Are you comparing your behind-the-scenes reality with someone's filtered persona?
We ALL do this. Even if it's not about appearance. The shortcut to unhappiness is comparison. YET, comparing every aspect of our lives with other people actively occupies tons of mental real estate for many of us.
Intuitively, we should know that all is not what it seems right? We have our own imperfect lives and curated Instagram feeds to attest to the fact that social media is but a SLICE (a very well filtered one, at that) of reality.
One of the greatest consequences of comparison is unhappiness with the way we look
It is difficult to measure the collective mental and emotional impact of being unsatisfied with your looks. I'm sure there are statistics out there that attempt to quantify the economic, social, and personal impact of feeling unhappy with our appearance.
Those of us who have struggled to make peace with our appearance can attest that the impact is not really quantifiable. How do you measure the weight of low self-worth and self-esteem?
The truth is that everything making us feel bad about our appearance is based on a fallacy: that beauty has a standard
That's right, there is no standard for how we 'should' look. Eurocentric benchmarks for what is physically beautiful have manipulated us into thinking we are anything less than ideal. It's important to note that we can know this and still acknowledge that it is painful to feel inadequate 🥺
We can also understand that this feeling of inadequacy is entirely external and has been imposed on us WHILE reflecting on how it has influenced us to be at constant war with our appearance.
So what is fuels this dissatisfaction too many of us carry with our appearance?
What Fuels Dissatisfaction With Looks?
The pain of not feeling (or looking) 'good enough' is a valid form of emotional pain. We are not 'superficial' or 'trivial' if we experience it! What lies behind dissatisfaction with our appearance is too extensive to capture in full. False Eurocentric 'standards', social media/influencer culture, consumerism, capitalism- it can all be implicated here.
Let's take a look at two mechanisms you may not have considered before.
In the past (pre-internet really was a different world, and therefore the past), we didn't have as many people to compare ourselves to. Nowadays, our pool of comparison has no boundaries.
This wider exposure doesn't help because the people who are informing our ideas of beauty are outstandingly beautiful celebrities who make us feel mediocre. When we are constantly bombarded with images of these people, we begin to think that their kind of beauty is more common than it actually is.
The exaggerated presence of celebrity faces, many of which are achieved through plastic surgery and expensive products most of us can't afford) contributes to the fallacy that extraordinary symmetry or certain features, are the standard.
When they are most certainly the exception, not the norm.
Explaining The Halo Effect
The halo effect is otherwise known as the 'beautiful is good' fallacy. This is a cognitive bias that equates physical attractiveness with other positive character traits.
For example, we may perceive people who are physically attractive to also be more sociable or intelligent. Of course, that could very well be true! However, the halo effect has us jumping to other assumptions about character from our evaluation of looks- and this is why we call is a bias.
The halo effect has real-life consequences in areas such as education and the workplace. The 'beautiful is good' fallacy may affect how our performance is appraised and the types of opportunities we get.
These circumstances fuel our feelings of inadequacy, and exacerbate existing self-esteem issues of unhappiness with certain aspects of ourselves, including physical appearance.
How To Cope
So, how do we lay down the arms we have taken up against our own appearance? I would like to offer two gentle ideas that may provide a different perspective:
Coach The Mind To See Beauty
Rather than denying that looks are not important to you, coach your mind to appreciate the beauty and grace in every face you see. Notice how smiles light up eyes, wrinkles and crinkles tell stories, and all body shapes and sizes are stunning.
Coaching your mind to see the beauty in others may allow you to flip that perspective onto yourself.
In general, our focus is too narrow when it comes to qualities we appreciate. Try being creative in your compliments to yourself and others. Have you noticed that your friend has a really elegant forehead? Or maybe eyes that exude warmth?
Let them know- and then apply that same creativity to yourself.
Dig Deep For Root Causes
Sometimes our appearance can be a scapegoat for deeper issues we are having difficult confronting.
This can sound like: "If I looked like this_______, then I would finally feel happy and fulfilled"
If that sounds like you, get curious and dig a bit deeper to find whether you are unhappy with your appearance, or perhaps something else? For example, maybe your need to look a certain way stems from perfectionism and a fear of failing.
Our appearance can bear the brunt of many personal issues we are having because it is so very physical and apparent. Be kind to your body and mind by letting your looks off the hook and working to identify the root causes of the dissatisfaction.
This topic is not an easy one! We know how difficult it is to love our bodies, just the way they are. Understanding what we are up against in terms of media exposure and societal biases such as the halo effect can help us realize that beauty standards are a FALLACY.
So it's time to lay down the arms- we will no longer wage war against our appearance and become a casualty to a cause that will never benefit our mental and emotional health.
I want to hear from you: How do you manage to love and embrace about your appearance on a day to day basis?
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist