How to Embrace Your True Beauty (Not the Media’s Ideal)

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” ~Kahlil Gibran

A few years shy of my fiftieth birthday, I went on a road trip with one of my best friends from high school. We’d taken some version of this trip many times during our teens and twenties, but as we started raising young children, we didn’t have much time for getaways.

But on this occasion, our kids were old enough to fend for themselves, and we hit the road with same excitement and silliness that characterized all of our youthful adventures.

We spent the next few hours talking, laughing, listening to music, singing, and generally feeling like carefree teenagers again.

At some point along the way, we had to stop for gas and snacks and pulled into a Citgo. We went inside the store still laughing, singing, and acting silly, and as we walked back out to the car, I caught a glimpse of a middle-aged woman in the mirrored glass windows of the store.

She was laughing and talking with another woman, and for just a moment I thought, “Who is that woman? Doesn’t she know how ridiculous she looks?”

It only took a nanosecond to realize the woman was me. For just that moment, I was perceiving myself as an outsider, and the judgment came down hard and fast.

Even though I was feeling young and beautiful and carefree on the inside, my own distorted self-perceptions around aging and appearance quickly brought me back to the reality of who I was on the outside and how I was supposed to behave.

Of course, this glimpse of myself at the Citgo wasn’t my first reminder that my once youthful attractiveness was fading. I’d been carefully monitoring every new wrinkle and added pound for years.

I’d stared in the mirror many times pulling the skin back on my face to see how many years a facelift might remove. But the Citgo event was the first time I realized the subtle toll my self-perceptions were taking on my psyche and self-confidence.

Somewhere inside of me I believed middle-aged women didn’t sing and laugh and act silly. That was reserved for the young and beautiful.

The Messages Around Us

In our youth and beauty-obsessed culture, every time we open a magazine, turn on the TV, or drive past a billboard, we see how far our personal reality is from the standard perpetuated by the media. These messages were obviously entrenched in me, but I didn’t truly wake up to it until I applied the harsh judgment to myself.

Was I really going to allow these messages to keep me from feeling beautiful and carefree? And more importantly, as my physical appearance continues to change, is my self-worth going to diminish more and more over time because society tells me I’m no longer relevant?

These images and messages don’t just affect those pushing forty or beyond. Young women in today’s culture see more images of exceptionally beautiful women in one day than our mothers saw throughout their entire teenage years. It’s no wonder that eight out of ten women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

And it’s not just a female issue. A survey from the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of West England reveals that men also have high levels of anxiety about their bodies with some resorting to compulsive exercise, strict diets, laxatives or making themselves sick in an attempt to lose weight or get toned.

Simply put, we are obsessed with beauty and appearance. And it’s not just an issue of aging. Nearly all of us are impacted by feelings of unworthiness related to our looks. The levels of attractiveness promoted by the media are achievable by less than 2 percent of the population. The beauty elite are dictating the standards for the masses.

A Beauty Revolution

But what if we started a beauty revolution? What if we pushed back against the brainwashing of Hollywood and the media and proclaimed a new definition of beauty?

What if true beauty were defined by who we are rather than how we look?

My own internal revolution began one summer day in the parking lot of a Citgo somewhere in south Alabama. I was feeling young and happy, and I almost allowed my self-judgment to steal the joy from the day. But truthfully, I was beautiful that day.

Were I to look back at the reflection of the woman in the Citgo window, I’d see someone brimming with aliveness and fun. And that’s who I really am, in spite of my changing appearance.

What if our true beauty rested in simply being who we are, with the face and body we own, and joyfully embracing that every day?

What if it was okay to have flaws, to be less-than-perfect—not only okay but actually preferred and even celebrated?

When the focus is removed from our faces and bodies and how we don’t measure up to impossible standards, then we’re emotionally and psychologically free to express and explore who we are authentically, our true selves and our true beauty.

Of course, from an individual perspective, this true beauty revolution is easier said than internalized. It is still a work in progress for me. We spend years focusing on all of our physical flaws, and it takes a real mind shift to reject all of the cultural messages and embrace that beauty is expressed from the inside out.

If you accept the premise that “true beauty” is much more than having a model-perfect appearance, there are ways to begin retraining your thinking and igniting your own internal beauty revolution. Here are some thoughts that helped me release self-judgment and embrace my true beauty . . .

Look Around You

Take a good look at the people in your life that you love—your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, and your close friends. It’s likely the majority of these loved ones aren’t model beautiful, and yet, are they not beautiful to you?

The familiar faces, the twinkling smiles, the kind gestures, the comforting bodies and arms that embrace you. Each person has an inner beauty, a unique character and light that makes them who they are.

You see them as truly beautiful—and these people view you the same way. Remind yourself every day that the people who truly count recognize your beauty and try to validate their good opinion by believing it yourself.

Stop Struggling

This was a huge shift for me that has led to self-acceptance. Yes, there are some elements of our faces and bodies we simply cannot change. Rather than resisting and struggling against these things, relax into them and accept them with love.

Struggle and resistance do nothing but push us further away from recognizing our true beauty. Acknowledge and accept those parts of your appearance you have grown to hate. View them as children who long for and deserve your love and acceptance.

Take Care

As I’ve gotten older, I realize how much more beautiful I feel when I take care of my body.

Sometimes we become so disconnected from our true beauty that we neglect and mistreat our bodies, further entrenching us in low self-confidence. But as you begin to treat your body more lovingly, you will feel better mentally and physically, affording the clarity to recognize your true inner and outer beauty.

Feed your body with whole, nutritious foods. Move your body through exercise every day for at least twenty to thirty minutes. Acknowledge the bad habits that are harming your body, and work to release those habits over time.


This is an exercise I love. For a moment, mentally step outside of yourself and pretend you are your most loving, best friend. From the perspective of this friend, write down all of the personality traits, skills, behaviors, and qualities that you think are beautiful. Don’t allow your negative voice to intrude on this exercise.

Also ask this friend to write down the physical traits that are beautiful—your eyes, your hands, the curve of your neck. Remember, you have a choice about where you want to place your mental focus.

Keep this list nearby whenever you find yourself focusing on your flaws. Read the list and remember you have more positive qualities than negative—so choose to focus on the positive.


As I’ve grown older, I’ve consciously redirected my focus away from dwelling on my appearance. Yes, I still do what I can to look attractive and presentable. I exercise and eat a healthy diet. But I try not to obsess about the changes my face and body are undergoing.

Instead, I focus on my passions for helping others through personal development, writing, and teaching courses. I recognize that my true beauty shines from expressing my authentic self, from the joy I experience in daily life, and from my interactions with loving friends and family.

For me, true beauty comes from living fully, being who I am, and experiencing the beauty all around me.

When you find yourself doubting your own true beauty, please remember, as Khalil Gibran so eloquently reminds, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”

Allow the light in your heart to shine for yourself and others, and in so doing, your entire being will glow with a fire of beauty. You will be a beacon of attractiveness to everyone you encounter.

Photo by Simple Reminders

About Barrie Davenport

Barrie Davenport is a certified personal coach, author, and founder of Live Bold and Bloom. Please take her Free Self-Confidence Test to find out your personal confidence score.

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  • Turtle

    I always struggle with the “write down the positive things about you” exercise, whether that be about personality, looks or talents. Always end up with an empty page and a feeling of utter failure.

  • Tim

    Thank you. I have to say that I scrolled down to see your picture before I finished reading the entire article, and you do look pretty good. I usually do that when reading people’s posts. in my mind I say, “Sure, it’s easy to think that way and give that advice when you are young and beautiful.” Beauty is something that is important to me, and as my body ages, I feel less satisfied with myself. I’m struggling with aging gracefully, and as I get older, my personality is changing also. I appreciate your article, and I’ll probably go back to read it again. It’s what I was looking for.

  • Sometimes a good place to start is to ask a trusted friend or loved one to start the list for you. When you read what they have written it can help to trigger other thoughts about what you like about yourself.

  • Thank you for this wonderful post, Barrie!
    I completely agree that there is a great amount of negative conditioning coming from the media and from society about how “perfect” should appear, feel, do and be. I think that it manages to gradually diminish or even extinguish the inner light and radiance towards a focus on the external. However, the inner light is always there to rediscover and after some self-searching like the great examples that you mentioned, it shines more brightly, more radiantly and then everything else on the outside does not really matter that much. I realized that when I moved from external validation and following mind “memes” and conditioning to a focus on my inner light, I discovered a well-spring of hope, optimism, boundless joy and radiance within. Instead of worrying about how I look, I manage my energy, increase my hope, rediscover appreciation, increase my joy, begin to give to others and increase my enthusiasm. It always works for me to redirect the focus from judgment and worry to love, gratitude and not taking myself so seriously.
    Thanks for a great and insightful post!!
    Namaste and Richest Blessings,

  • Deanna Lang

    Thank you Barrie – I feel like you were speaking directly to me!!! Our self-limiting beliefs do us no good. This is a wonderful reminder. Namaste.

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    Hi Tim,
    Thank you so much for your kind comment. I think one of the gifts of aging is getting more in touch with our inner beauty. Even the most stunning young people eventually lose their looks, and if we don’t learn how to embrace our inner beauty, we’re in for a difficult time as we age. I think aging gracefully means we learn to grow comfortable in our own skin, even if that skin is starting to sag and wrinkle!

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    Hi Deanna,
    You are so welcome! I am so glad it resonated with you!!

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    Wow Harish — that is so beautifully expressed. How have you come to such a balanced and self-aware place? How did you grow to embrace your inner light?

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    Hi Turtle,
    You must practice this even if you don’t feel it. There are positive aspects of who you are. If you can’t think of any, ask a friend or close family member. Also, pick one small thing you are good at, and begin to get even better at it. Improve upon a strength, and that will boost your confidence. Then as you feel more confidence, tackle something a bit more challenging. Successful action breeds confidence.

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    Hi Susan,
    I should have read your comment before I wrote mine! Great advice — thank you!

  • It really turned around for me when I realized that the people I see as beautiful in my life are not the ones who are gorgeous model-beautiful, they’re the ones that shine because they’re full of light. It doesn’t even have to mean they’re happy and perfectly healthy and have solved all of their personal problems, it’s when they are soulful, or they’ve dropped the facade they’ve placed on themselves, or when they’re looking at something that gives them pleasure or joy, or when they’re laughing, that they’re beautiful. I find that the strangers I see as beautiful are the ones who look like they’re completely inhabiting their own bodies and lives, rather than the ones who are totally buff or have perfect skin or perfect bodies. The people I’ve known who look “perfect” on the outside have often been people who struggle daily with a self-hatred that makes them compulsively addicted to exercise or “healthy” eating or sacrificing pleasure for looks, and they haven’t been what I consider healthy or happy. When people are laughing and having fun, they’re beautiful, no matter their age or body type or what they’re wearing.

  • Thanks a lot, Barrie!
    It was a long and winding journey and by no means complete or realized yet and the more I learn, the more of a beginners mind I seem to go towards. I just simply marvel at the unfolding of my life now.
    For me the stages were:
    1. External validation and ego-driven self
    2. A lot of creative chaos and uncertainty
    3. Gradually feeling a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation
    4. Unconditional embracing of the self through love and understanding
    5. Many many years of practices such as Reiki, meditation, tapping, yoga, affirmations, laughter and more. I am by no means complete and as I learn more, the more I feel radiant and humble. The goal for me is to flow like water, no dwelling in resistance and no judgement or at least as little grasping to them as possible.
    6. Coming to a place where there are still problems and chaos but there is the presence of a deep and unalterable sense of calm and peace that can be accessed through breathing and silence.
    So in a nutshell, my core practices involve feeling a deep and heartful sense of gratitude-saying a deep and heartful “thank you” is the greatest expression of light, sitting in silence and experiencing compassion and love for the self and for others as much as possible. Coming from that space, problems still exist but I do not seem to beat myself mentally as much anymore and I seem to take myself a lot more lightly :-)!!
    Namaste and Thanks a lot again! Appreciate the great post!

  • Alison Bowering

    Thanks Barrie, I really loved this article as it’s reflected in me all the anxious thoughts I have about my aging (43) body with its fading looks and the misconception that we have, that we aren’t “worthy” of a mention past the age of 40. It’s almost as if society has given us the idea that once we turn 40 we should just be like lemmings and jump off a cliff! And yet I was watching the Golden Globe awards the other day and so many of the beautiful gorgeous women, and men were well over 40 and 50 and (yes I know they’ve had a lot of “work” done) their talent and vitality is amazing and make the younger crowd look somewhat vacuous and a little less significant. I was watching a youtube of Jessica Lange (64) talking to Ellen and she was saying that the Golden Globe awards used to be about the acting and talent back in the 80’s but now it’s all about the dress and the actual reason why they are there, which is meant to be awards for performance is secondary. Personalities like her are an inspiration in that although she is a movie star she shows that although she’s my mother’s age she has the grace and flair she had in her 20’s, ten fold!

  • lv2terp

    What an inspiring post, thank you for sharing your experience, and awesome tips, and insight! 🙂 I love that quote very much!!!

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    I am so glad you found it inspiring. I love that quote too — it was perfect for the message I wanted to share.

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    Hi Alison,
    Thank you for your very beautifully articulated comments. I love your analogy about the lemmings. At least all of us at the bottom will be in the same boat! I know exactly what you mean about younger and older actors. I saw the movie August: Osage County the other day, and both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts wore no make-up. In fact, Meryl was made to look even older and sick with cancer. But there was so much richness and authenticity in their acting. You could relate to the characters because they were real. They are true actors, not movie stars.

  • Barrie/Live Bold and Bloom

    Wow Lucy, you hit the nail on the head. I love your comment about people who are “inhabiting their own bodies.” I so agree with that. They appear comfortable and accepting of who they are. What an amazing gift that is when we get to the point when we are “full of light” from the inside.

  • Sarah Woolley

    Oh my, thank you for this beautiful post! I have quoted you on my Facebook page … “I love this … from a Tiny Buddha article by Barrie Davenport: “This
    was a huge shift for me that has led to self-acceptance. Yes, there are
    some elements of our faces and bodies we simply cannot change. Rather
    than resisting and struggling against these things, relax into them and
    accept them with love.

    Struggle and resistance do nothing but
    push us further away from recognizing our true beauty. Acknowledge and
    accept those parts of your appearance you have grown to hate. View them as children who long for and deserve your love and acceptance.

    When you find yourself doubting your own true beauty, please remember,
    as Khalil Gibran so eloquently reminds, “Beauty is not in the face;
    beauty is a light in the heart.”

    Allow the light in your heart
    to shine for yourself and others, and in so doing, your entire being
    will glow with a fire of beauty. You will be a beacon of attractiveness
    to everyone you encounter.”

    Thank you for your amazing words of wisdom! I am a 66 yr old (chronologically) grandmother! I am full of life and energy! You have made my day, week, month … Big smiles and love to you!!!

  • Chris Carter

    My friend shared this post with me in response to the post I had written about the very same topic… I am compelled to share it with you, if you don’t mind? I believe you and I are in the same pursuit, my new friend!!

    Excellent post and beautiful reminder that those things which matter most, aren’t on ‘the outside’… rather the inside holds the precious gift.

    I wrote my piece in response to a friend’s article that reflected the awful angst many experience in having a horrible body/self image. She wanted it on her site, so it is there…

  • Turtle

    I don’t have anyone to ask nor do I have any discernible talent at anything. I feel like a waste of space.

  • Malissa

    What a great, well written post. I agree. There is a book called, “The Key to Self-Liberation” by Christiane Beerlandt. It talks a lot about this subject. Its crazy what people do to keep up with appearance. Manipulating our bodies to look a certain way. True beauty has ‘zero’ to do with what a person looks like….no matter what age.

    Thanks for posting!

  • Philosopher

    Beautifully written!

  • Kay

    I liked this post until I got to the first suggestion – “look at the people in your life that you love – your spouse, your children…” I really hate that people assume that having a spouse or children is the basis to figure things out. So what do you do if you don’t have those people in your life? What are you tell us? We won’t be healed? Try getting to 50 and not having a spouse, or a boyfriend or children or even a family. You’ll realize that aging and the loss of beauty take on a whole new (depressing) meaning.

  • Klarissa Mae

    What a wonderful blog Barrie! I love how you talk about beauty as the authentic self. We do get caught up with the physical appearance and the story you share I think is the most human experience you can have on judging ourselves for what we ‘look like.’ How looking at our inner beauty can create a whole new meaning of who we are and how others see us. Thanks for sharing Barrie!

  • Taniya Agarwal

    Well.. i think age doesn’t matter whether you are old or young. It depends on your way of thought. But of course we should take more care of our skin especially at the old ages.

  • Claudal Somae

    Embracing your beauty is even more beautiful than beauty !!!

  • Ava

    She was using those as examples of people you love, she also mentioned friends, siblings, and parents. It did not appear she was implying if you do not have a spouse or children you won’t be healed.

  • Brittani Hillmann

    I loved your blog and found this very inspirational. I am currently working on a research essay about how the media influences society. Here’s some of my findings:

    The media influences society in numerous negative ways. From my research, the media greatly affects people’s self-esteem, increases cyber-bullying, and impacts education. Among the negative affects it has, self-esteem is the biggest. Women have these high expectations of how they should look and dress. The media portrays models as thin and “perfect” looking. Not only do these models look beautiful, but they are photo-shopped after that to become even more “perfect”. Everywhere women are portrayed on magazines as flawless and there are articles on how to be “beautiful”. It has become so prevalent in society that women base their looks on how the media tells them how to look. Young girls are developing eating disorders from a very young age, and most women feel overweight or uncomfortable with how they look. It is every where in society of women being portrayed and has developed low self-esteem in many. It affects men as well, but especially females across the world. Because of how influential the media is, women need to be portrayed differently. The media should not create these high expectations for people in society. It causes several different problems.

  • guest

    what if you don’t have that friend.

  • Chelsey

    This is definitely a touching post. I am very touched to see more people who have similar views to mine. It is time that we embrace who we are and stop the standardization of beauty. I am very passionate about this subject. Which has led me to write a post of my own about this topic Not many people realize how negatively this can affect the younger generation of girls.

  • Joryn Anderson

    I think that people should focus on inner beauty, rather than outer beauty. I found through research that many cosmetic products and beauty treatments may contain harmful ingredients, or involve some kind of risk for the client. Looking good is important, but being too vain could have some negative consequences. By focusing on their personalities and positive characteristics, people could avoid carelessly using unsafe cosmetics just to “look pretty.”