Feeling unattractive happens to the best of us, and the feeling can pester us into believing that our opinion of our appearance is the truth.
Such was the case for Maddo, who opened up about her problem in a forum on Youth Beyond Blue, a program under the Australia-based organization Beyond Blue, which aims to promote mental health. In her post, Maddo says that she is so convinced of her ugliness that it becomes difficult to think of the possibility of moving to a different school, having her first kiss, and even moving away from people she does not like—because, she said, of the worry that no one else will like her.
Even though feeling unpretty, feeling unattractive, feeling ugly is an internal issue, it is obvious that its effects are external. The shame we feel about ourselves impacts our behavior. June Tangney of George Mason University, along with Ronda L. Dearing of the University of Houston and others, determined that proneness to shame “can increase one’s risk for other psychological problems” and that “the link to depression is particularly strong”, according to an article by Scientific American.
In the same article, it says that Thomas A. Fergus, who currently works at Baylor University, and others found a link between proneness to shame and “anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder”.
This is particularly alarming when you consider how grave a person’s feeling of shame can be. But how does one even begin to tackle it?
Thin and Pretty are In(ternalized) Ideals
We have heard this time and again: the media affects our perception of ourselves. And according to a study by postdoctoral researcher Shelly Grabe and psychology professor Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there is proof to support the supposed assumption.
Summarized in the University’s news website, their study, which was published in the May issue of Psychological Bulletin, showed that there was a notable difference between the women who were exposed to media that displayed “women’s bodies and the thin ideal” and the women who were not. Results showed that the women who were exposed to the specified media were way less satisfied with their bodies.
According to the article, other research has additionally shown that there exists a correlation between body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders, among others. The role of media in creating disharmony within the self is visible, and Grabe hopes that people will see this issue as a “societal one.”
"I think we need to consider how we’re using media images as a culture to share the values we think are important, and the effect that has on our well-being, " Grabe says.
While the study they conducted focused on the body ideal that is “unhealthily thin”, the findings still hold true for the other standards of beauty we hold ourselves up to, not knowing that these standards are not anymore our own.
"I want to stress that it’s totally normal for women to want to be attractive," Grabe said as stated in the article. "But what’s happening in our society is that many women are striving toward something that’s not very realistic or obtainable, and that leads to a lot of health consequences."
But Where Does Your Insecurity Come From?
Keep in mind, however, that our personal insecurities—despite being a societal problem—can also stem from a number of personal issues.
Aside from the media, we might also want to look into our upbringing, the standard of beauty imposed by the culture we operate in, our interpersonal relationships, or any specific moment in our life when we started to develop a preferential standard of beauty and the reason why it continues to grow as a preference.
By examining the histories of our insecurities, or at least by approximating them, we can identify the triggers of our negative self-talk about the way we look.
Pep Talks, Doing the Opposite, and Perhaps Therapy
Psychologists have been developing ways to counter poor self-esteem, and these techniques apply to a poor self-esteem in relation to one’s appearance. But we will focus on three ways to get you started now!
When we say that you should give yourself a pep talk, we do not mean that you should force yourself into thinking something you do not fully believe yet. Instead, we mean that when you look at yourself in the mirror, make an effort to pinpoint the things you like about the way you look: your cute hair, your unique beauty mark, your adorable nose. According to an article on Psychology Today, a phenomenon called “attentional bias” can be countered by a balancing of focus.
Attentional bias, according to a journal article on Science Direct, occurs when “a person selectively attends to a certain category or certain categories of stimuli in the environment while tending to overlook, ignore, or disregard other kinds of stimuli”. So, a small practice to start with is to notice the things you appreciate about your appearance and then to thank your body for having them.
Doing the opposite is similar to the previous. When your urge is to notice what you find unattractive, do the exact opposite by finding what you do find attractive about the way you look. You could even go further by giving yourself compliments, or thanking the aspects of your appearance you find unattractive.
This Opposite Action skill can be found in Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This skill, according to an article on Mindsoother, is the “deliberate attempt to act [the opposite] of your emotion urge,” and this is particularly helpful “[i]f your emotions are doing more harm than good”. This certainly is difficult, especially since you are re-programming the way your mind thinks.
If your issue with self-esteem, however, becomes a debilitating force in your life, our main suggestion would be to find a therapist that can help you break free from this thought pattern.
Recovering from negative self-talk that is so embedded in our system is truly difficult, but the effort it takes to heal from it will take you to a place of reassurance, self-love, and acceptance.