This isn’t a post about beauty standards or body image. It’s a post about coping with the reality that we—both women and men—are constantly subjected to an array of internal and external standards regarding our physical appearance. Some of those standards matter. Others aren’t deserving of our attention (even though ignoring them can be easier said than done). This post is about knowing the difference. This is a post about making your physical appearance a source of confidence, rather than anxiety, whether your goal is to lose weight, appear healthier, or simply refine your look.
Appearances matter because looking in the mirror and liking what we see matters.
The propensity to compare ourselves to others and to measure our worth by external standards, I think, can be destructive when left unchecked. It can leave us feeling like we don’t measure up. Or like we’re not good enough, which can be paralyzing. With regard to appearance, we may choose not to strive for improvement in those areas in which we believe that, no matter what we do, we’ll never be good enough (so what’s the point?). Or we may become resentful of appearance standards altogether. Either approach impedes our development. I say, if there are societal standards that you truly believe are harmful, then speak up about them. Work to change the hearts and minds of others. But don’t let resentment drive you to eradicate high standards from your personal life. Resentment is ugly. And you are worthy of aspiring to a high standard of living. As long as it isn’t unrealistic or otherwise damaging.
From someone who’s been dealing with a formidable perfectionistic streak her whole life, I can tell you that the responsibility for living according to realistic and achievable, yet ambitious, standards begins and ends with you. I am also keenly aware that it can be difficult to cultivate a mindset that makes this possible, especially when we’re also grappling with external pressures.
Here are some thoughts on developing a perspective for achieving your physical appearance goals.
Do the easy stuff first.
Go shopping. Get a haircut. Stand up a little straighter. Walk a little sexier. Small edits can add up to big changes. More importantly, they don’t take a great deal of effort, and they can bolster your confidence instantly. Create a proper foundation for more lasting change by taking care of the small stuff first. It will give you the momentum to tackle more complex challenges.
Be good enough.
I recently heard Cindy Crawford quoted (in a somewhat dated interview) as saying that even she doesn’t wake up in the morning looking like Cindy Crawford. Be realistic about who you are and who you are capable of becoming. And be realistic about external standards, too. Even the lucky few among us who are universally lauded for their physical attractiveness aren’t always good enough. Remember that.
It is up to you to be good enough by your standards. You can’t control anyone else’s. Don’t set yourself up for failure by working toward unachievable goals.
Don’t forget to take your wellbeing into account as you pursue physical self-improvement. If working to achieve a certain appearance standard is making you miserable, you probably need to re-adjust the standard. Appearances may matter, but they sure aren’t everything. And they’re not worth torturing yourself over.
Do the work.
The pinnacle of satisfaction is reached through hard work. Quick-fix products and programs act like band-aids. They may cover our problems and mask our trouble spots, but they don’t fix anything. Don’t rob yourself of the pride and satisfaction that come from putting in hard work. Learn to fall in love with and become empowered by the process. Exercise. Eat better. Wake up half an hour earlier and spend a little extra time on yourself in the morning. Develop a habit of approaching the day with a face you’re proud of.
Don’t be afraid to push the envelope…a little.
As you achieve your goals, do not be afraid to set new ones. This generally requires moving outside of a comfort zone or letting go of some worn out elements of your lifestyle. Aim higher anyway. As long as it makes you happy to do so. (There is such a thing as taking self-improvement, including the pursuit of health and wellness too far.) Conversely, you may find that you reach a point at which you are satisfied with who you’ve become. Where the outside reflects the inside. That’s a good place to be, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with staying there.