As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we’re looking ahead. See, we’ve all been trained to see ourselves and to define beauty through someone else’s lens. But a new generation has told the world that they reject the beauty ideals put in place, and we are actively cheering those new voices on and amplifying the chorus.
This isn’t an after school PSA oversimplifying the power of self-esteem. This is a love letter to anyone who isn’t reflected when they see images elevated as "beautiful," anyone who has been told they don’t have the "right look," anyone who is an Other.
Despite the promising rise in narratives around body positivity and movements for more varied and unfiltered depictions of beauty, we are awash in these unhealthy ideals. Young people are inundated with unrealistic beauty criteria, pressured for “perfection,” and constantly exposed to toxic images that affect their evaluation of their self-worth. The promotion of specific beauty ideals in social media is directly related to body dissatisfaction. And it's getting worse.
As two Black women who have been working as leaders in media and marketing, we feel a responsibility to promote a forward wave of ideas. We were recently introduced by a colleague because our respective companies have a business relationship. On a personal level, we had an immediate connection after both lamenting about the messaging that the teenagers in our lives are bombarded with daily. Today, my step-daughter turns 18 years old and, naturally, I've been meditating on the young woman she's becoming and how she and my younger daughter view themselves.
We want to take a stand together against unhealthy beauty standards that have ruled for far too long -- benchmarks put in place as subconscious goals, found everywhere from children’s books to mainstream fashion sites. Our mission is to break and rewrite the prevailing beauty narrative and explore the ways that fostering confidence can change the way young people, especially those who rarely see themselves outside of instances of tokenization, find beauty in themselves and in each other.
So, we are creating something called The Confidence Code, a promise to ourselves, to each other, and to the girls (and soon-to-be women) we are raising to actively call out and combat existing narratives in our lives and our homes, and to find ways to draw upon inner confidence as a way to shift how we see beauty. The Confidence Code can be a new way of thinking that benefits and nurtures the mental health and wellbeing of our future generations.
Many of us have spent a lot of time looking inward over the past year, and that has ushered in a new investment in self-care. But we’d like to push that a step further and encourage self-talk. The Confidence Code is a conversation that begins inside your own head. It’s a mentality. It’s a "you are worthy" systems check and a tool for inspiration to recognize and claim the power already present in yourself.
It's especially important in this moment, when some students have been out of physical school and at home for more than a year. Imagine the angst in re-entering the world in September, when the return to classrooms also means being up-close to even more cues and expectations of how to look, be or feel. This makes The Confidence Code even more essential, even more urgent for young people.
Historically, those who have been tasked with creating the resources to educate younger generations about building self-esteem are out of touch with the often nuanced struggles that young underrepresented people experience. We’re taking Gen Z’s (not a monolith, we know!) lead and are choosing to use beauty as a form of activism. We are making a commitment to help shine a light on and be a mirror to intrinsic power as a multi-generational effort. The Confidence Code is about empowering those behind us with the tools, not rules, to unlock inner strength.
Consider it a detox, a jumpstart to help fully realize one’s own capacity and power, where other signals exist to manipulate. Too often, inner strength gets lost beneath societal messages or subliminal cues on how to look, be, or feel. The Confidence Code is an acknowledgment of personal agency, an assertion of free choice rooted in identity, and a dedication to claiming intrinsic power to be our truest selves.
Confidence does not inoculate one against all moments of insecurity, comparison, and shame on the journey of self-discovery. It’s about challenging how we talk about our bodies and our self-image. That’s not always built in for everyone and, for many of us, it’s a lifelong journey. Point is, we need each other to celebrate and not assimilate. This pledge is a mechanism for the two of us to support one another and ourselves. Think of it as a dose of self-care, an inner coach cheering us on when insecurities whisper in the dark. We will put it on like a suit of armor when confronted with unrealistic beauty standards, some pressure to fit in some mold.
We want The Confidence Code to be like a tribe that we draw our loved ones into. We recognize it in others, further encourage it, applaud it, and grow the tribe. It’s not an exclusive club, but one that will be like a magnet that draws others into it. It amplifies the impact of our inner stan and calls us into being. When ideas that breed insecurities and self-loathing creep up, when we find ourselves making comparisons when scrolling on social, we pledge to pause and ask ourselves where those messages are coming from and why. We pledge to regularly remind ourselves and our daughters that there are systemic forces designed to undermine our self-worth. Don’t subscribe. Do not like. Unfollow.
Right now we need optimism, and that can come organically through inclusivity. Inclusivity not as an of-the-moment buzzword, but as a way forward. Join us in imagining, what if there were no beauty standards to hold ourselves up to? Nothing “good” or “bad” or “for” a specific gender identity, skin color or hair type. Seriously, can you imagine? What if none of that was a thing? No labels. No judgement. Just knowing and investing in your worth.
We are starting with this pledge to each other and to our families to do better, and we are publishing it here to hold ourselves accountable. We hope to bring that same dialogue and gut check to Refinery29 audiences in a concrete way. Stay tuned as we shape this personal promise into action for our larger communities. We hope you'll join us.
Simone Oliver is Refinery29's Global Editor In Chief.
Esi Eggleston Bracey is the Executive Vice President and COO of Unilever North America and the Dove brand. She has spent 30 years as a global leader in beauty, cosmetics, and marketing and has been a driving force for equity and inclusion in the industry, and the groundbreaking CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Act Legislation.