Is There Anything To Be Learned From Glow-Ups?
Is There Anything To Be Learned From Glow-Ups?

Is There Anything To Be Learned From Glow-Ups?

7 minutes read

How to have a glow up’ is searched about 3,600 times every month in the UK. On TikTok, you will find thousands of videos of young people sharing how they went from being awkward teenagers to attractive young adults (often with revenge music playing in the background). Some of these transformations can be attributed to just puberty. Others to things like weight loss or make-up. 

As you may have already guessed, a ‘glow-up’ is a makeover. The term is usually used when someone changes the way they look, usually to become more conventionally attractive. 

But why has glow-up culture picked up so much momentum recently? And despite experts being critical of it, is there anything to be learned from the concept of a glow-up? Beauty Daily investigates…

attractive group of people post glow-up lying down next to each other

What are glow-ups and why are we obsessed with them?

TikTok transformations may be a relatively new phenomenon, but makeovers have a long history. For decades, we’ve watched films that portrayed women achieving great success and popularity, after slight alterations to their appearance (The Princess Diaries anyone?), plus makeover shows with dramatic before/after imagery. But why are we so obsessed with drastic transformations? 

“Before-and-after pictures allow for good storytelling through imagery,” says Dr Richard Reid, psychologist and member of The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). “Human beings are visual creatures and much more likely to remember something they have seen over something they have heard.” 

It’s probably the same reason we humans never tire of a rags-to-riches story. We love the idea of transformation for the ‘better’ – as long as there’s physical evidence to show for it. A before/after photo offers just that.

“As a society, we love comparing ourselves to other people and also to our past selves and therefore ‘glow-ups’ hit upon that,” says Michelle Elman, Author and Life Coach.  

She adds: “A big part of the messaging behind a before-and-after photo is the idea that if you can change the way you look, you can change your life – and that’s just not true.” 

If makeovers don’t actually have the power to change your life, what do they do?  

The link between physical appearance, confidence and identity

“Physical appearance and self-esteem are often closely linked,” says Dr Reid. “Our perception of how we look can have a big impact on the value we place on ourselves and how much self-confidence we have in our day-to-day lives. Equally, there is plenty of research that shows that others treat us differently depending upon how tall we are or how attractive they perceive us to be.” 

We also spoke to Kelly Lundberg, Personal Brand Strategist and Style Expert, who was a stylist during the early years of her career, and helped people feel better by looking better. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong correlation between how a person rates their outer appearance, and how high they rate their self-esteem,” says Lundberg. “During my years as a stylist, working with clients from all walks of life, I found that appearance has a massive impact on confidence.” 

She adds: “Many of my clients came to me when they were looking to start new jobs; had just had a baby; or were recovering from a life changing illness or relationship break up. All in their own way were looking to enhance their style to increase their confidence as part of their journey to discover their identity.”  

Elman believes that the true correlation is not between how you look and how confident you are, but between your belief about your appearance and the resulting confidence – or insecurity – it elicits. 

“A lot of the changes that happen when you change your appearance (like investing in self-care and spending more time on yourself) would have had an impact before changing your appearance,” says Elman. “But you don’t believe you are ‘worth it’ until after the glow-up. As a result, you decide that the confidence growth is a result of the bodily change and will have overlooked the behaviours you have changed and the change in the way you speak to yourself.” 

She adds: “Our society has fed us the myth that in order to be confident, you must fit (a certain) beauty ideal and the closer you get to achieving the beauty ideal, the happier you will be, and as a result more confident.” 

What not to learn from glow-up culture

If you’re a young person spending far too much time on the #GlowUp page on TikTok (that currently boasts 61 billion views), remember to consume the content with a pinch of salt.  

There are pros and cons to glow-up culture. In some ways, it can be useful. Watching someone take control of their life and successfully create change can provide inspiration to pull yourself out of a rut.  

“Very often it can be the nudge we need to kick old habits,” says Lundberg. “Yes, it’s what’s underneath that matters the most, but an outward change can support the way you feel on the inside.” 

But it’s also important to remember that transformation doesn’t always have to be physical. And even if it is, there is more to a transformation story than a 30-second social media clip can display. 

 “We are ignoring the amount of money that goes into facilitating these changes and the expertise needed in order to achieve that aesthetic,” says Elman.

“Glow-ups show the finished product without any of the work. These images will resonate with people looking for a quick fix because rarely is the time, energy or effort that is needed to create the result attached to the image.”

woman looking into the mirror

How to have a glow-up

We can all agree that sometimes, a haircut or new shade of lipstick really can be enough to facilitate the feeling of change and transformation we so often crave. But don’t ignore the power of a mindset-driven glow-up. 

“The concept of a ‘glow-up’ is so much more than a simple transformation of a before-and-after look,” says Lundberg. “It’s about finding a healthier and happier way to look after our bodies and our minds. How we value and respect ourselves as people goes beyond the mirror. The more rounded way is to take care of ourselves as a full package – emotionally, physically and spiritually.” 

Although we have little power over our external world, we do have some control over how we react to what is going on around us. “Learning how to take control of our internal world is one way of disconnecting our physical appearance from our self-esteem,” says Dr Reid.  

He adds: “The key is to focus upon our positives rather than our perceived faults. If we find ourselves focusing on the negatives, we should try to counterbalance this by thinking of one skill we have or one thing we have done this week that we are pleased with. Alternatively, positive affirmations are also useful in terms of transforming our mindset.” 

A different approach   

Although we can acknowledge that your physical appearance does, in many ways, affect your self-esteem, it’s not always straightforward.  

“It’s crucial to remember that people who achieve that bodily change (whether through weight loss or plastic surgery) don’t often grow in confidence,” says Elman. “It can be quite a shock to undergo those changes and then not see an automatic increase in confidence.” 

Instead, she recommends a different approach: to ditch comparison completely. Whether that means comparing yourself to another person, or to a past version of yourself. Even if you do want to lose weight or alter your appearance in some way, it’s important not to look at your past self as a lesser worthy ‘before’ photo.  

“The best ‘glow-up’ you can do is being able to look at past versions of yourself with compassion. It’s important to acknowledge that you were doing the best you could with the resources and knowledge you had at the time, no matter what you looked like,” says Elman. 

Next read: How Breathwork Can Improve Your Wellbeing

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