The Problem With the Way We Think We Look

Let's talk about negative self-image and critical self-talk.

The Problem With the Way We Think We Look
Photo by James Dryden / Unsplash

Last week, a friend and I were talking about how we’ve grown more comfortable with our bodies and appearance as we’ve gotten older. I mentioned how in my early twenties I cared a lot about makeup and even wanted to make it part of my career.  I very rarely wear makeup anymore and some days I leave the house without even brushing my hair. Over the years I’ve become less concerned with what people think of my physical appearance.

Still, later that day the same friend posted a picture of me in her Instagram story and my immediate reaction was to criticize the way my stomach poked out and how messy my hair looked. I almost messaged her to complain but stopped myself and chose to respond with something positive instead. I thought about our earlier conversation and how my reaction to the photo was the exact opposite of what we had talked about.

The fact is, we are very often way too hard on ourselves. Most of the time when I observe something negative about myself in the mirror or in a photo, it’s amplified way more in my head than it is in real life. Most people never notice or care about the tiny things we see wrong with our own appearance.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had conversations with friends where they criticize the way they look in some way, and almost 100 percent of those times I see absolutely nothing wrong with their appearance.  They’ll point out a pimple on their face or a hole in their sweater that I never would have noticed if they hadn’t called attention to it.

The Problem With The Way We Think We Look-

Over the years I’ve become gradually more confident in my appearance, but there was a time not that long ago when I looked in the mirror and felt ugly and didn’t believe anyone who told me otherwise.  I was bullied in middle school and high school and at 31 years old I’m still not over that completely.  I had horrible acne and there was a group of boys who liked to call me “buttface.” It’s funny how something so silly can have such a big impact on someone’s life, but as an impressionable teenager, it was earth-shattering. It caused my self-esteem to plummet and I’ve had a really hard building it back up.

Sometimes while posing for photos, I’ll purposely make a silly face to ensure that even if it is a “bad” picture, people will think, “Well, she’s making a face so she meant for it to be bad.” I have friends who are only ok with their photo being taken if it’s from a certain angle to highlight their “good” side.  We’ll have someone take a photo of us and then immediately check it to make sure we look ok, only to have the photographer take more photos if we’re not satisfied with our appearance in the first or even second shot. I have several friends who aren’t comfortable having their picture taken at all because they can’t stand the way they look in them.

The Problem With The Way We Think We Look-

I don't know a single woman who is 100 percent confident in her appearance, whether it's because she feels fat or thinks her nose is crooked, or is embarrassed by a birthmark on her face. I know this issue affects men, too, but as women, we are constantly bombarded with makeup and hair ads on TV and in magazines. I often feel like I'm in the minority when I go out without makeup on. I've heard many women express guilt for not having the energy to wear more than foundation and mascara some days.  I stopped wearing makeup for a few reasons, but mostly because I detest the idea that women need to paint their faces to look/feel acceptable in public.

I know that this is a societal problem that isn't going to be solved with one little blog post but it's bothered me for quite some time and I felt the need to talk about it. I think that we can start to help the issue by being a little kinder with the stories we tell ourselves about the way we look.

Going back to the story from the beginning of this post, I could have easily messaged my friend and said, "OMG I look so horrible in that photo - take it down!" but I chose not to. I chose to not believe the negative self-talk.  I chose to look at the situation logically and realize it's never as bad as we make it out to be in our heads. Another person might have looked at the same photo and thought, "WOW! She looks great!"  I'll never know and it shouldn't matter. Because the only thing that truly matters is the way YOU feel about yourself. That's what I'm going to continue to work on and tell myself. And you should, too!

As always, thank you for reading!