My kids love to take pictures of me when I’m not looking. And it’s horrible.
They sometimes go the extra mile and apply some sort of hideous filter to them that makes me look like my face is melting off, and if I’m not careful they’ll post them to their Instagram.
But before you accuse me of being vain or no fun, let me ask you a few questions.
Have you ever cringed when you pick up your cell phone to take a picture and found that it’s accidentally on selfie mode? Have you ever tried on clothes at the mall and avoided looking at yourself under the fluorescent light? Or have you ever invested in one of those super magnifying makeup mirrors and been horrified at what you see?
If you haven’t, then good for you. You can close your browser and stop reading.
But for the rest of us who seem to be overly focused on what we look like, myself included, don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault if you feel this way — after all, our culture practically celebrates vanity and makes you feel like an alien if you dare to step out of the house makeup-free.
I think we’re all well aware that there’s intense pressure for women to look a certain way, and the extreme focus on appearance can lead to a negative cycle where being so hard on yourself makes you do the very things that make you look and feel worse. Not to mention wasting your life worrying about what you look like instead of creating something meaningful.
We have an unlimited number of ways to improve how we look, all the way from makeup to plastic surgery — and everything in between. But I believe that the technology we have to improve how we look on camera (filters) and in person (fillers), rather than making us feel better, actually intensifies the hatred we have for ourselves. It makes us zero in what we don’t like about ourselves, causing our inner critic to be put on full blast.
And that’s why we judge other women so harshly for what they do to enhance their looks. Because it temporarily makes us feel better about ourselves. We judge some women for wearing too much makeup, and we judge others for injecting themselves with fillers. Then we make all kinds of statements that start with, “I would never. . . .” But honestly, what’s the difference between these things?
The difference is the intent with which you do them.
There’s a difference between wearing makeup to accentuate your features and feel confident and over-Botoxing yourself out of terror of aging. And there’s a difference between eating less to feel lighter and healthier and crash dieting out of desperation to lose weight.
The interesting thing is that if your intention is fear-based, it will lead directly to what you don’t want. But if it’s based out of love and acceptance, it creates what you do want. This is ironic because it seems like the opposite would be true.
For example, if you’re terrified that you’re starting to look old, you’ll overdo it with makeup or with plastic surgery. But if you constantly slather on pounds of makeup, your skin will suffer. And we’ve all seen examples of what happens when you go overboard with fillers.
However, if you embrace what’s inevitable — aging — you’ll be more relaxed, you’ll smile more, and you’ll have a lot more fun, all of which naturally make you look and feel beautiful.
The same is true for weight loss. If you have an adversarial relationship with food and if you resist your body, shaming yourself for the extra weight and hating the way you look, you’ll keep trying to crash diet the weight off. This requires willpower, which creates massive resistance, which you’ll neutralize with food. And you’ll stay stuck in this cycle forever.
But if you accept and love your body just the way it is, you’ll feel peaceful and calm, which decreases the urge to binge. And if you don’t constantly restrict yourself from eating certain foods, you’ll naturally gravitate towards those that are healthy and make you feel good. And the weight will come off.
So how do you prevent your desire to look youthful from becoming a preoccupation with every wrinkle you see, and how do you keep your efforts to have a lean, toned body from becoming an all-consuming obsession with losing weight?
Here are some tactics you can try:
Take spotlight off yourself. Although it’s true that women have been conditioned to compete with each other and judge each other, you generally don’t walk around looking for the flaws in other people. It’s usually the opposite.
You tend look at the whole person more than seeing them as a collection of body parts. You notice that someone looks glowing or that they look like they’re in great shape. Others see you the same way. They notice your sparkly personality or your great sense of humor or your generosity or kindness — all of which make you beautiful. So remember that all the flaws you see when you look in the mirror are largely invisible to others.
Find the balance. If it makes you feel good and enhances what you love about yourself, then do it. Work out extra hard because you love how your skin looks after you really break a sweat or how calm you feel all day. But don’t kill yourself on the treadmill, doing a dead sprint because you have to burn calories.
Do a cat eye with your eyeliner if it makes you feel fierce, but don’t sit there for hours, trying to cover every blemish or wrinkle. If it makes you feel good to soften the crease between your eyes with a little Botox, then do it. But don’t freak out and spend your entire paycheck in an attempt to erase every line on your forehead.
Embrace what you want to change, drop the fear and anxiety, and things will improve naturally.
Focus on the past. Where you’ve been and what you’ve been through has led you right to where you are now. And a lot of what you’ve been through has been painful and a struggle. But you got through it and have the battle scars to prove it. What’s not beautiful about that?
Aging means that your body changes, but it also means that you’ve become better, stronger, and wiser. You have more perspective. You’ve lived long enough to make your own mistakes, so you’re more compassionate and forgiving of others when they make theirs. And you should use these qualities to support yourself.
Set a better goal. I always talk about this, but having something larger to work toward shifts your attention from what you look like to what you can create. It gives you tremendous energy to set a big goal, preferably something that takes you out of your comfort zone, and then set about achieving it, one step at a time.
We as women sell ourselves pitifully short. We have so much more to offer than our looks, and it’s a complete tragedy that we waste so much of our time obsessing about what we look like and frantically trying to change our bodies. So as soon as you’re done with this post, please sit quietly for five minutes and set a goal that fills you with excitement and creative energy — and do one small thing today toward its achievement.
All of this is all obviously part of the larger conversation about women and society and how we’re all conditioned to believe that the only thing worthwhile about ourselves is the way we look — and that we’re worthless if we don’t have the perfect body and should go off to die somewhere when we age past the youthful standard.
But you don’t have to buy into that, and neither do I. It may not seem like it, but if every woman, one by one, started calling BS on this cultural brainwashing it would eventually change. I believe it’s already started to.
If you’re still having a hard time embracing these ideas — if you still feel like you have to lose weight to be good enough and that you’ve got to fight the aging process if you want to be valuable — then maybe take a page out of Sharon Stone’s book.
I remember reading a story about her and about how hard it was for her to face getting older and “losing” her looks. So she took a bottle of wine, locked herself in her bathroom, and had a good cry.
Then she looked in the mirror, said what’s the big deal, and moved on with her life.
And always remember that it works from the inside out rather than from the outside in. What you’re really after is not looking a certain way, it’s the feeling you’ll have once you do.
So choose to get that feeling first, and your face and body will catch up.