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Self-image: The impact of dating and hookup culture

Haleigh McGill
Haleigh McGill

With Body Acceptance Week just behind us, I think one of the most important takeaways is that there are a lot of different things that contribute to and affect your self-image and worth. Contributing factors to the way you see yourself are both internal and external, and with some of these factors, such as dating and hookup culture, it’s difficult to identify or realize the extent of their impact on self-image.

Dating and hookup culture actually have a lot to do with a woman’s self-image—more than we, as women, would like to admit or talk about. An insightful comment in an article from The Daily Beast argued, “the impossibly high and often contradictory expectations put on women in the college dating scene are just part of the larger problem. Young men generally feel they are measured against the concept of ‘good,’ but young women all too often are made to feel anything less than ‘perfect’ makes them a failure.”


While I agree that expectations can be ridiculously high or even borderline unattainable, I believe that women are responsible for how we allow ourselves to feel and respond to those expectations. It’s okay to feel hurt and discouraged when all goes south with a relationship or a hookup, but in order for one’s self-esteem to thrive, a woman must do two things: practice the art of letting go gracefully and moving on until it comes as naturally as your morning routine, and learn to walk away early from any guy who makes you question whether or not you are good enough. If enough women decided to navigate dating and hooking up with those two things in mind, that momentum could help to deconstruct the expectations that too often precede a woman’s arbitrary heartache.

I think a lot of times when a woman is trying to decide whether or not she should pursue a hookup or potential relationship, knowing there is a strong chance that it may end badly or go nowhere at all, this is the sort of thought process that we go through:

He’d probably spend the whole night with me, maybe even wake me up before he leaves in the morning. He’d probably do really cute things and tell me that I’m pretty a lot, up until the day he stops texting me back. I think he would make me laugh and feel important, except for on the day that I decide to ask where this is going and I know he’s thinking “nowhere.”

If we stopped to think about that before getting too involved with a guy, would we feel empowered to make sure we find someone who would do all of those things without leaving? Would we feel inclined and ready to walk away from those who make us feel small and unimportant after the initial flirtations and sweet nothings fade away?

The problem is that even when a woman is almost positive that the affair will hurt her, when all is said and done, sometimes she still goes for it. Women try to embody those expectations and take the bait in the form of a guy’s cute text messages and sweet talk, failing to see what lies just beyond that. And when it does end, whether it be a hookup that had you believing it could be more or a long-term relationship that fizzled out, we rack our brains trying to find a reason why. Women tend to overthink and read into things when interacting with guys, and when a legit reason for why the current person of interest seems to have dropped off the edge of the world can’t be found, we start looking to and accepting silly, skin-deep explanations for why we weren’t good enough. Sometimes we think that maybe if we were thinner, had a different hair color, curvier curves, fuller lips or longer legs, then (insert name of guy here) would still be around.

As women, we need to value and respect ourselves so much that hookups and relationships gone bad don’t have a crumbling effect on our self-image and worth. Sometimes you worry about everything falling apart when you’ve lost a guy that meant a lot to you, but what you should be worried about is losing yourself in the midst of trying to be everything someone else wants you to be, when you are already perfect just the way you are.

As stated in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “We accept the love we think we deserve.” So today, don’t focus on your weight, the color you wish your eyes were or the span of your hips. Just remind yourself that you deserve the world.

Collegian Assistant Opinion Editor Haleigh McGill can be reached at, or on Twitter @Haleigh McGill.

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