Salma Hayek once said: "People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder."
Her words were most prevalent to me specifically one day last April, when I walked into a hair salon with ten inches of hair and came out with two.
I listened as my haircutter's scissors snipped through my outer shell: a messy blend of blonde strands, tangled in one another, spilling over my shoulders and down my back. Even as I watched pieces of me fall below my feet, I felt whole inside.
When I returned to my university later that day, it was a different story. At Saint Joseph's, with its lush greenery and old tower centripetal to the rest of campus, almost every girl within a three-mile radius has sweeping locks. Many students from surrounding traditional Catholic upbringings come to study, and as a result, the look of our student body can be described as homogeneously preppy.
One snap decision made me look like I didn't belong anymore.
A few people mentioned how a pixie put the emphasis on my face, which was scary for me. I had always put most of my self-confidence in my hair as a teenager, and was a novice at doing my own makeup.
Every day waking up was like being naked, and everyone else was clothed. Other people eventually became acclimated with my new look, but a part of me never did. They may have stopped staring, but I began to stare at myself.
In a way, I became my own critic and the reviews were harsh.
To compound these insecurities, I became nervous about posting on apps like Instagram and even Snapchat. If so many people would see, was it worth posting? Did I look like a middle school boy? Did I look worse than before? What did people really think?
My feed became a way for me to see how my peers measured up. Social media had once been my weapon against fear. But now it had turned against me.
Blending in was safe. This felt dangerous.
What I didn't realize then was just how much more insight I gained that April afternoon. I started to empathize more with women who didn't necessarily fit the narrow definition of a classic feminine "beauty." Daring to challenge feminine stereotypes of what a woman "should" look like was a way I could gain perspective with women who couldn't be the wallflower I had been before.
As a sex, women are no longer confined to fitting a mold with the right sexual orientation, or race, or nose, or breast size or even, as silly as it may sound, hair length.
Maybe the seven inches between my old haircut and my new one had not changed how other women perceived me; but for many women, uncontrollable variables about their look affect how "beautiful" the world deems them to be. Even if you feel accepted, there's a difference between feeling good about yourself and being able to project it to the world.
Female writers and actresses like Mindy Kaling, show runner of Hulu's The Mindy Project, have spoken out about what being a woman in this day and age really means.
Kaling, who has given a voice to non-traditional beauty for women, once said: "I find it very sad that so many girls who look up to me... are young women of color who have been told that they are ugly and who feel that they are not normal. I think it's so important for women who look like me to find that they can be beautiful or objects of love, attention and affection."
They're not the only words that Kaling, and others, have said in support of confidence and success for marginalized women.
Kaling and Hayek's words bear weight in an ever-changing present that hails traditionally-beautiful women as perfect. Social media can be used for good, as long as it brings us together rather than apart.
We are moving towards equality, but it's easy for us to fall back on what we know when it's most convenient for us. If we let social media pressures define us as women, we're reverting back to a time that propagates outdated sexist ideologies.
Feminism today needs more strength, not less.
Young women are here to stay. So is social media. Let's use it to empower ourselves and our choices; let it unite us as women and let us accept one another for who we are.
In Kaling's words: "If you got it, flaunt it. And if you don't got it? Flaunt it. 'Cause what are we doing here if we're not flaunting it?"