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“Empowering? The #10yearchallenge is fuelling our obsession with beauty ideals“

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Anna Brech
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The #10yearchallenge is supposed to be about celebration and empowerment, but Anna Brech believes we need to dig a little deeper when it comes to showing what self-worth means.

Am I the only person who doesn’t get the #10yearchallenge? The trend currently sweeping our Instagram feeds is leaving me a little bit… meh. 

First, it’s the name. The word “challenge” implies something overcome: climbing a mountain, perhaps, or conquering your inner fears. And the idea of a celebrity rifling through their own photo archives to post a snap of themselves now and 10 years before is not, as Oxford Dictionaries defines it, “a task or situation that tests someone’s abilities”. 

Like so many phrases on social media, “challenge” has been chewed up and spat out: redundant through over-use.  

But my unease with the #10yearchallenge run deeper than the petty quibbles of language. The fact is, the way it’s being used by celebrities seems disingenuous; damaging, even.

Just last year, Hollywood was in the grips of a major soul-searching mission. 

Reeling from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, actors, directors and agents vowed to get to the root of gender prejudice woven into the fabric of their industry. 

Movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up prompted female stars to wear ribbons and all-black to major award ceremonies, in a moving stand of togetherness. 

It felt like we were entering a new age of integrity. 

And then, into this came the #10yearchallenge. A bit of fun, sure, but what does it actually mean when Anne Hathaway, Mariah Carey or Madonna post photos of themselves looking virtually identical 10 years apart, in the name of empowerment?

Because, supposedly the #10yearchallenge is about feeling “self-love” in the ageing process.

We women are so good at plastering over each other’s bruised self-esteem: yet when someone has clearly not aged an inch, there’s not any healing to do.

So something that claims to be about self-belief instead drives home the premium of youth and looks in a society already obsessed with both. 

Comedians have reacted with glee to these “time-freeze” snaps, but scrolling through the comments on Witherspoon’s #10yearchallenge post, I felt something more akin to dismay.

It’s a bit like reading a teenage girl’s feed, with the same unnerving mix of adulation (“OMG! You are perfect!!!”) and envy (“how is she real?!”)

Not one person is saying, “hey, but it’s fine if you had wrinkles too!” or more importantly (and something I want to scream at the top of my lungs), “you are more than how you look!”

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It’s not up to Hollywood’s rich and famous to fix the endemic ageism in Hollywood, of course: no more than it is any woman’s responsibility to fix problems caused by years of patriarchal rule. 

But in the rooted tree on which issues of sexual assault, harassment and unequal pay flourish, other, smaller prejudices also sprout as leaves. 

We can’t consider problems such as Jennifer Lawrence feeling “fat” or Chloë Grace Moretz being told to “shut up and look pretty“, without seeing the wider climate of prejudice from which these noxious comments stem. 

The woman who is made to feel she has to have surgery to “look good” is the same woman overlooked for a promotion at work, or harassed on her way home after. 

And all this has a trickle-down effect, too. 

So, for well-known figures to post flawless photos of themselves on Instagram (with over 500 million users, 90% under 35) feels wrong - however well-meant.

Instead of being about self-belief, the #10yearchallenge reinforces the message that we, as women, draw value from our looks. And the less “tainted” and age-resistant we are, the better. 

Kudos to those people who are using the #10yearchallenge to further important messages. But the real challenge would be to show the next generation of girls how to find gravitas and worth in a surface-level world. 

Because now more than ever, they really need it. 

Images: Getty, Instagram

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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