To Glow Up or Not

A conversation about the pressure of a 'glow up' and what it truly means

Lifestyle & Identity

I am personally a glow-up master of deceit. In the past, I have manipulated my friends, family, and followers to think I am in a glow-up, or becoming the “best version of myself.” At times, I have even manipulated myself– sabotaging crucial parts of my identity in the process. 

Out of all of the trends we have seen come out of quarantine, none have been more widespread than the drive for a glow-up. The word ‘glow’ means to be radiant, therefore a ‘glow- up’ is a seemingly positive expression describing someone amid a transformation. The glow-up takes many forms; there is the ‘post-breakup glow-up’ when an individual comes out of a relationship heavily utilizing self-improvement habits. Another is the ‘senior year glow-up’-- high school or college is coming to an end and you are finally getting comfortable in your skin. But the ‘quarantine glow-up’ may have been the biggest hit of them all; it became a global phenomenon that attracted many worldwide as quarantine remained stagnant.


As the fall semester of my freshman year of college rolled around, I was the only one of my friends to stay home. Given that the University of Southern California (USC) is in Los Angeles, there was never any hope that USC would allow students on campus during the pandemic. My boyfriend and I had just broken up and most of my senior year of high school had taken place from my bedroom. I was experiencing a type of loneliness that I had never endured in my life. Slowly, my TikTok feed became consumed by videos of girls who were using the pandemic as an opportunity for a full transformation. My Instagram feed was full of photos of my friends and acquaintances who were finally celebrating taking on a new chapter of life. Every Snapchat I received was a picture of someone I knew in an entirely new environment. I wanted to be included so badly that I needed to create something new for myself as well.


Social media caused me to fuck up that entire process before I even started. Online, it seemed like everyone else's lives were not affected negatively by the pandemic except for mine - which was beyond untrue. I had a plan in my head that I needed to find what my passions were immediately and I needed to fall in love with a ton of new hobbies, all while looking my best. So many people on social media were creating their businesses, selling homemade art and clothes, and embarking on personal journeys. It seemed like I had to follow in their footsteps to be happy.


My first steps: cut my hip-length natural brown hair off, dye my short hair blonde, cut bangs, lose weight, and become an Instagram fanatic. These actions all gave me temporary satisfaction. My friends were commenting, “you look so great!” or “whole new you, and I'm here for it.” Each positive comment got me on a high. This went on for months, to the point where when I finally went to college in the spring, I was fully reliant on this external validation. I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. All I knew how to do was to manipulate people into thinking I was doing amazing things.

Long story short, the spring semester on campus was terrible, and it made me realize that being home was not all that bad. The pandemic did not allow me to make friends or explore the city beyond my apartment. So there I was in Los Angeles, with no friends, no car, and no way of getting the experience I so badly wanted. There was no way of doing things alone since everything, including campus, was closed. I had thought that just getting to Los Angeles would cure the loneliness I had felt at home– instead, I felt an entirely new form of loneliness away from home. Ironically, I became very homesick. 

When I returned home that summer, I knew I had to drop my act. I was too unhappy to keep pretending; I needed to come clean. There was never any glow-up. I finally let myself be vulnerable and I expressed to my friends how badly my freshman year had been. That was the first step taken towards a natural glow-up. I am so thankful for the community that I had that summer and I hope anyone else who was relying on the “fake it till you make it” mentality was able to catch their breath too.


As I write this now, I have never felt so myself. I live by the words: your life is only as good as your perspective, and finding peace in all situations is truly the best medicine. There is no need to look to social media for validation or to make sure people witness your glow-up. While it took hitting rock bottom for me to have a genuine glow-up, I realized along the way that the need to glamorize a glow-up is toxic for impressionable minds. Putting the pressure on yourself to appear like you have had this ultimate transformation will never be as fulfilling as the actual feeling of it. When you have that shift in life that brings you joy, remind yourself that social media will never have the power to validate it better than yourself. Waiting for happiness will never bring you the happiness you wish for. Finding peace in the present is what will bring you happiness– do not manipulate yourself into thinking otherwise.