The popular phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is often casually used as a reminder to focus on “inner beauty” rather than outward appearance; however, internalizing its message proves to be challenging. The pressure to conform to society’s beauty standards makes it hard to not care about personal appearance, leading to issues with low self-esteem especially among teens. Furthermore, growing up in today’s society where it is easy to create false images of beauty and perfection online makes it even harder to ignore outward appearances.
As a kid, I certainly had no care in the world about my appearance. Looking back on photos where I am wearing bulky Keens sandals, cargo shorts, and a tye-dye t-shirt makes me cringe while smiling at my childhood ignorance and complete lack of regard for how my “look” was perceived by others. As I grew up, however, and entered middle school, I began to be more aware of how my appearance compared to others’. Like many pre-teen girls, I used makeup for the first time and started paying attention to the latest mainstream fashions. Towards the end of high school, however, I started to become more comfortable with my own skin (both metaphorically and physically) and stopped trying to use makeup to cover up blemishes or imperfections. I realized that when I wore makeup I no longer felt like myself but like an imposter in my own body. Furthermore, wearing makeup would only make me worry about getting judged for attempting to conform to beauty standards. Now, I rarely wear face makeup and have learned to be confident with my “imperfections.” Besides a little bit of daily mascara, I save makeup for special events, for dressing up and weekends, which make those occasions seem more special. On a day-to-day basis I no longer worry about being judged for my physical appearance and have become quite confident with my natural self.
Although I have learned to not conform to beauty standards in my daily life, I do care more about my appearance online and I am easily accused of over-editing photos so that I become only a resemblance of my true self. I think one reason why I worry about “perfecting” my social media presence is that often times online images form first impressions. For example, before coming to Carleton many students of the class of 2022 started following each other on Instagram and made judgments based on the photos and captions of their peers. I have discussed with my floormates how, based on his Instagram account, we all thought one of our friends was going to be a crazy party boy, girl obsessed and “too cool for school.” Although it turns out none of that is true, it demonstrates how easy it is to create an alternative identity online and how we form snap judgments based on someone’s online image, leading to preoccupation over one’s appearance.
I hope that someday I can learn to not care about my appearance online just as I have ceased to worry about my daily image. Although I can tell myself not to “judge a book by its cover” I know from experience that this is hardly ever achieved and that physical appearances do to a some extent affect how we are perceived by others. However, my goal is to learn not to care about first impressions based off of physical appearance as I strongly believe that in the long run personality trumps image and that no friendship or lasting relationship can be purley formed off of beauty.