“How to Glow up over quarantine”, “Glow up series 2 crowns winner ” , “Glow up challenge: How to become prettier in one month” are just some of what pops up if we type up this term. Which in my view just gives a small glimpse into some of the pressures faced day to day, telling us how we ought to be making a conscious effort to better ourselves, so therefore we can comply with social media’s modern day beauty standards. Yet what actually is “glowing up”, what is the point of it, and should it actually be a thing at all?
What is Glowing up?
So the definition is often a good place to start. However as you can probably guess there is a good range of terms out there… According to the Urban Dictionary, it is a pretty basic (and shallow) concept, simply meaning “when you go from ugly to stunning”; meanwhile “wikitionary” defines it in a very similar way being “the complete transformation of a person’s appearance for the better”. This way it seems as if the true meaning behind a “glow up” is basically the same as how it’s portrayed online, though there are variations as to what this really means. As while most people do think about it as simply being a transformation of appearance, some people use this term to describe a change for the better in a persons lifestyle or wellbeing, such as managing to significantly cut down or give up on alcohol or smoking, obtaining a healthier diet or experiencing an improvement in mental health. Therefore has the term “glow up” just been hugely misinterpreted, or is the whole concept and meaning of this toxic?
How is it Used and Why could it be a Problem?
Traditionally the term glow up was meant to be “another phase for going through puberty” but focusing on ” the improvement of physical, individual style and overall attractiveness and maturity”. This in itself can be interpreted in many different ways, because while this may refer to a young person developing their personal style and tastes it can also implicitly imply something rather more demeaning. “The improvement” of “overall attractiveness” can not only suggest they were less attractive as a child, but it could imply to the teenager that if they ought to be spending a sufficient amount on makeup and clothing in order for them to be able to “improve” visually even though many teenagers and their families do not have the money to invest in such a drastic change. While if they don’t see a “sheer improvement” in themselves, and if other people don’t point anything out either, then it may lead to them feeling as if they are “not good enough”.
We have only been talking about “glowing up” in very recent times, but the culture surrounding “glowing up” has certainly not come out of no where. Perhaps you felt good about yourself when your style began evolving, when you were given the go ahead to dye your hair or when you began exercising more frequently. Plus let’s not forget the numerous numbers of “makeup transformation” videos which were watched at too young of an age (these are still common now), not to mention happily scrolling through clothes online, knowing that not very much would be affordable. Thinking of this leads me to wonder whether the previous generation would have felt as much pressure upon them regarding the way they look, at such a young age. On the other hand I certainly feel that those who are a few years younger than myself are going to have it worse still, as technology and social media becomes increasingly prevalent in the life of someone of that age.
The act of Kylie Jenner having her “transformation” which included the significant change in the shape of her lips a few years ago, suggested that a term was needed to describe this kind of change. You probably also remember this leading to far too many young people resorting to a water bottle, in either a desperate attempt to replicate the shape of her lips, or just as part of the whole trend- which basically boils down to the same thing. Though forgetting plastic surgery, surely there cannot be too much wrong with celebrating the change in your own or in someone else’s appearance over a period of time. Well with it being referred to as a “glow up”, it does raise the question of whether the person is thought to have been glowing as much beforehand. And seeing as it is mainly a visual thing, it is basically suggesting that a person’s self worth depends on their appearance, rather than on the gradual growth of character. Therefore with this shallow concept being so prominent, there is no wonder why there has been a decline in adolescent mental health in recent years. Rather would it not be better to invest time into focusing on becoming more mature internally, finding other things to occupy ourselves with? So yeah, you are probably going to look different before and after puberty, and your style too may have significantly changed, but seriously you do not need to worry about layering a lot of makeup on and investing a load into clothing if it is not your thing, and you most certainly shouldn’t be worrying about a few spots on your skin!
But Where did all this Originate From?
Well “glowing up” was once referred to as just a “glo up”, and while it is still unclear where this originated from, it is thought to have been traced back to song “Gotta glo up one day” back in 2013, where the theme was centered around making financial gains. Then between 2016 and 2017, many you tube videos were made centered around the process of having a “glo up”, which really looked very similar to how they look today… While Buzzfeed article titled “21 painful truths anyone who has experienced a glo up will remember” tells those who have experienced a “glo up” that they once wore makeup “making them look like a travelling circus member”, that their “phone was always dry AF on valentines day” and that “their best feature was always their personality”. Now this sounds like just a rather light hearted and actually funny article, and to be fair it is, yet it does represent a sad underlying truth about the silly simplicity of how the online world views us. Other content during this time frame cannot be much better either (and I reckon that some of this has been written by people much younger than myself). There is one example promoting having “eyebrows always done”, “closet updates once a month” and to be “better at makeup”. Oops! Though funnily enough, according to that, a “glo up” also includes things like having “good grades”, having a relaxing Sunday and to love ourselves? This way it does touch upon deeper aspects of glowing up, which would lead to an improvement of our over all wellbeing. However (sorry to who wrote this post) do we really need to be doing our eyebrows every day in order to “love ourselves”.
What is a Glow Up Now Then?
Though mainly now the term glow up refers to someone looking better on the outside regardless of age. For instance Adele’s change in appearance was referred to many as a “glow up” partly due to her change in style, but also due to her weight loss… Meanwhile there are many videos and articles in circulation, giving advise on how to glow up often over lockdown, or even how to glow up over two weeks. It is difficult to say whether this is better or worse than before, because the initial interpretation would be that it is better to promote an optional change in appearance over whatever period of a person’s life, rather than pressuring young people into feeling that they have to “look better” at the end of puberty. But even so this current glow up culture doesn’t seem to go any deeper than what we were faced with before as once again we are being told the importance of looking “prettier and glowier”, “shedding a few pounds” oh and the “beauty sleep”. And while you could argue that this does focus a lot more on health, it still seems as if this is yet again rooted in appearance rather than anything else. As it is always about skin care products which help remove spots, sleep to remove those NASTY dark circles or the importance of cutting out carbs to fit in those jeans after a week, rather than the importance of a long term, healthy, but fulfilling diet with sufficient time to add in an exercise routine which is actually enjoyable! Or sleep because it is actually really important for your long term health. Rather than things which are merely meant to benefit your appearance.
Can it be Positive at all?
Let’s have a quick look at where the concept has been exercised in less of a shallow way. There are such things as “financial”, “educational” and even mental health glow ups out there now which are said to “provide life long lessons which will out last appearance”. Now it is funny that this is said because it almost contradicts the traditional meaning. Yet this does come from a website which states that “glow up culture fails to acknowledge the privileges’ and differences between us and public figures”. Which is perfectly true, because most of us do not have the time or money to invest in doing 3 workouts a day, a weekly trip to the spa or on a walk in wardrobe! Not to mention how expensive it is to get plastic surgery (even a boob job can cost over £5000).
Though the question remains, why on earth are so many of us obsessed with this fanatic of going from “ugly to pretty”? But it is rather clear that much of this culture will not go away, when the term glow up fans out…
So I think that it would be a reasonable judgement to say that the term “Glow up” is not great at all, as it is a general reflection of the extent of the underlying beauty standards to which we are all a burden to. Yet whether we want to look at this as a transformation which happens around the time of puberty, or whether it is something which can happen at any period of out lives, or both- we can also think about it as a development in ones character, style and personal attributes. As Odyssey states that “The real “glow up” is when we are OK with being alone, OK with conquering challenges, and OK with facing reality” rather than “about having perfect eyebrows, clear skin, and a perfect figure”. Which I feel is totally true!