Dove regularly publish a Global Beauty and Confidence Report. Recently after some research on self esteem and how it can affect a persons mental health I sat down and had a look at statistics from these reports – in the latest report after interviewing 10,500 women across 13 countries they found that only 4% of women around the world considered themselves beautiful, 72% felt pressure to look a certain way. 9 out of 10 girls wished they could change at least one aspect of their physical appearances. How about you? have u ever felt less than worthy because of your looks?
Even more bothering is the fact that nearly all women (85%) and girls (79%) state that they opt out of important life activities – such as trying out for a sports team or joining a club, and engaging with family or loved ones or going out with their friends or going to the beach– because of low body esteem. They simply don’t feel good about themselves and the way they look. I know I have done it in the past Im a perfectionist and when I did not feel up to standard I would find an excuse to get out of some situations.
Glamour magazine did a similar survey in 2014—54% of women ages 18 to 40 were unhappy with their bodies, they reported, and 80% of them said that just looking in the mirror made them feel bad.
These statistics are really sad in my opinion—not only because so many of us fall victims to the “standards” of beauty that society tries to force on us, but also because we allow the perceptions of our appearances to dictate our sense of self-worth. Today we are bombarded on all fronts with images of perfect women – now are these women really all perfect? or have they had surgery to enhance certain aspects of their physique? or is it a photoshop miracle that no one seems to ever have a wrinkle; cellulite; or a single spot on their face?
The way we see ourselves—generally known as “self-image”—is not a new kid on the block for psychologists. It’s been extensively analysed, namely because of its infamous links to self-esteem and mental well-being. But these self-opinions have proven challenging to capture under a common denominator— because they are very subjective, highly prone to biases, and form based on our personal situational, environmental and even cultural histories. If you look at the Maltese history for example in the past il mara il – hoxna (fat lady) was considered beautiful and women who were smaller were not marriageable. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we condition ourselves to believe that only what is currently the trend is beautiful?
Luckily, there is a silver lining here. Unfavourable self-views, are not undefeatable. There is plenty we can do to improve our relationship with ourselves, so that we can become our most favourite person in the whole world again.
Here is how we can start.
- Unhealthy self-image, frequently traces back to our childhoods—to the excessive criticism, even bullying, or unrealistic expectations—of parents, teachers and peers—which sometimes break more than they repair, discourage than motivate, and lower than raise our self-esteem. But we should not let the past define the people we are or want to become. The “ugly duck” period is long over—so, move on. I know its not easy I have been there myself. I was victim of the ‘mean girls’ at my school and I spent many years believing what a bunch of mean 13 year old girls told me – but if i could overcome it so can you!
- A “positive mindset” I know we are all sick of hearing be positive said to us and it is a rather overused expression nowadays, but it’s highly desirable if we are looking to have an enduring love toward ourselves. We have to also strive to avoid extreme negative self-labelling. Why would we want to put ourselves down anyway? I know sooo many women that can criticise so much about their body (I was one of them for a long time) but cannot mention 1 thing they love about themselves. Mention 1 thing you love about yourself? I can mention several now
- Define yourself more broadly. Our internal landscapes are vast, rich and complex—so, don’t purposely try to shrink yours. We are never one thing—we often wear many hats and have an endless list of responsibilities, obligations and roles. For instance, we are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends. We have professions; jobs; talents that can influence the world around us. So, we should not reduce ourselves and our worth to only looks or some perceived shortcoming. We are so much more—and we have all our accomplishments to prove it.
- Do a reality check. Self-image is a combination of three things— what we think about ourselves, what others think of us, and what we think others think of us. How we appear to others may be miles away from the person we believe we are. For instance, I always thought that I look boring, plain and undesirable. To my astonishment when I asked 3 people how they saw me I’m told I am beautiful; smart, a free spirit, inspirational and with a heart of gold.” Talk about misalignment.
So, ask away—your friends, family, co-workers. You may be quite surprised—and learn a thing or two about yourself.
What tops the list of things to refrain from, though, is comparison to others—because amongst its many side effects, it does a great job in eroding our self-image quite fast. Nothing can harm our confidence more than a “why-others-have (or are)-more” mentality. Why does she have a boyfriend and I am still single? Why does she eat like a pig and remain slim? Why did my eyes come out brown and hers are blue? etc etc etc …. I have learnt enough in this journey of min to know that the grass is not always greener on the other side, and yet—we all, to varying degrees, continue to evaluate our worth and achievements relative on others.
It’s unhealthy, we all know this , but we still do it. So, stop—you don’t have to part-take in a race with the Joneses.
A final thing to remember is that we are not these deeply flawed individuals that the world may be trying to convince us we are—if we don’t have the perfect skin or can’t fit in size-zero dress it does not mean we are ugly.
Who is a true authority to make these rules anyway, or to try to box our individuality in some one-size-fits-all recommendations?
What the world thinks is peripheral. What matters is how we see ourselves and who we believe we are.
It is much more than just our bodies we are talking about here— it’s about the person who lives in our minds and who stares back at us in the mirror. So please remember ladies – you are unique! You are beautiful!
Thanks to my friends Adriana, Stephanie, Analisse and Bernardette who helped me with these questions a few months ago