In an age of flawless filters and too much time on video calls, many of us have looked at our reflections in the mirror and wondered, what can I tweak? Since 2020, our culture has witnessed a phenomenon that plastic surgeons and cosmetic providers call “zoom dysmorphia” from over-examining and critiquing our own images. When cosmetic professionals suspect that a patient’s trip to the office has bigger issues than a desire for upkeep, they refer them to the California offices of Stephanie Anyakwo, LMFT, BCBA, a behavior analyst and licensed marriage and family therapist.
We caught up with Stephanie to learn more about the intersection of mental health and body image and to glean from the unique perspective of beauty through her lens. Keep reading to learn more of Stephanie’s story.
As a first-generation Nigerian-American growing up in Inglewood, California, Stephanie’s idea of beauty was caught between two cultures. “Growing up, my lifestyle at home was a lot different than most of my friends, and I didn’t know that until I got to school,” she says. “Even things as simple as eating grits—I didn’t eat them because that’s not African food. I was navigating those differences while also dealing with the desire to assimilate to African American culture. That was definitely something I struggled with growing up.”
Coming of age between two cultures might have brought some challenges for Stephanie, but it gave her a breadth of beauty rituals that she could adopt from both home and society. “It’s popular now, but in the nineties, using black soap and shea butter wasn’t as trendy as it is today,” she recalls. “Those products were staples in my home. I would also see my mother put a bucket or a basin outside when it rained to collect rainwater, a Nigerian tradition. She would use it to wash her face and hair. Even today, her skin is impeccable. We also always used steam at home long before facial steamers became a thing.”
Stephanie’s Nigerian household gave her confidence in her intellect and her abilities over her beauty, but it also gave her a limited perspective of her career options. Like many other first-generation Americans, her parents believed she should be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. So, she chose the law trajectory. “I majored in psychology because I knew I wanted to help people, but I always thought it would be through the law. However, when it came time to take the LSAT, I realized that I had no desire to do it; I was just groomed to be a lawyer. After school, I got my first job as a behavioral therapist working with children with special needs. I learned how to teach children to decrease challenging behaviors and replace those with more appropriate ones, and it made me think about how many behaviors are passed down from generation to generation. I wondered, what if I could teach new behaviors and patterns to families? That encouraged me to go to graduate school and to ultimately get my license and start my practice.”
“When I was growing up, colorism was very prevalent in the African American community,” she recalls. “I would often hear, you're pretty for a dark-skinned girl, and that was difficult to navigate. This age was a time of the video vixens, and every image glorified lighter skin. Today, there’s even more added input for people because of social media. People have direct insight into what others think about them, and that’s not always a good thing.”
While social media might be influencing more people to make cosmetic decisions about their appearance, it’s also encouraging more people than ever to seek therapy. The isolation and social confrontation of 2020 was a hard season, but one of the silver linings is that it brought therapy to the forefront and changed the conversation around it. Stephanie reminds people that “therapy isn’t just for individuals with severe issues.” She continues, “you can be very high functioning, and it doesn’t make you less than for seeking help.”
Now, don’t get us wrong; social media isn’t all bad. We love getting inspired for our next makeup look or learning a new life hack, but it can skew the minds of many impressionable individuals. “When it comes to behavior,” Stephanie explains, “your prefrontal cortex is what drives your decision making, and that's not fully developed until age 20. Adding in the extra pressure from social media can lead people to strive for perfection. Young people are now chasing trendy features, but the problem is that trends constantly change. I’m a huge advocate for people doing what they want to do with their bodies. I just want people to make sure that they have clear intentions, do their research, and seek therapy. Those are the three pillars that I talk to people about because if anyone is chasing a trend to fix something intrinsically, it’s not going to work. I always recommend that my patients be careful of trends because they change so quickly.”
Stephanie’s approach as a cognitive behavioral therapist examines how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. She believes that shifting our thoughts can impact how we feel and what we do. “The desire to change something about ourselves is almost always related to self-esteem,” she says. “So I always start by working with my clients on self-compassion so they can give themselves the validation they seek from the world. Oftentimes, after our sessions, many people choose not to have surgery. But steering individuals away from cosmetic surgery is not necessarily my goal. My goal is to make sure individuals are making informed decisions and that they are addressing any self-esteem issues—even after surgery. You have to heal from the inside out, and cosmetic surgery will just be a bandaid if you don’t do the inner work.”
Stephanie doesn’t just work with individuals considering cosmetic procedures. She works with everyone from engineers to content creators, many of whom are high functioning and just need support as they navigate through the everyday challenges of life. “Therapy doesn’t have to be a lifelong process. I also specialize in short-term treatments. My job is to work myself out of a job. I want to work with my patients up until they have full autonomy in navigating life independently. And if they reach a new season and need me again, they can always come right back to me.”
For the average person that is struggling with their self-image (and who doesn’t have those days?), Stephanie has some straightforward advice to pick yourself up:
We all know that no beauty routine will completely transform our lives, but that small act of self-care and appreciation for our bodies can give us an extra boost of confidence that helps us feel better and glow, both inside and out. We couldn’t discuss body image without asking Stephanie about her favorite beauty products.
Her routine is rather simple, but you would never guess her first recommendation: Donkey Soap. “It’s been a lifesaver for me!” Stephanie claims. “I use it every morning and night, and my skin has never been softer. At night I’ll use a moisturizer, and I also make sure I use sunscreen every single day,” sighting BLACK GIRL SUNSCREEN as her favorite. And of course, we can’t forget the classic VASELINE Healing Jelly. “It’s a staple, and I always put it under my eyes before bed.”
Whether you’re just looking for the perfect foundation or considering a little nip and tuck, remember to give yourself a bit of compassion every day—even if it’s just celebrating a sturdy winged eyeliner.
Interested in reading about more inspiring women? Discover how Travel Influencer Francesca Murray Gained a Global Perspective, or Meet The Cosmetic Chemist Combatting Misinformation One Post at a Time. Ready to take your beauty game to the next level? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get in on the IPSY Glam Bag fun! Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.
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