“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” ~Steve Furtick
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had issues with the way I look. Back when I was at school, I stood out, being one of the only Asian students in a small English village. This heightened my awareness of how different I looked in relation to my peers and started my obsession of comparing myself with others.
It is often stated that adolescence can be a painful period in everyone’s life, and mine was no exception. By the age of thirteen, I suddenly sprouted into a gangly, long-limbed teenager with greasy hair.
I retreated into my world of loud and angry rock music, pretending not to care about anything but secretly in a spiral of self-hatred and loneliness.
I’d always assumed I’d naturally grow out of feeling down about my looks, but I have now come to realize that insecurity about one’s appearance should not be underestimated and simply shrugged away as an “adolescent phase.”
By seventeen my self-hatred had intensified, and I began working in a part-time job to start saving for plastic surgery—the only thing I decided would make me happy about my appearance.
I became scarily obsessed with how I looked, excusing myself every half hour at work to check my face, and I have countless memories of crying in desperation at my reflection in the bathroom mirror.
I realize now that all of this clearly foreshadowed an eventual breakdown of some sort, but I was still shocked when it happened. After my first month of college, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and left.
It seemed as though everything was suddenly changing for the worse. Amid all this chaos, my insecurities and anxieties became so overwhelming, I felt unworthy of looking after myself. I ended up suffering from insomnia and lost over fourteen pounds within a month.
I now see that a shock to the system was needed to make me open my eyes to what I was doing to myself.
I had hated myself for so long but had repressed my feelings, sure that with time I would suddenly “get better” without actually addressing the real problem.
I could blame the media and the narrow perception of beauty it promotes. I could blame all the people that ever made hurtful or thoughtless remarks, in most cases unaware of the anguish they would cause me. But I won’t.
It all starts with feeling good about who you are. Because I so clearly didn’t, I became a magnet for criticism and negativity from others and allowed it to affect me to my detriment.
It took a conscious, concerted effort to feel more confident about my looks. And believe me, it’s not just about “looks” on a surface level—the way you feel about your looks is a key signifier of the way you think about yourself.
No “quick-fix” solution is going to make you feel better.
There is no one definition of beauty. I’ve learned that the hard way. Obsessively fixating on how you look is limiting beyond belief and prevents you from appreciating everything that is beautiful about you.
Things that helped me in my quest to feel better about myself:
1. Practice self-care.
It’s amazing how feeling bad about yourself can make you neglect your body and spirit, turning your back on a nutritious diet, exercise, and relaxation.
This will only serve to perpetuate a downward spiral of negativity. You feel bad about yourself so you don’t take care of yourself, which makes you feel even more negative as you deprive yourself of enough good attention—whether this be by taking time out to meditate or read books or articles that will inspire you.
2. Realize that everyone is beautiful.
Once you believe this, you will witness beauty in infinite forms. While the media chooses to represent one image as the beauty ideal, this is a skewed and warped perspective, fabricated by those with vested interests, such as certain fashion houses.
Perfection does not exist—everyone you see around you has their own problems, insecurities, things they feel they could improve. You may not realize this since you can’t hear people’s thoughts.
There is beauty in everyone. Look for it in others and tell people when you find them beautiful.
Note that beauty isn’t always about the physical. If someone has a lovely smile, why is it lovely? Probably because it radiates warmth and gives you an insight into their friendly and approachable nature.
While physically beautiful things are lovely to look at, looks fade, whereas beautiful actions positively affect those around us and can last a lifetime.
3. Recognize and limit external factors that spark feelings of negativity.
Know your triggers—the things that immediately leave you feeling bad about yourself. These may be certain celebrity magazines or social media websites like Facebook. Identify them and take steps to limit their role in your life.
4. Discover the root cause that makes you feel bad.
You may hate an aspect or more of your appearance, convincing yourself “If only I had a thinner body, I would be happy/successful/fulfilled.” However, more than likely, the real reason for your unhappiness lies under the surface.
For example, your fixation on getting a better body may stem from an insecurity of never being “good enough.” If this is the case, you will always find an aspect of yourself to criticize, whether it’s your weight or your hair color.
Identify the root cause and acknowledge how it’s led you to feel this way. Then remind yourself that it is an irrational insecurity that makes you feel bad about yourself and how you look.
5. Focus outward.
While it’s always important to work within oneself, it can also be helpful to turn your attention to helping others. Let’s face it: there are far more important things in the world than looks.
Volunteering in your local community, for instance, is a great way to feel positive about doing something beautiful for others and increase your confidence. It can really help to put your hang-ups in perspective.
To finally be at peace with how you look is no easy feat, especially if you have suffered from low self-esteem in the past.
There are times when I feel awful and my old feelings of self-consciousness creep back to haunt me. However, by taking small steps to work on the points above, I can effectively manage irrational negative thoughts and appreciate the beauty in myself and others—flaws and all. You can do this too.