The “Glo-Up” Phenomenon and Its Unexpected Side Effects

This post was originally written in 2017 for LAPP’s blog under the name of Cynthia Romanova. The original post can be read here.

If you’re active on social media, chances are that you’ve encountered somebody’s “glo-up” post. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a “glo-up” refers to a drastic change in appearance like the story of The Ugly Duckling.

Some of my friends decided that I experienced a “glo-up” after switching from glasses to contact lenses a few months ago. While wearing glasses in middle and high school, I felt timorous about my appearance after guys determined who was a “Hot Girl” and who didn’t make the cut. I wanted to be Hot Girl since she seemed to have it all. Hot Girl is easygoing and effortlessly cool which were traits that I couldn’t seem to be.

After my “glo-up,” I stopped feeling self-conscious all of the time so social interactions became less stressful. Having a prettier face also made me feel empowered about my body so I updated my wardrobe to be less conservative.

I also noticed a change in how some people responded to me. Suddenly guys, who wouldn’t go beyond small talk when I wore my glasses, were suddenly making more time for conversation. My personality didn’t change at all. Was I worth their energy now because I appealed to their eyes? I loathe the idea of being liked only for my looks. If people want to talk about me, I want to be known for my intelligence and honesty.

Even worse was the objectification from the boys I barely knew. I heard from my friends about their comments that alluded to sexual attraction and fantasies. While some people enjoy this attention, I wanted to vomit. Their words didn’t feel like compliments, but a way for me to become an object who didn’t have a say in what they imagined.

These personal experiences were truly a smaller part of the bigger picture. Celebrities face the same contrast of self-assurance and insecurity, but on a magnified scale due to their presence in the spotlight. Unlike them, I have the privilege of understanding these conflicting emotions in private and I am able to confront people who make malicious comments if necessary.

Throughout her career, Scarlett Johansson experienced a “glo-up”, from her plain appearance as Rebecca in Ghost World towards becoming the gorgeous Natasha Romanoff in the Avengers movies. Barbara Walters interviewed Johansson, who claimed that she has an “ok body” that isn’t “particularly remarkable.” Despite being acclaimed as a sex symbol by Playboy and Esquire, she specifically called out her thighs and midsection as the parts of her body that she disliked.

Megan Fox, who has been known as a “Hot Girl” since the start of her career, shocked many readers in this Cosmopolitan article. Fox acknowledges the confidence she projects through her personality but still feels “completely, hysterically insecure” about her appearance. She reinforces this truth by saying that she’s “self-loathing, introverted and neurotic.”

Before my “glo-up”, reading these interviews surprised me. I couldn’t fathom how these celebrities could feel bad about themselves when they could have any guy in the world whenever they desired. I wanted so badly to have that power so I could feel at ease in social settings and the dating world. They had what I lacked, so why were they ungrateful?

But nobody is truly immune to sad feelings. I didn’t consider how depression, anxiety, and other parts of mental illness would taint my self-esteem anyway. A hundred people could compliment my looks, but it doesn’t mean anything if I am convinced otherwise by irrational self-doubt.

I do feel a sense of a comfort after hearing these movie stars talk about their insecurities. It’s brave to showcase your weaknesses to the entire world. Putting on a brave face and pretending you’re strong is definitely the easier option.

These discussions also reinforce the fact that my feelings are valid and I shouldn’t try to deny them. At the end of the day, I should focus on what I love about myself and socialize with people who don’t acknowledge my flaws. They’ll still love me regardless if I’m stressing out about my acne or chubby cheeks.