T’is the season when even the most curmudgeonly Grinch will drag themselves out of their cave and force themselves to be social. If it’s not your neighbour’s slightly awkward annual mince pie afternoon, it’s the fizz-soaked office bash or Uncle Horace’s Christmas charades evening. It’s a time for merry-making, for catching up…and for looking your best.
Everyone wants to look good and there’s nothing wrong with that. Problems only arise when you dislike how you look (or certain aspects of your appearance) to such an extent that it affects your day-to-day life. Unfortunately, this time of year can be a breeding ground for body image insecurities: non-stop parties, socialising, reunions with old acquaintances, lots of drink and food on offer, wanting to make a good impression and to look great in all those Instagram shots.
How you view yourself, how you see yourself physically, can affect your emotions, thoughts, behaviour and body. Needless to say, if your opinions are negative – if you feel you don’t measure up or that you’re lacking physically in some way – it can shape your whole world. That’s not an exaggeration. Feeling insecure in your appearance can inhibit what you do, say, think and the choices you make.
Sadly, more and more people (both men and women) are feeling dissatisfied with how they look. Recent research found that 90% of British women experience body image anxiety and 69% of men ‘often’ wish they looked like someone else. These statistics should be shocking, but they’re not. Chances are you’ve suffered from body image issues yourself at some point or know someone who has.
Most of the views we hold about our appearance are unfair, unrealistic and unhelpful, but we’ve become so attached to them we consider them absolute truths. We are too ugly, fat, thin, scrawny, big, tall, short, hairy, bald etc. We dismiss anything that points to the contrary and only ever focus on totally nonsensical ‘evidence’ that backs up our views (‘she’s staring at the gap in my teeth’, ‘I didn’t get the job because I don’t look the part’). When you suffer from poor body image your mind is negatively programmed to spotlight the bad things. You’ll also ignore, dismiss or explain away compliments: ‘They only said that out of pity’, ‘Did they say I looked nice because I look horrible the rest of the time?’
That little voice in your head that puts you down, tells you you’re ugly and heckles you whenever you try to defend yourself is your inner critic. Picture the person you always try to avoid talking to at parties, the one who thinks relentless moaning, whining and gossiping makes good conversation and who is an expert at backhanded compliments (e.g. ‘my dad has those jeans’, ‘I tried on that dress, but it was too baggy around the waist’). You have a miniature version of that person living in your head. How delightful. They’re prejudiced against you and constantly spout negative thoughts, ignore compliments, compare you negatively to others and dwell on the past.
Your inner critic keeps your self-belief levels so painfully low you genuinely won’t see any truth in admiration or praise. To build a more positive and realistic view of yourself as a whole person (not just a collection of body parts) you need to start giving yourself compliments and accepting them from others. Try this simple strategy as a way to start to acknowledging and accepting your good bits. By admitting you like some things about yourself you’re tipping the scales of self-evaluation back into balance.
- Make a list of your positive personality traits in a notebook, including all your character strengths, talents and achievements. Are you loyal, hardworking, witty, caring, interested in others, a good cook?
- If you’re struggling use the below questions as a guide:
- What do I like about who I am?
- What am I good at?
- What do others say they like about me or that I’m good at?
- What are my favourite hobbies?
- What compliments did I receive recently?
- How do I overcome challenges?
- Have I helped anyone with anything recently?
- What attributes do I appreciate in others that I might also possess?
- Next, ask a friend, partner or family member what they like best about you. Ask someone you trust and explain why you’re doing it so you’re not too intimidated.
- Write down any compliments you are given over the course of a week. Even if you don’t believe them at the time, write them down! E.g. “great work”, “I really appreciate your help”, “that dress looks nice”, “I like your hair”, “that was funny”. It doesn’t matter how small or what they were about, just write them down.
Review: At the end of the week re-read your list of positive personality features and the compliments you were given. Listing your best character traits and paying attention to compliments will force you to acknowledge your good bits – you do have them, contrary to what your inner critic tells you. This isn’t in anyway arrogant, it’s healthy. You’re just balancing up a way of thinking that is skewed. Writing these points down means you’re taking them seriously. Spending time thinking of good things about yourself will lift your mood and put you in a better frame of mind to think more positively about your appearance.
This Book Will Make You Feel Beautiful is out on January 8 2015 and available to pre-order now