Am I beautiful? Do other people think I’m pretty? How do I measure up against other women? How can I look and feel more beautiful than what I do right now?
These are questions that have crossed every woman’s mind at least once, and I can guarantee you that most women think about these questions much more frequently than that!
Women are confronted with impossible images of femininity from a very young age. As children we play with Barbie dolls and watch stories with beautiful princesses like Cinderella and the Little Mermaid. As teens we are bombarded with pop-culture’s brand of beauty through trashy music videos, teen magazines, movies, and advertising. These idealised images continue to be enforced well into adulthood, with the Gisele Bündchens of the world strutting down the catwalk in the latest fashions worth more than your mortgage, Elle McPherson not looking a day over 30 no matter how old she gets, and every second magazine you see at the supermarket trying to sell you on how to lose thirty kilos in two hours, why you should get botox, or at least learn how to do your make up just like Angelina Jolie, because the way you look naturally just isn’t good enough. This is the foundation upon which so many otherwise smart women base their self-worth.
Feeling beautiful is really just a subset of your self-worth. How many times have you seen a “Plain Jane” looking absolutely radiant? Clearly, it’s not because she fits the stereotypical mould of beauty; she radiates happiness, beauty, and confidence because she feels good about herself.
When I first started trying to feel beautiful after I was abused, I focused mainly on the outside and just did a little bit of work on the inside. This wasn’t because I think what’s outside is more important than what is inside, I just did it that way because it was easier to measure my progress. Personally, I don’t think it matters whether you start on the outside or the inside, so start with whichever one works for you. You’re working towards the same goal either way; you’re just walking a different path to get there.
One thing I did was to sit in front of the mirror morning and night without anyone around, hold my own eye contact and repeat to myself slowly and with emotion, “I love and accept myself just the way I am. I am perfect just as I am.” At first it felt like a complete lie because my perception of myself was completely the opposite. This was a very difficult and confronting exercise for me at first. I would feel a surge of emotion within my chest and couldn’t get the sentence out without crying – but I’d sit there and just keep repeating it to myself.
I started taking steps to become what I perceived as beautiful externally. I’d never put much time into fashion/makeup/developing my own style, but I started to put in an extra half an hour or so per day to make myself “beautiful”. I completely revamped my old comfortable look to something that emphasised my quirky personality. I went out and got my long hair cut spiky and got foils everywhere. I got myself some new make-up and started messing around with some new looks. I’d treat myself to a nice, aromatherapy bath every week. I threw out my old boring glasses and went in search of a few funky, creative looking frames. I treated myself to some new clothes that made me feel attractive. I bought a manicure set and kept my nails done nicely. Whenever I was going out at all, I’d take the time to put together an outfit that suited me rather than going as I’d got out of bed that morning. Sure, it took a bit longer to get ready, but when I looked in the mirror before I went out, I slowly began to notice things about the woman staring back at me. I began to notice how pretty her eyes looked with certain colours, and which shade of lipstick brightened up her whole face. Noticing little things about me that I thought were pretty helped me build my confidence. I also started getting compliments regularly from other people about my looks. Ironically, the more confident I became, the less I needed the trimmings to feel beautiful because I was beginning to start truly feeling it from the inside.
Another thing I did was I was starting to exercise –I went swimming once a week and did a short run a couple of mornings a week as well. I didn’t have any fitness or weight loss goals set – I was just exercising to de-stress and to feel good, so I did as much or as little as I felt like. If that happened to be five minutes, then five minutes was all I did.
Finally, it helps to define exactly what beauty means to you personally and to avoid setting unreasonably high expectations of yourself. If your idea of beauty is Audrey Hepburn (like mine!), don’t look in the mirror and think “I don’t look like her, therefore I’m ugly” Ask yourself what it is about her that makes her beautiful and emulate that in your own style. For example, I think that Audrey Hepburn’s big doe-eyes are absolutely strikingly gorgeous – so I incorporate that into my own style. When I’m heading out for a big event, I’ll put on very heavy eye makeup with the corners extending way past my actual eyes. I don’t care if anyone else thinks it’s over the top – I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for me. Find those little things that make you feel pretty, and keep doing them.
Learning to increase your self-worth isn’t an easy thing to do. It takes time, commitment and persistence to make a dent in a mindset that is firmly entrenched. Place less importance on how the external world perceives you, and more importance on how you perceive yourself. Don’t let how you feel about yourself come from the opinions of others. Self-worth comes from within.
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