In high school, I was an ugly duckling and I couldn’t wait for my glow up. I always vowed that when I got to university, I would revamp my entire look. Convinced that with the right diet plan I’d have a body like Kylie and a face like Gabrielle Union if I just devoured countless makeup tutorials. I also thought I’d have a wardrobe like Mariam Musa if I could find a part-time job that would finance my fashionista dreams. However, this was not the case. What I was met with instead was resentment at my body for not looking like the Instagram baddies. I was self-loathing because my face wouldn’t contort to the ideal that the internet told me to strive for.

I discounted the fact that many of these celebrities had money, professional trainers, and endless resources to help them achieve their goals. I berated myself as I felt I wasn’t working hard enough, or that I wasn’t doing enough sets or cutting out enough carbs. People on TikTok and YouTube were transforming instantaneously and yet I remained an ugly duckling. My lack of progress made me feel inadequate.

Celebrities my age like Kylie were transforming into sex symbols overnight. It felt like the space between becoming an adolescent and an adult was made for me to change my appearance. Yet, here I was failing miserably.

With the swipe of a credit card, celebrities went from a frog to a princess. I desperately wanted that until I realized, it wasn’t healthy. I would put my body in harm’s way so I could mold myself into what society deemed as beautiful. I’d conditioned myself to believe that the person I was had to change. I had to unlearn the hurtful things I’d told my body, which was just as hard trying to alter my body.

Since I was young there’d been countless movies where the protagonist suddenly took off her glasses or straightened her hair and she was beautiful. My first distinct memory of an ugly duck to swan movie was The Princess Diaries. That’s when I realized beauty is a currency. People who had acted like she didn’t exist started inviting her to parties and treating her with respect. Even in the movie, She’s All That her value increased when she conformed.

Although glow ups are a source of much inspiration and motivation it would be remiss to ignore the ramifications these challenges have. We live in a society that pressures us into thinking that if our waist isn’t a certain size or our arms aren’t defined, we are unattractive. Even though there’s been a rise in body positivity I still feel there is an impossible standard of beauty that continues to be upheld.

This is evident in a post that Kim Kardashian uploaded on Instagram with an incredibly tight corset her waist squeezed within an inch of her life. Seeing that post brought all my own insecurities back and I began to wonder about girls who are younger than me who’ve seen this. How this will impact them?

Even the obsession of ‘glowing up’ has manifested during a pandemic. This inexplicable pressure continues to run rampant when we should be focusing on staying safe. On YouTube, there are countless new uploads titled ‘glow-up in quarantine’, along with exercise videos specifically geared towards quarantine. The obsession with glowing up has transformed into a race to get fit by the end of lockdown. The narrative this builds is if you haven’t lost weight, improved your skin, or changed your makeup game, you’re a failure. The time we have wasn’t constructed to come out looking like a supermodel. The time in lockdown is to keep us safe from a devastating disease. But, it feels as though people have forgotten that.

Glowing up can be an amazing process for becoming healthier, confident, and happier. Taking control of your body and you’re life is empowering. To see yourself transform and meet the goals you’ve set takes determination. Glowing up doesn’t have to relegate to being a physical transformation only. It can be leaving an abusive relationship. Cutting off toxic friends. Standing up to your parents. Fixing what’s on the inside, is just as important as fixing what’s on the outside. Yet, the physical often takes precedence.

However, social media is a culture that profits off body image issues and insecurity. We need to be able to accept ourselves at every stage of our lives. At any moment when we look in the mirror, we need to love that reflection, because that is all we have.

  • Danai Nesta Kupemba by nature is a storyteller and a by product of this is her pursuing a Journalism and Media Studies degree Rhodes University. She's published a piece about war and family in Al-Jazeera, and hopes to be an advocate for Africa, by telling African stories. When Nesta isn't satisfying her wanderlust by stalking travel blogs, she's probably watching period drama's or reading Americanah for the thousandth time over.