In mid-2016, Dove published their third Global Beauty and Confidence Report, after interviewing 10,500 females across 13 countries. The results were rather worrying. They found that only 4% of women around the world considered themselves beautiful, but 72% felt pressure to look a certain way. 9 out of 10 girls wished they could change at least one aspect of their physical appearances.
Even more bothering is the fact that nearly all women (85%) and girls (79%) state that they opt out of important life activities – such as trying out for a team or club, and engaging with family or loved ones – because of low body esteem. They simply don’t feel good about themselves and the way they look.
Glamour magazine did a similar survey in 2014—54% of women ages 18 to 40 were unhappy with their bodies, they reported, and 80% of them said that just looking in the mirror made them feel bad.
These statistics are definitely sad—not only because so many of us fall victims to the “standards” of beauty that society tries to force on us, but also because we allow the perceptions of our appearances to dictate our sense of self-worth.
The way we see ourselves—generally known as “self-image”—is not a new kid on the block for psychologists. It’s been extensively analysed, namely because of its infamous links to self-esteem and mental well-being. But these self-opinions have proven challenging to capture under a common denominator— because they are very subjective, highly prone to biases, and form based on our personal situational, environmental and even cultural histories.
Negative self-image, unfortunately, is not something we can hope to completely outgrow with age. And we can’t ignore it either—it’s an essential part of our characters—in fact, it defines who we believe we are.
It matters yet for another reason—it’s a barometer of how much we like or dislike ourselves, or simply put—it’s a measure of our self-esteem.
Luckily, there is a silver lining here. Unfavourable self-views, although quite resistant to change, are not undefeatable. There is plenty we can do to improve our relationship with ourselves, so that we can become our most favourite person in the whole world again.
Here is how we can start.
Unhealthy self-image, psychologists tell us, frequently traces back to our childhoods—to the excessive criticism, even bullying, or unrealistic expectations—of parents, teachers and peers—which sometimes break more than they repair, discourage than motivate, and lower than raise our self-esteem. But we should not let the past define the people we are or want to become. The “ugly duck” period is long over—so, move on.
A “positive mindset” is a rather overused expression nowadays, but it’s highly desirable if we are looking to have an enduring love toward ourselves. We have to also strive to avoid extreme negative self-labelling. Why would we want to put ourselves down anyway?
We must protect us from the world, not be at war with ourselves. In addition, we shouldn’t be stuck too much on names and definitions too—a desire to point our finger at and fix every, let’s say, freckle, wrinkle or out-of-place piece of hair, will make the world too colourless and uniform place anyway.
Define yourself more broadly. Our internal landscapes are vast, rich and complex—so, don’t purposely try to shrink yours. We are never one thing—we often wear many hats and have an endless list of responsibilities, obligations and roles. For instance, we are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends. So, we should not reduce ourselves and our worth to only looks or some perceived shortcoming. We are so much more—and we have all our accomplishments to prove it.
Do a reality check. Self-image is a combination of three things— what we think about ourselves, what others think of us, and what we think others think of us. How we appear to others may be miles away from the person we believe we are. For instance, I always thought that I look too anxious. To my astonishment—I’m told I come across as a bit of a “cold fish.” Talk about misalignment.
So, ask away—your friends, family, co-workers. You may be quite surprised—and learn a thing or two about yourself.
What tops the list of things to refrain from, though, is comparison to others—because amongst its many side effects, it does a great job in eroding our self-image quite fast. Nothing can harm our confidence more than a “why-others-have (or are)-more” mentality. We often claim to be prudent and mature individuals—at least enough to know that the grass is not always greener on the other side, and yet—we all, to varying degrees, continue to evaluate our worth and achievements relative on others.
It’s unhealthy, we all know this , but we still do it. So, stop—you don’t have to part-take in a race with the Joneses. It doesn’t bring any value at all.
A final thing to remember is that we are not these deeply flawed individuals that the world may be trying to convince us we are—if we don’t have the perfect skin or can’t fit in size-zero dress.
Who is a true authority to make these rules anyway, or to try to box our individuality in some one-size-fits-all recommendations?
What the world thinks is peripheral. What matters, though, is how we see ourselves and who we believe we are.
It is much more than just our bodies we are talking about here— it’s about the person who lives in our minds and who stares back at us in the mirror.
And since we must live with this person till the rest of our lives, it’s better to learn how to like them as much as possible, than not, isn’t it?