Beauty isn't really in the eye of the beholder
Last updated 10/26/2022 at 4:29pm | View PDF
I never saw Christina Aguilera's original "Beautiful" video when it came out 20 years ago. I'm not sure I would have appreciated it if I had.
But as the mother of a soon-to-be 14-year-old who sees herself as anything but beautiful, I found the remake of the video - released in honor of World Mental Health Day and the 20th anniversary of her album "Stripped" - to be profound.
The new video dramatically illustrates the pressures kids are under today, with images from traditional media, compounded now by social media, encouraging them to compare themselves to ridiculous, unattainable standards.
The video opens with teens looking into their smartphones, as a barrage of "self-help" messages play in the background, offering tips on everything from how to be more attractive to how to have a more effective workout.
"Every day is so wonderful," Aguilera sings.
"Then suddenly it's hard to breathe.
Now and then I get insecure
From all the pain, I'm so ashamed."
Images appear of perfect dancers in their identical outfits and makeup, not an ounce of fat on them, all appearing to film themselves on their phones.
And of a grown man - who must be a professional body builder - lifting weights surrounded by a group of skinny teens who have no hope of looking like him at this stage in their life.
And a young woman trying to create the same kind of cleavage she sees in magazine photos of a woman who is probably twice her age (and has been to see a plastic surgeon).
Scenes of a teenage boy considering suicide are interspersed in the video as well.
I found the most disturbing images to be those of teens - all beautiful in their own right - with their faces marked for plastic surgery.
But this is a song of empowerment.
"You are beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can't bring you down," Aguilera sings.
And as the mood in the video shifts, girls wipe off the surgeon's marks, remove their makeup, tear up the photos depicting perfection. They put down their phones and head outside, climbing trees, jumping rope, running in a field, enjoying the sunshine and the wind in their hair.
"We are beautiful in every single way. Words can't bring us down. So don't you bring me down today."
At the end of the video, a message appears: "In the last 20 years, since 'Stripped' was first released, social media has transformed our relationship with our bodies and, in turn, our mental health. Research suggests that time spent on social networking sites is associated with body image issues, self-harm, and disordered eating in children and teens. This needs to change."
The video then directs viewers to Aguilera's website for more information, where she has links to the International Mental Health Association, HelpGuide and Trans Lifeline.
We've worked to provide readers with information about mental health resources in the community as well. Community Memorial Foundation's website at cmfdn.org has a mental health resource guide under the "Resources" tab that lists community and hospital-based metal and behavioral health services in the area. People in crisis can text "now" to the free and confidential Crisis Text Line at 741741 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And while none of us should be ashamed of seeking treatment for mental health issues, I would hope Aguilera's video helps us start conversations with our kids before they reach a crisis point.
I hope we as adults hear her message as well and stop looking at our bodies as things that need to be fixed.
We are beautiful in every single way. Say it until you mean it.
- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected]