Never have we been so acutely aware of what we look like than now. And at the same time, we’re surrounded by images of “perfect” women and never been so critical about our own looks. No wonder it’s difficult to accept your appearance.Never have we been so acutely aware of what we look like than now. And at the same time, we’re surrounded by images of “perfect” women and never been so critical about our own looks. No wonder it’s difficult to accept your appearance.
Which of us hasn’t compared ourselves to a thinner or better-looking friend, hated our body type or a certain feature, looked at magazines or social media photos and felt inadequate, and hated seeing our own photo.
Tragically, with these trends, we’ve seen a rise in low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, depression and anxiety.
It sucks and for what? Self-imposed ideas of what we should look like and that we need to look a certain way to be attractive.
I had these thoughts growing up but it wasn’t so in your face back then. Nowadays, youngsters are practically forced to look at themselves most of the day with the runaway trend of selfies, Snapchat stories, TikTok routines, and goodness knows what else.
It leads to an unhealthy habit of self-obsession about body parts and facial features which for the majority of youngsters (and other age groups), is a miserable space.
Life before mirrors
Isn’t it odd to think that once upon a time, mirrors didn’t exist? Individual identity wasn’t formed on looks but based on interactions with the family and community and in relation to God or other deities.
Imagine going to work or off to visit friends, without first stealing a glance at yourself in the mirror. I went to a friend’s house the other night and was frustrated that there was no mirror in the bathroom.
I’d been rushing around and didn’t have time to replenish my makeup or check my hair and wanted to do so before we headed out for a pub meal.
I knew her well enough to ask if I could use a mirror in another room, but still, it hit me that I needed the reassurance of knowing that I was looking my best self as opposed to the way I look when I’m knackered or on poor form. We all have good and bad appearance days, right, be it our hair or sunken eyes due to fatigue, et cetera, right?
Before the mirror was invented, people might glimpse their own reflections in water, or in polished metals, but never really saw themselves. The issue of how to accept your appearance was a non-issue back then!
There are mixed stories about when mirrors were first invented but I believe the silvered-glass mirrors found throughout the world today first got their start in Germany almost 200 years ago. For more on mirrors click here.
How to start liking yourself
So how do we start to like ourselves and accept our appearance, our bodies and faces? Is it as simple as just making the decision to change the way we think?
First of all, we have to identify what it is that we’re focusing on. That might be easy if you’re doing it a lot. You might be obsessing about your thighs or the wrinkles around your eyes or your unattractive profile. There are so many things to choose from, even for supermodels!
People who struggle with body image issues tend to gravitate toward certain thinking errors. Here are some of them:
- “All or nothing” thinking. I’m either perfect, or a total failure.
- Magnifying/Catasphrophizing. Gaining a few pounds means no one will ever love me.
- Emotional reasoning. I take my feelings and make them facts about my intrinsic worth. I feel fat so I am a loser.
- Negative self. Negative ways of thinking that make it harder for me to achieve my goals or get what I want from life.
Watch for triggers
For me, seeing a photo of myself can be a trigger when I don’t like what I see. This is quite a common trigger as is seeing images of “perfect” people.
This doesn’t mean you have to avoid these things, it just means you choose more wisely about what you want to put into your brain. This way, there’s less of a focus and need to work on how to accept your appearance.
We’re all different and some people will be more attractive to a greater number of people than others. If we go around comparing ourselves to cover girls and the digitally enhanced, we’re likely to get depressed. Pay attention to who you’re comparing yourself to, and make a deliberate attempt to stop and reset your mind.
Understand attentional bias
Everyone has a natural tendency to judge their own appearance more harshly than they do others. Our flaws stand out when we look in the mirror and the balanced beauty assessment we give others is lost when we view ourselves.
Being unhappy with a particular feature or body part has a tendency to make you hone in on that particular bit of yourself, to the exclusion of the rest of you. If you don’t like your nose, for example, when you look in the mirror, that tends to be all you see and your nose will start to look (in your head) bigger or even more out of shape, than it is. Everyone else sees the whole you. For more on this read Is attentional bias damaging your wellbeing?.
Don’t try to be perfect
Whilst we can be the best version of ourselves with stylish, well-fitting clothes, some makeup and a good haircut, for example, we can’t dramatically alter the way we look without surgery (which I wouldn’t recommend).
Don’t try to be perfect; instead, practice accepting yourself as you are. There is so much more to a person than how they look—focus instead on your strengths and attributes. Beware of your inner critic; try practising being grateful for what you do have. Do not get stuck in a victim mentality. The “poor me” syndrome will keep you stuck and going nowhere.
Develop positive counterstatements
Whilst I’m not big on affirmations, it’s helpful to start a list of positive statements to refute the negative things you’re telling yourself. So instead of saying “I hate my body”, try saying “I’m grateful I have a healthy body. I’m grateful I can go for a run or carry my child.” You may not be perfect, but who says you have to be?
Find your purpose
It’s not easy living in world that seems to place so much emphasis on looks so it’s important to work on finding your purpose and living by your values. Check out this article for more on discovering your values and how doing so is vital to lead a purposeful life.
Once you are in touch with your values, you can try doing something of significance: do some volunteering or raise money for a charity. Actions like these will dramatically change your perspective about what matters.