“People like me more when they think I’m pretty.”
I can’t tell you when, but at some point in my childhood I began to believe this was true. This is what the media, my environment and even my mother taught me.
The media taught me to compare myself to touched up, perfect images and the more I looked like them, the more acceptable and loved I would be. It taught me to fix myself to fit certain standards of beauty and that life would be more charmed and happy if I did.
My environment taught me that being pretty was important. I looked around and decided pretty was a club and I wanted to belong. As a member of this club, I’d get special treatment. I saw it with my own two eyes, all the time, everywhere. Extra attention. Benefit of the doubt. Get-out-of-jail-free cards. Kindness and consideration. Most of all, being pretty gave you magical powers like confidence, charm and magnetism. And I wanted all of those things.
My mother taught me to invest time in making myself beautiful — caring for my skin and hair, wearing flattering clothes, taking pride in putting myself together and presenting myself. But somehow I missed the reason behind it all. I believed that I should be doing these things for outside approval — to please my family, to get the attention of a man, to show my ‘rank’ among other women, to win favor and feel special. There was no connection established between self-love and self-care, creativity and self-expression.
I wasn’t aware that these beliefs were sabotaging my self-concept and undermining my confidence. I walked around with my distracting hang-ups and my pride and this unreasonable pursuit of perfection. Obsessing over how I looked, dressing to get any kind of attention I could get, then feeling very uncomfortable with the attention once I got it. Expecting to be known as one of the ‘pretty girls’ and feeling slighted when I was denied the attention I felt I deserved. Confused. Showing off. Showing too much. Doing too much.
My emphasis on appearance was buried deep in my subconscious, driving my actions, building walls and blind spots and bad habits, leading me down a slippery slope of insecurity. And I didn’t even know it.
In fact, I actually thought I had good self-esteem until I had my daughters. Their perceptions and questions challenged me to observe and be honest with myself so I could teach them about inner beauty and self-love from a place of true knowing and not just concept.
I wanted to understand why it had always been so important to me to look a certain way. Why my blemishes and so-called imperfections were such a problem to the point where I couldn’t go out and enjoy myself if they were showing. Why I was so obsessed with appearance. My preoccupation with beauty was driven by insecurity, not self-love or inspiration and I wanted to understand why and how and what I could do to change it.
Stripping down, learning to love my reflection without makeup, without chemicals in my hair and without trendy clothes — finding the beauty in all my womanly insecurities, has been exactly what I needed to trigger a shift in perception. To begin to appreciate my body for the miracle that it is and start taking care of myself from the inside out. I needed to shed some old skin and old ideas, redefining myself, for myself.
When we are in tune with our spirits, we feel beautiful on the inside, and we want to express it on the outside. Inner beauty naturally leads to all the magical powers we crave — outer glow, magnetism, confidence, grace.
Without that inside-out dynamic, we find ourselves placing too much emphasis on the external package, excessively proud or excessively ashamed of our appearances and acting accordingly. Thinking that worth and status is dependent on how we look. Allowing how we feel on the inside to be determined by the response we get on the outside, instead of the other way around.
But a woman who delights in her appearance in order to honor her Creator, her spirit, and her vehicle for expression, that’s the kind of beauty I’ve come to believe in and this is what I will teach my daughters. It is more than caring about how you look, it is caring about how you affect people, how you speak to them without words, and how you inspire them with your presence.
How have your ideas about beauty and appearance changed over the years? Please share in the comments below!