[Written By: Shamso Abdirahman]
My last Instagram post was a selfie. I thought I looked cute in the picture and, more importantly, I remember feeling carefree and happy at the time. It had made the cut from the dozen others I’d taken, and – after seeking the counsel of various WhatsApp group chats (it absolutely was not a spontaneous post) – I posted the selfie. So came the post-upload wave of validation from friends and followers, and it’s fair and honest to say that my two hours of social media traffic was validating but soon enough – over. The many love heart emojis and messages with the words ‘glow-up season’ were all appreciated, but it never dawned on me that I had glowed up.
Was my confident show of selfies a sign of an upward trajectory?
For a long time I never liked taking photos and passed this off as an awkward phase rather than a latent dissatisfaction with my looks. I have definitely gone on untagging sprees and felt hideous after accidently flipping to the front camera, all whilst facing the barrage of sepia-tone beauty and perfection my Explore page feeds me. It’s almost now a rite of passage to ‘glow-up’ and shed your previous ugly to present the new and more attractive you to the world (many find a Pic Stitch illustrates this best). But what does it mean when my throwback pictures literally look like me on any given Monday and I give up on the #glowup trend? What does it mean when you don’t try to root your confidence in a “successful” physical change that’s applauded by your peers?
I’m 23 and the transformative powers of puberty are a distant memory; the glow-up is not pending and I’m kind of now entertaining the self-love, self-acceptance mantra. Because what happens when there is no glow-up but rather a stagnant acceptance that you nestle yourself in? Answer: you get a comfort in knowing that some days you will upload a cute pic and on others feel like a troll.
Truth be told, the entire concept of a glow-up stresses me – maybe it’s my own ugly history with insecurity, or how a glow-up doesn’t ever seem to show the beginning of something. Instead, a glow-up suggests the finality of a journey, with only a showcase of images to celebrate this achievement. As a woman, my appearance as universal currency to determine self-worth and progression is another point of contention – with a glow-up only being the last stage of the collated timeline of your attractiveness. So I feel somewhat more attractive… now what?
There is a tendency to bash Instagram as the tool of a self-destructive narcissism, yet mine does read like a catalogue of a forever fluctuating relationship with my image and how I’ve grown more comfortable to document happier moments. Most of my uploads came about when I went travelling this past year; something I never thought I’d ever do and feel most proud of. And those who know me best pointed how much more confident I was with sharing photos – but I don’t think the glow-up is in the upload of the best picture, but in the much slower journey to an unapologetic acceptance of yourself, mediocre or otherwise.
With age I’ve naturally experienced more and more; I’ve had some small successes and overcome dilemmas, all of which have built my self-esteem and are better foundations for a glow-up. And if there’s anything I take from ‘glowing up’, it’s that our personal growth and transformations are situated not just in photos where we look hot, but in the experiences we have (and survive), and all the baby-goals we accomplish on the way.