How you perceive yourself has a much bigger effect on your day than you might think. Plus, it’s so easy to feel unpretty in the face of roadside billboards and the pages of glossy magazines (especially on bad hair days).
My hair is fine today, thanks, and this morning I want to share my personal battle with self-esteem. I still attempt to overcome it on a daily basis, and there’s a whole dark side to the story that I’ll be sharing next week. But for now, let me just run through what I do to pick myself back up again:
1. Read the Bible and know your worth.
I’m a believer, and a big part of how I finally said goodbye to self-sabotaging was Jesus. But just in case we’re walking on different faiths here, go ahead and move on to Step 2.
2. Define what’s beautiful for you.
Not for your ex, not for the beauty industry, not for the mean girls who never let you to sit with them.
It can be anything as abstract as the sheer sincerity that some people live their lives by to that cute fringy loafers you saw at the thrift store. Doesn’t matter if your frenemy said it was ugly, or the fact that Anna Wintour will never run it in print, or if after everything your crush said you’re “just not his type” – what’s beautiful in your eyes is unique1. It’s your own thing, not anybody else’s, so you should be treasuring that vision above everything else.
3. The mirror is a mirror is a mirror.
Look into the mirror and see it for what it is: It’s an inanimate object where light bounces off to reveal the appearance of things. It doesn’t show judgment, criticism, or any other opinion that you get in your head – it’s just a medium that reflects light, and you are that light.
Appearances constantly change. But you see, you have two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth, and all the necessary limbs and muscles to make you move in all the ways that you can.
Why not be so amazed by them that you use them all to shine? A large population of the world don’t have them all. Consider yourself fortunate.
4. Change – and get comfortable with it.
Let’s face it – everyone has their bad days. The worst thing you can do about it is talking negatively about yourself, blaming how much of a fool you are, and feeling guilty for that last cupcake you just ate. All that these things will do is only exacerbating the pain, and if you continue to do so, it’ll eventually lead to hating yourself.
Now this is both the most powerful weapon you have in your beauty arsenal and also the hardest truth that most people prefer not to swallow: Everything you need to to feel beautiful is already within you. That thing that you need is a willingness to change.
If we’re still talking about appearances here, then it’s simple: If you’re not happy with how you look, then start doing something about it. Sweat much, eat produce, do yoga – whatever. All that time and energy spent on fat-talking can be used to make you feel good about yourself instead.
It takes time, it takes effort, but aren’t the shiniest diamonds born out of the roughest roughs? And aren’t the best cups of tea those that’s just steeping out of hot water?
5. Discover your flairs, your forte, yourself.
I’m not just talking about the things you’re inclined to or the things you kinda-sorta like about yourself – I’m talking about the things that which you excel at and the specific traits that leave people hanging with positive emotions. You can only find that with lots of experimentation, so be curious. Perhaps it’s your ability to truly listen to others and feel their joy and pain, making them feel they can trust you, and we all know trust is hard-earned. Perhaps it’s your diamond determination that makes you finally run a 4:00-minute mile because you simply, simply never give up, and then inspire others by all the hard training that you’ve done. Perhaps it’s your simple take on photography, and that you always seem to capture details that nobody else noticed.
Own that strength, and find ways to highlight that strength everyday.
6. Use affirmations.
I don’t mean the nebulous ones you hear all the time and feel like you’re only fooling yourself whenever you say it in front of the mirror. I mean this as a realistic way to give yourself a leg up during a nervous situation – like before taking an exam, or when you’re about to ask for a pay raise, or while you’re on the starting line of a running race.
Provided that you’ve done all your homework, telling yourself “I am going to nail this” and “I have everything I need to achieve” literally makes you chin up. Stand tall while you say it in your heart, and others will smell that confidence from miles away.
On a side note, I think every woman should learn Maya Angelou’s phenomenal poem by heart. This is true affirmation:
7. Accept compliments (even the cheesy ones).
You’ve affected someone positively in some way that he or she cannot explain. You might think you know why so you said nah, I’m not all that great as you’re making it out to be.
It’s called grace (see step 5), not a sum to discount or a loan you’re obliged to return.
Robert A. Heinlein once said that man is not a rational being, but a rationalizing one. In relationships, we humans can never truly reason our way into liking someone – we just do, though we can’t always tell why. So stop justifying others and get all apologetic about it – they hold a high opinion of you, and they want to show you that affection. Receive, smile, and say thanks.
8. Listen to James Blunt.
Or read Pablo Neruda. His words contain some Jedi-like force that can make any woman feel beautiful.
And when you appear
all the rivers sound
in my body, bells
shake the sky,
and a hymn fills the world.
9. Take selfies.
It may take more than 5 to finally get a decent one. But who cares? Nobody has to see them, if at all.
Just summon a smile (and force yourself if you have to) till you see yourself smiling your best. Just as how we feel influences how we act, the reverse is also true: How we act influences how we feel23.
It seems ridiculous to practice smiling in front of the camera, but remember there’s a whole industry that relying upon that skill. After all, a light deserves the best angles to expose itself.
9. Count your blessings, particularly the little ones.
Think of something you’re blessed with at this moment: There’s beauty in it you can’t deny. It can be the color of the dress you’re wearing. It can be the blooming flowers on the street. It can just be the two feet you’re walking with (see step 3), or the beautiful light in your friend’s eyes when she’s talking about her dog. For me, it’s the lines across my mother’s eyes when she laughs at my stories – the lines she complains about but I secretly enjoy watching because I don’t get to see it everyday.
You’re there to witness all that. These are all priceless moments we often overlook.
If you just see just how abundant you already are, you’ll realize that everything you are is enough, and everything you have is above and beyond. You will miss all that beauty when they’re gone.
10. Inspire others.
A light that shines so bright wasn’t born to shy away from the spotlight – it’s meant to radiate warmth and beauty on to everything it touches.
Don’t cease to exist just because what the pop culture thinks is beautiful is different from what you feel is beautiful.
Live your definition of beautiful (see step 2) and reach out to your circle with that beauty. The world doesn’t need another media outlet to tell them they’re not good enough yet and never going to be so – the world needs a positive change like you (see step 4).
P.S. Have you read Liu Wen’s VOGUE essay on the changing beauty ideals today?
- An overused word, really, but doesn’t change the depth of its meaning. [↩]
- Emotion-Specific Effects of Facial Expressions and Postures on Emotional Experience, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1989. [↩]
- Keep Smiling: Enduring Effects of Facial Expressions and Postures on Emotional Experience and Memory, Cognition and Emotion, 2003 [↩]