Kids, Beauty Standards and What I Wish I Could Tell My 9-Year-Old Self

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I was nine (nine!) when one of my older cousins told me that I should be careful not to gain any more weight, as I was bordering on “too curvy.” I took her advice to heart and for the next two decades, I worried about my weight constantly. In the sixth grade, I jumped rope 1,000 times a day because I heard a celebrity credit it for her weight loss. Ditto for Britney Spears’ infamous ab workout two years later. (She reportedly did up to 1,000 crunches daily during her “Slave 4 U” era.) It wasn’t until my early 30s (after a health scare, a marathon and a lot of deep conversations with my mother) that I actually started appreciating my body for what it did for me, rather than the way it looked.

Looking back, I feel sad thinking about my childhood and tween relationship with beauty standards. This awareness starts so early, which is why my best friend, who has two stepdaughters in middle school, is careful about the ways she talks to them. Even seemingly positive comments like, “You look so pretty,” can imprint value judgements that stick. My editor, who has a six-year-old daughter, agrees. “It’s so hard to navigate young girls’ relationships with their looks. On the one hand, you never want to tie beauty to their self-worth. On the other, no matter how many coding classes you sign them up for, there comes an age (at least in my experience) when many just start caring about it. My daughter is obsessed with a play lipstick tube she got in a goodie bag. Am I supposed to ban her from playing with it? No, seriously, I’m asking.”

As a beauty editor, I often wonder (and worry) about my role in this. When I write about “makeup tips for covering up a breakout,” am I upholding the fallacy that acne is something that should be hidden? Or when I’ve casually talked about the merits of facial massage for “sculpting your cheekbones,” am I teaching girls that having a fuller face is undesirable? Recently, I got a PR pitch that read: “Say Goodbye to Your Baby Face with This Celebrity Procedure.” It was one of dozens of emails in my inbox touting the benefits of buccal fat removal.

This cavalier language is rampant, and after writing about beauty for the last decade, I have become ever more wary about perpetuating it. That’s why I’ve made a commitment to stop using words like “anti-aging,” or “flawless,” and related phrases like “covers imperfections,” which isn’t easy in my industry (and quite frankly, slows down my writing), but I think it’s important. On that note, if you ever catch me slip up on this, you have my full permission to kindly flag it to my attention.

In other words, though I can’t go back in time and tell my nine-year-old self that she’s not fat, and that she’s rocking the hell out of that bowl cut with her outfit-coordinated headbands, I can use language I’m proud of in my stories and around the younger kids in my orbit.

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Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...