beauty

Ever think you suck? Think again.

My coworker sent me a link today that stopped me in my tracks. I took six minutes and thirty seconds out of my workday (sorry, boss) and watched the video that I made a note to write about the second I had a chance. Well, I just got out of the bath (that I got bored in because I could have been writing this), shoved my dirty dishes aside for later (sorry, Mike), and sit here with sopping wet hair because I have to get this out.

Watch this. I’ll wait.

I realise this is geared more toward women, but are we kidding anyone if we say men don’t suffer from feelings of low self esteem too? I watched this and it brought tears to my eyes because I know had I been involved in this, mine would’ve been on the drastic side. I imagined myself going in with my best friend and both of us taking part in the experiment. I imagined the portrait resulting from my description of myself, and the one resulting from hers. I know mine would’ve been ugly. It would’ve had a big nose with an ugly bulb on the end, a pointy chin that juts out so much you can physically hold it, bags under my eyes and hair that refused to look clean. If it were a full length portrait, it would’ve had an exaggerated pear-shaped frame, with no chest or shoulders, enormous hips and thighs twice the width of the torso. It would’ve had crooked teeth and eyes that were differently sized from each other, and in between deep-set laughter lines far more carved than they should be for my age, would sit an awkward, lop-sided mouth. My self-described portrait would look like a character from a cinematic adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel.

Did you watch the video? This will mean nothing to you if you didn’t. Here.

“The video features an FBI forensic artist, who sketches portraits of women based on the physical descriptions they give to him of themselves.  He never sees them during the session.

The same women were also asked to spend some one-on-one time with another participant. Afterwards, that person also gives the artist a verbal physical description of the woman with whom they met.

At the end, the women are confronted with the two sketches, side by side. In every case, the sketch created by the artist from their own description is harsher and less attractive than the sketch he creates based on the description given by the other party.” – Maclean’s

My friend’s description of me would look wildly different. As the experiment proved, all the flaws we see as such a huge part of how we look are invisible to others. Even strangers. We may think ourselves the most awkward, disproportionate, skewed version of what should be beautiful, but in reality, nobody sees it but us. My description of her would be the most beautiful of them all, but I’m afraid hers would be just as self-critical as my own. Because we all do it to ourselves. 96% of us, anyway.

Isn’t she beautiful?

The experiment states that only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. The experiment, though brilliant, is also only measuring physical attractiveness.

In a strangely timed coincidence, as I was taking a (let’s say coffee break; I’ve been working like a packhorse these last few weeks) few minutes, I was also having a conversation with a friend about my fears of performing. I remember talking about my blog, and why I started it in the first place: because I wanted the world to see beyond my projected insecurities and into the heart of who I really am. This blog has become a journey of goals and dreams and struggles and hopes and challenges, but most of all of determination. A determination to get what’s on the outside to match what’s on the inside. And vice versa, as the situation may present. We were talking about singing and performing, and I’d just been left with a new message, ending thusly:

PS. I saw your video of the Damien Rice song. I love hearing your voice, and seeing you play!! Thanks for sharing that. I think you’re getting better. Or maybe more confident. Could it be both? Yes, I think so. 

Watching my YouTube channel back from when I first picked up the ukulele is kind of embarrassing. I struggled so much with the thought of anybody hearing me that I’d make this weird effort to be as good as I could… while avoiding the risk of being heard. Anyone who does music knows this is as ridiculous as going ghost hunting in the middle of the sunniest day of the year somewhere in the Mediterranean. I was going through the motions but my nerves held me back from diving in headfirst. I wanted to be a good singer, but I was too scared to practice in a building where there might be other people. I still struggle – we all remember the throwing up incident after I performed at an open mic for the first and only time – even last night, I made everyone would be out of the house for a good couple of hours before even attempting to sing. But then I did, and it was in an actual house, and I didn’t feel afraid, because there wasn’t anybody there. (Except the cat, but she’s a fan of pretty much anything in the world.) I let what came out on the outside actually be what I felt capable of on the inside. It’s still not great, because I don’t exercise the vocal muscles in a way that might make it good – but the end result was a match. A match between where I thought I could be right now and where I actually was. And wouldn’t it be incredible if Dove could conduct an experiment that showed the difference between how we view ourselves mentally and how we come across to the world? To illuminate the discrepancy between self-imposed distortion and how everybody else sees us?

I remember doing a writing exercise once where the instruction was to write a description of yourself from somebody else’s point of view. It could be a friend, lover, family member, or complete stranger. I remember being in tears after I was done because I realised how distorted my self image truly is. I don’t know why, but this experiment has shown me just how normal it is to degrade ourselves. We are never good enough, beautiful enough, confident enough, or smart enough. I thought it was something I dealt with alone, but this proves that most people see themselves as less than they actually are. And that’s horrible.

So today, if you’ve ever struggled to see yourself as anything but wonderful, maybe try one of those exercises for yourself. Let go of the unrealistic perfections you set for yourself that nobody else expects of you. If you’ve ever felt less than attractive, try describing yourself as another would. If you’ve ever felt too scared or shy… if you’ve ever let your own self-definition hold you back from what you want to be (and what you probably actually are)… listen to other people, and just for a moment, try to believe them. 

The proof is in the brilliance of demonstrations like this.

Now, completely unrelatedly, and because everybody deserves at least one laugh a day, I discovered something amazing about the voice control capacity of my new car this afternoon. I can’t wait for everyone else with a new Fiesta to discover this too. Enjoy 🙂

The Broken Mirror

Note: I actually wrote this two and a half weeks ago in a fit of tears and I’ve been contemplating whether or not to post it since then. I tossed around the idea of password protecting it for a while and decided on just putting it out there. Hiding it went against what I strive for: sincerity.  And though I realise posts after the excitement of the wedding competition should probably all keep riding  the wave of the upbeat (and don’t worry, I’m okay, and said upbeat WILL return pronto), as I’ve mentioned in blog posts prior, I’m not one to pretend everything is sunshine and unicorns when behind the screen, it’s not.  I may be shooting myself in the foot and alienating readers with this, but I’m hoping, contrary to what I’ve sometimes seen around the blogosphere, people might be drawn to the genuine rather than stories about cupcakes and puppies.  But if this does push people away, I apologise in advance. I just have a really hard time sugar coating things when being real is so important to me.

This brings me to the issue at hand. Remember the List? Of course you do; I’ve been writing about my endeavours to tackle it since before it went public. I was talking about it earlier this week with someone, and I started worrying about the items that were going to be rather more difficult to achieve than others. Anyone can start exercising, or make smoothies, or floss. Anyone can make new friendships, or do karaoke, or learn to speak publicly with enough dedication and hard work.  But what happens when something on your list seems to defy the way you’ve lived your entire life? I panicked a little when I revisited Number 12: Stop Hating How I Look.

How can you change the way you feel about something when the reality of it stares you in the face on a daily basis? What if I suddenly wanted to like, I don’t know, rap music, or root beer – things I’ve experienced, disliked, and subsequently formed an opinion on.  I wouldn’t magically be able to start appreciating them when I already know I’m not a fan. I feel like it’s the same with how I look, as painfully awkard and superficial as this sounds. Every day I look in the mirror, or at pictures, and I think how repulsive I am. I want to Photoshop my nose because it’s hideously huge and I don’t understand how the rest of the world doesn’t see what I see.  Every time I sit across from someone I worry if they’re secretly looking at my face and seeing what I see when I look in the mirror. Ugly. I was trying to explain myself to this person and found myself breaking down in tears at the thought of getting my wedding photos back – being completely natural and happy on the day, only to get the photographs back  in a few weeks and be appalled at how awful I looked.  In all honesty I’m dreading being the centre of attention and the subject of every photograph because I feel like every snapshot is another piece of evidence in the case that proves how unattractive I am.

This person asked me if outward appearance was important to me. If, in my list of goals for how I want to live my life, physical beauty or lack thereof was ever part of my equation.  Every fibre of my soul wants to say no – because I know I would never judge someone based on how they look.  But the reality is that a large part of the rest of the world does.  There are countless studies on the human face in relation to partnerships, career opportunities, satisfaction with life – and every study proves that those who are considered to be more attractive do better at work, have higher salaries, larger groups of friends, and more satisfaction with their lives and relationships than those who feel, or are considered to be, unattractive.  I know with everything I am that outer appearance doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I also know the way in which the world works.  I genuinely feel uncomfortable in front of people, not just because I’m afraid of public speaking – and that’s something for which I’m able to take steps to tackle – but because I fear everyone in front of me is thinking the same thing about me I do.  I can’t help but feel if I had plastic surgery, and looked how I want to look, that worry and self consciousness would disappear and I would be free to enjoy life, to be in front of people without fear and just do a better job, to be less afraid of getting out there into the world and making a difference, achieving my potential.  How I feel about how I look is holding me back. But unlike social anxiety, it’s not something over which I have any control.

Anyone who’s been reading me for more than a couple of weeks will know I’m a huge advocator for taking control of your life. If you don’t like your circumstances, have the strength to dive in there and actively shape them into what you want them to be.  I let fear and negative self talk rule my life for far too long – you all know that, and you know I’ve been jumping at everything I used to be scared of in the hope of becoming stronger for trying.  I want to be comfortable in front of crowds? Jump right in and start practising instead of hiding on the sidelines. But the goal of being able to not see myself the way I have for so long – I don’t know where to even begin. I don’t know how to change a thought pattern – which sounds so hypocritical, considering I’m the biggest advocate for changing your thoughts in order to change your life. This person told me she doesn’t want me doing something drastic like surgery because she’s “seen me take the hard path before, and this seems like the easy road.”  She wrote me a message earlier in the week:

You have transformed your life in ways I could never imagine, overcome huge struggles and you’re a better person because of it. I’m so proud of you. This is why I’m challenging you to once again take the difficult road of self-loving that I’ve seen you undertake time and again these past few years. I guess the reason I don’t see the need for you to resort to an extreme tactic to fix this ‘problem’ is that I’ve already seen you overcome so much that I don’t see how you can’t overcome this as well! Think about everything you’ve overcome… and I know it seems hard, maybe impossible, to see yourself liking the way you look, but just think, a couple of years ago would you ever have talked openly about your fears, would you have gone outside without makeup on, or seen yourself speaking in front of classes of people week after week, being on the radio, befriending STRANGERS… you probably never would’ve seen yourself loving those either! Don’t you see? Everything you’re feeling and saying now is just a repeat of what you’ve already overcome! With the same hard work and dedication you’ve already put into your life, you can overcome this as well. That’s why I don’t see the need to resort to such drastic measures, because I’ve seen you conquer challenges before and it’s made you stronger. I know you can get through this as well.

I hear the words and I know they’re true. I know with hard work and determination anything is possible. But I’m stuck right now, in a place where I feel there’s no way of seeing things any other way. I know I’ve said the same thing before about old habits, old thought patterns… but this time, I don’t see anywhere to ‘jump in’. I feel hypocritical encouraging others to change their thoughts and habits, to step outside what’s comfortable and grow and come out stronger on the other side. Putting time and thought into something so negative defies how I strive to live my life, and I feel almost ashamed to be writing about something so superficial. I want to smack myself when I think of the good I could be doing with my energy, when I think of how lucky I am to live the life I do… but I can’t seem to shake it. Is this just another on the list of insecurities I’ve had for so long, another challenge that can be overcome? It’s not body dysmorphia – isn’t that just when people feel they’re overweight and lean toward anorexic type behaviours… I don’t have any problems with my weight. That’s a lie (see? I can’t sugarcoat things). I do. I’m 104 lbs right now and I still feel like a whale after I eat a big meal. But I don’t skip meals or throw up or anything. I’m just naturally small framed and consequently the slightest bulge stands out a mile.  To me – and so, in my head, to everyone else as well. I just want to be able to overcome it – all of it, not to be seen as attractive by other people, but to feel confident in myself so I’m not held back so much, so I don’t shy away from people so much, scared of what they might be thinking.  I want to be able to be comfortable and confident. I want to be able to contribute to the world and this seems to be the one destination to which I can’t see a clear path.

I’m sorry for the uncharacteristic downer. I’m so sorry to write about something so superficial but I’m not going to pretend these thoughts aren’t in my head. This is me, this is my life and my thoughts, ramblings, ups and downs, the lot. I appreciate if you’ve made it this far. I just needed to be honest with how I was feeling and get it down, and if people stop reading, or judge me… well, those who are only around for the good times aren’t worth worrying about anyway. I’m not looking for comments on this post… I just had to get it out. But if you could go vote for me over at Weddingbells today… I’d really appreciate it. You guys are wonderful. And I’ll be back to normal next post, I promise.