuinely much rather say “I lived” than “I looked good.”

Affirmations to Replace These With

1. I am enough.

2. I will not base my worth on how I look.

3. My goal is self-love, not societal validation.

4. I will not allow others to keep me from living my life.

5. I'm beautiful and I deserve to feel it. So is and does everyone else.

Meg P.
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Meg is a high school student who is especially interested in the fields of environment, history, medicine, philosophy, and politics. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and watching movies.