Conversations with our mothers on beauty, body confidence, and self-esteem

We sparked a conversation with a group of mothers and daughters about challenging ideal beauty conventions and promoting a healthy body image.

Cold Tea Collective is partnering with Dove and Refinery29 for Self/Service, a campaign that celebrates the diversity of girls and women, and empowers them to shatter beauty stereotypes and invest in their self-esteem. For more information on this partnership, visit www.coldteacollective.com/selfservice

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But how often is the beholder, you?

Cold Tea Collective sparked a conversation with a group of mothers and daughters about challenging ideal conventions of beauty and the importance of promoting a healthy body image. 

In 2017, the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found that low self-esteem and body confidence prevents young people from reaching their full potential. Eight in 10 girls will avoid seeing friends and family or withdraw from fundamental school activities because they’re unhappy with the way they look.

Coupled with the influx of mixed messages from the media—including the pressure to attain a monolithic standard of beauty—it’s unsurprising that 50% of young girls around the world struggle with low self-esteem (2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and ConfIdence Report).

These findings prompted Harvard psychologist and expert partner for Dove, Dr. Nancy Etcoff, to note that “low body confidence is a global issue”. Over the last 15 years, Dove’s long-standing commitment to raise body confidence and self-esteem in young people is accomplished through the Dove Self-Esteem Project. To date, their evidence-based body confidence and self-esteem educational tools have positively reached over 60 million young people across the globe.

Beauty should be a source of confidence, not anxiety. 

To listen to the in-depth conversations between our mother-daughter duos and learn more about this series, read to the end of the article, or visit our campaign page.

See also: Growing up between two ideals of beauty

Challenging beauty standards and negative body talk

Born and raised in a generation that heavily regarded skin whitening products, Mikaela’s mother Ina associated beauty with being fair-skinned—an ideal she grew up with through constant reminders from her mom to “stay away from the sun”. 

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Ina Kane and Mikaela Kane
Photo: Lindsay Wu

In Asian cultures, light skin isn’t just about vanity. It’s deeply rooted in social, racial, and political meaning. To have fair skin signified status, namely: “a woman of high class, education, and leisure,” according to Joanne L. Rondilla, author of Is Lighter Better?: Skin-Tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans.

For Ina, she didn’t conform to these external pressures. She knew she could never look like the supermodels of her time. It was impossible—she was Filipino while the models were white. 

But it was—and still is—a common aspiration among Asian women to look like the white supermodels gracing the covers of magazines.

Challenging negative body talk was an ongoing process that Ina went through anytime her aunts critiqued her weight. She chose to adopt a positive mindset instead—something that she instilled in her daughter, Mikaela, at an early age.

“You made it very clear to me that it was just facts growing up,” Mikaela recalled to her mom. “You always told me, \’This is your body, it’s different from others, and you just have to deal with it and love it.\’”

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Mikaela Kane
Photo: Lindsay Wu

Ina’s constant reminder of self-love instilled a positive and healthy mindset within Mikaela. 

For Serbjit, Summan’s mother, self-acceptance is an ongoing journey that takes time to cultivate. Even after 47 years, Serbjit still struggles with body confidence. 

“I still have that self-talk about slimming down,” she admitted to her daughter, Summan. She never considered herself to have a regular body type.

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Serbjit Kandola and Summan Kandola
Photo: Lindsay Wu

Regular, for me, means somebody that is probably considered a size 14, 12, or less,” she explained. “It’s a number. I don’t like hearing myself talk about that right now that way.”

On one occasion, she remembers how convinced she was that an Indian store didn’t carry anything in her size. “I was acting like my weird self… and the clerk looked at me and said, ‘No, we have lots of stuff in your size, what are you talking about?\’”

It takes time to build self-esteem and body confidence. Part of this process involves empowering women and girls to diversify their sources of beauty and adopt a holistic approach.

Globally, women are beginning to challenge beauty narratives—80% want to look their personal best (2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and ConfIdence Report) rather than follow an accepted definition of beauty.

For Ina, rebelling against traditional notions of beauty led to self-acceptance. “Back then, when they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder is a man,” she recalls. “But it can’t be another person, it has to be me.” 

See also: Like mother, unlike daughter: a self-care journey on adulthood

The positive impact of social media

While social media has been maligned for its toxicity, its influence is undeniable in providing space for content creators in every corner of the world—regardless of their race or size. 

“When I was growing up,” Mikaela said to her mom, “I didn\’t have the ability to choose who went on what magazine covers—that message was thrown at me. Now I choose to follow women who only look like me, women who have the same body type. And that\’s way more uplifting. It\’s all about representation.”

Before social media, decision-makers chose who was in the media. This created a racial gap among people of colour and limited the types of role models for girls, who only saw one version of beauty represented. 

Today, influencers from all walks of life have infiltrated social media. 

“I grew up in the ‘80s at a time when music videos started coming out,” Serbjit, Summan’s mom recalled. “There were people who wouldn’t get played because they weren’t beautiful or thin enough. But they had phenomenal voices.” She considered it to be a loss for her generation. 

In the age of social media, Summan observes the powerful shift in user-generated platforms as a way to generate change and promote diversity.

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Summan Kandola
Photo: Lindsay Wu

“It\’s given you and I the opportunity to sit here and have this conversation and talk about beauty,” Summan told her mom. “In the old world, this would never be done. We would never be considered beautiful enough to even have this conversation.”

Mikaela also notes the positive impact, namely with more representation among influencers who actually look like her. 

“To be in a predominantly Filipino community and look so different from the rest of my peers—that was so hard,” Mikaela said. “Looking towards magazines and famous people, I was so different from them. \’Where do I fit in? Where is my representation?\’ Now it\’s out there and I love it.”

See also: Reclaiming space with confidence as a woman of colour

Moving beyond beauty

Jasmine’s mom, Theresia, always made sure that her daughter understood the importance of looking beyond aesthetic. Real beauty is about a woman’s heart—it’s how she treats other people; it’s in her role as a friend or a mother; it’s how she owns herself.

“When I think about how often I spoke with my mother about body confidence and insecurities, that\’s actually never. This was the very first time that I got to and it gave me a lot to reflect on in terms of why I may have felt uncomfortable before,” Jasmine shared. 

Jasmine thinks this is because she is mixed — Black and Asian. “There was always this boundary of my Mom being Asian, and maybe a little bit of me, not necessarily thinking that she would understand how I felt.”

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Theresia Lynch and Jasmine Lynch
Photo by: Lindsay Wu

We have the power to influence ourselves and the women in our lives to realize their full potential through meaningful conversations, shifting negative self-talk and promoting body confidence.

As Theresia tells Jasmine, “I feel confident to be whatever I am. Just accept whatever you are. Everybody has their own beauty.”

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Jasmine Lynch
Photo by: Lindsay Wu

Having positive female influences in our life is instrumental in shaping our confidence. 

We can teach and learn from each other by reclaiming our narrative and understanding that we don’t need to conform to the pressures of what is deemed socially desirable.

No one fits into a homogenized standard of beauty. If we did, it’s a disservice to ourselves because we’re actively rejecting the unique qualities that make us who we are. 

As Summan’s mom, Serbjit reminds us, “There’s more to loving yourself than just your body. It\’s loving your story. It\’s loving who you are. It\’s accepting who you are, where you\’ve been, what you\’ve been through.”

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Cold Tea Collective is proud to partner with Dove and Refinery29 on Self/Service, a campaign that celebrates the diversity of girls and women, and empowers them to shatter beauty stereotypes and invest in their self-esteem. For more information on this partnership, visit www.coldteacollective.com/selfservice

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