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Under the skin of beauty

28 Mar

Modern society would have us believe that beauty is a very external thing, that to feel beautiful we have to look beautiful.  Such a myth is born out of the belief that good looks equate to beauty – that without an aesthetically pleasing appearance you cannot feel good about yourself.  It is certainly true that if you are heavily invested in your appearance and devote lots of time and energy into looking attractive or different, you will find it difficult to feel beautiful.  This is because you are stuck in a rut where your self-worth is defined by your appearance.

Yet, despite the conditioning of society, we all know individuals who aren’t considered conventionally beautiful yet radiate an inner beauty – a sense of being at ease in their own skin.  Beauty is not just something that is enjoyed by those gifted in the looks department, but something that lies much deeper under the skin.  So, how do you tap into that ‘something’ and radiate your inner beauty?

I asked a group of women* “What makes you feel beautiful inside and out?”  Their answers were enlightening – the beauty they felt had very little to do with their external appearance.  They experienced feelings of beauty from knowing they were making a difference to others, using their innate skills and talents, spending quality time with family and friends, and generally being their most authentic selves.  It seems engaging in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable can make us feel an inner beauty that transcends any physical form of it.  Here are my tips for unleashing your inner beauty:

Do what you love

Whether it’s your work, hobbies or social activities, when you make time for activities that are enjoyable and meaningful for you, you will automatically feel good about yourself.  The simple fact is, when you feel contented, you radiate contentment, ease, and happiness – everything that embodies your inner beauty!

Use your talents

What are you good at?  When you focus on those skills or talents that make you unique, you make a difference by sharing your gifts with others – this gives you a sense of purpose and fulfilment.  It’s that ‘warm glow’ you feel inside that shines through on the outside.

Be authentic, be you

Don’t compare yourself to anyone – you are unique, so you don’t want to be like anybody but yourself!  When you tap into your authentic self you will feel comfortable and content in your own skin.  Once you accept yourself, you will find that others will too – drawn to the ease you exude.

Challenge your beliefs about beauty

If you’ve grown up believing that only those with great looks can be beautiful, it’s time to change.  Beauty on the outside doesn’t guarantee contentment, being comfortable in your own skin or feeling good about yourself.  In fact, an outwardly beautiful person can radiate an inner ‘ugliness’ if they are not fulfilled or lack meaning in their lives.

Physical appearance is not the whole picture when it comes to defining beauty – what lies under the skin is a fuller, more enduring picture of what constitutes real beauty.  To quote body image expert Thomas F Cash, “Your looks are not everything, and you are certainly much more than your looks.”

* with thanks to members of the IASC, my friends, followers and fans


The Changing Face of Beauty

27 Jan

I recently read that the iconic hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe is considered ‘fat’ by modern day standards.  At the current day equivalent of a UK size 14, I wondered how one of the world’s most famous pin-ups went from being considered ‘sexy’ to being labelled as over weight?  Clearly, society’s idea of beauty has shifted over time.

Looking at the history of beauty, it’s clear to see how ideals have changed.  There was a time when a plump body was considered beautiful:  in the late nineteenth century, this was thought to be a sign of wealth.  During the 1950’s, Marilyn Monroe and the curvy forms of her contemporaries embodied sexiness.  This is in stark comparison to the modern day where women are constantly dieting to achieve the elusive ‘waif like’ figure.  These different standards show us that there really is no consistency in what is considered attractive – attempts to ‘keep up’ with ever changing, and arguably more and more unattainable standards, are leaving women with low body confidence and self-worth.

So, when the goal posts keep moving on beauty, how can you safeguard yourself against poor body confidence?  Follow these five tips to help free yourself from the pursuit of unrealistic standards:

Remember, there is no real standard of beauty

As history has shown us, ideals of beauty change in the same way that fashions do.  While it’s easy to toss out clothes that are no longer in fashion, we cannot mould and manipulate our bodies at will to conform to the latest beauty trend.  The only consistent ‘beauty standard’ is that women come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own unique features. We only have one body, and it’s time we started accepting what we have.

Beware the beauty standard setters

Think about it, where do the beauty ideals come from?  Those most invested in creating beauty standards have products to sell.  Pick up any magazine and you’ll see adverts of airbrushed celebrities and models selling products to ‘improve’ our skin, hair, body, etc.  These adverts are designed to make us feel discontent with our looks in some way, to motivate us to buy a product that will disguise, camouflage, enlarge, or minimise whatever our ‘flaw’ is.  Remember that believing you should aspire to some standard is exactly the trap advertisers want you to fall into.

Be clear what you love about your body

Ask yourself, “What are five things I love about my body?”  Do this with reference to what you like, not to some idealised standard.  You might like parts of your body for how they look, what they allow you to do, or even because they tell the story of your life e.g. a scar you got while playing as a child.  When you’re clear what you love about your own body, you are less likely to make unfavourable comparisons with unrealistic ideals.

Look at the real women around you

When you look at the women around you, what do you see?  I bet you don’t see many that conform to today’s super skinny ideals!  More likely you’ll see real women of all shapes and sizes.  This is reality, not the photo shopped images that advertisers want us to buy into.

Focus on the beauty within

When you focus heavily on your external appearance, self worth becomes defined by your looks.  This denies the many other qualities, characteristics and achievements that are an integral part of you.

Begin to appreciate the beauty within you: what are your best qualities, what are you most proud of?  If you struggle with this, ask a good friend to help you.  As you begin to appreciate every part of you, so you will see yourself as a whole, beautiful being, with many other facets than just your appearance.

Remember, you are a real woman, beautiful in your own unique way: don’t chase the ever changing and elusive face of beauty!

Projecting a positive image – why looking good is only half the picture

21 Nov

It’s likely that at some time or other we’ve all experienced the good feelings associated with wearing something we really love.  When we look in the mirror and like our appearance (our external image), this gives us a sense of confidence that helps us project a positive image to others.

However, the image we present is not only about our external image.  Our internal image also has a vital role to play.

Internal image

Our internal image is based upon the beliefs that we have about ourselves.  These beliefs are formed through our life experiences and can be helpful or limiting.  For example, we might believe that we are attractive and likeable, or ugly and repulsive to others.

Helpful beliefs enable us to behave in a confident manner and project well, while unhelpful beliefs can result in us feeling unworthy and unlikeable, leading to a poorer image.

In order to consistently project a positive image we must therefore look and feel good about ourselves.  Changing how you look alone will not create a positive impression if it is constantly undermined by a poor internal image.

Overhaul your beliefs

When we feel anxious or nervous about doing something, it is likely that there is a limiting (unhelpful) belief we hold about ourselves that is fuelling our anxiety.  This belief makes itself heard through our ‘inner voice’ or the critic inside our head that tells us we can’t do something, or that if we do, we’ll look stupid (you know the voice!!).

To ensure your beliefs don’t undermine your internal image, it is helpful to do an overhaul of those beliefs you hold about your appearance.  Becoming aware of these enables you to keep the helpful ones and to challenge, remove and reframe the ones that are less than helpful.

Here’s an example.  Say that you hold the belief “My thighs are huge – if I go out, everyone is going to think they are hideous and not want to talk to me.” What impact do you think this will have when you are asked to go out with friends, or on a first date perhaps?  It’s likely that you will feel anxious and nervous.  You may avoid going out altogether, or if you do go, you will constantly be obsessing about your thighs.  Your awkwardness will show, perhaps creating the impression that you aren’t interested in other people, who may avoid you as a result. In this scenario, your beliefs have created the very situation you are trying to avoid, and you are likely to assume that others are avoiding you because of your huge thighs!

Awareness of such a belief is the first step in improving your self image, so be aware of the kind of beliefs that your inner voice is expressing.

Once you are aware of the belief, challenge it.  What evidence do you have for this belief?  Has anyone ever said anything mean about your thighs?  Look for evidence to contradict this belief – when did someone compliment you on how you looked in a skirt or a pair of trousers that showed off that part of your body?  If you don’t think you can challenge the belief yourself, get someone you trust to do this with you.

Hopefully you’ll find some contrary evidence that helps to discredit your belief.  Now, replace it with a more helpful belief.  What belief would you like to have instead?  What would help you feel more confident?  For example, perhaps you like the way your overall figure looks in certain outfits.  A more helpful belief might be:  “I like the way my figure looks when I wear a dress, and my thighs are part of that overall look.”

To embed this new belief you’ll need to repeat it.  This can mean saying it out loud; writing it down over and over, or putting it up somewhere you can see it every day.

Look for evidence that this new belief is true – what compliments have you received when you wore dresses, or any other outfits?  How differently do you feel as a result of this new belief?  How are people reacting to you as a result?

Be patient, it takes time to change old beliefs, but keep putting in the work, as it will be worth it.  To consistently project a positive image, you have to do the hard work on the inside as well as the outside.

Barbie: harmless toy or dangerous role model?

15 Nov

A recent episode of Gok Wan’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’ revealed some worrying statistics about how women in the UK feel about their bodies. Apparently 80% of women don’t like their waists, while the same percentage wished their tummies were smaller, 70% are unhappy with their bums, and 65% expressed dissatisfaction with their boobs.  An unrelated study suggests that 95% of women will, at some point in their life, be on a diet.  These findings beg the question: how did women become such body loathers?

As a baby, we are eager to explore our bodies and are blissfully unconscious of them.  At some point, however, we begin to become self-conscious, with some suggesting that this can happen as early as 2 years old.  Early role models, like our parents will play a crucial role in shaping how we feel about ourselves.  Growing up, girls need role models with a positive body image if they are to develop a healthy attitude towards their own body. This got me thinking about one of the most iconic and much-loved toys for girls – Barbie.

It is estimated that 90% of girls aged 3 to 11 have a Barbie, an early role model that is physically unattainable.  At 5 ft 9″, Barbie has a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist and 33″ hips.  ‘Beauty Redefined’ rather brilliantly brought Barbie to life in a scale model (pictured above) that shows how ridiculous her proportions are. If young girls are not guided otherwise, they may believe that this is an achievable and a desirable ideal: is it any wonder that they become dissatisfied with their bodies from such an early age? I’m not saying that Barbie is the cause of all body image issues today, but with one in four teenage girls developing an eating disorder, surely we need to make sure that their early role models are the healthiest?  Besides, latest studies on female body shape suggest that the ‘hour glass’ shape personified by Barbie is on the decline among UK women, with less than 10% of women being an ‘hour glass’.   It seems to me that it’s time that Barbie became a more current and healthy role model.  It’s time she had a decent meal!

What do you think about Barbie and her influence on body image?