self image

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 🙂

“My belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning…”

First and foremost, I’m going to commit one of those unspoken sins of blogging: apologising for my absence. (I know. Fired.) I’m in the process of organising, well, my new life, and as exciting, nerve-wracking, and crazy everything is, I genuinely miss being in touch with all of you. Like a lot. After this weekend when I am fully settled into a new place, normality can start to resume, and I cannot wait to catch up with each and every one of you!

Now, in the spirit of returning to our regularly scheduled programming, there’s something that’s cropped up and made itself known in various avenues of life as of late: the idea of discrepancy. Psychology and the study of human behaviour is something that’s always fascinated me, and as a result I’ve done a lot of reading on the human mind and spirit. I’m lucky enough to have studied it at work, too, and the opportunity to have learned counselling theories and techniques to help others has been nothing short of a blessing. It was in this learning process that it first dawned on me what a powerful catalyst discrepancy can be for positive change: if there’s a giant, gaping chasm between where you are and where you want to be (or indeed who you are, and who you want to be), then what could be a more motivating reason for change?

Generally, I think it’s way too easy an option, when things in life aren’t what you’d hoped, to resign yourself to fretting and complaining without actually doing anything about it. It’s an easy option because all it requires is a vocalization of discontent and no actual risk or action to change anything. Making an action plan, as does any change of the status quo, requires courage, because ultimately, we are in the present situation because we can survive comfortably in it. Maybe not ideally, but it’s not killing us, and so subsequently it outweighs the potential risk in shaking things up. But is that any way to live? We only get one life, and it’s ticking away with every passing moment. Why not recognise that discrepancy and instead of using it to fuel a passive negativity, use it to propel yourself toward the future you actually want?

I mentioned earlier that the idea of discrepancy had become somewhat of a regular visitor these days. It first arrived in the form of a quote I received in an e-mail from someone very dear to me: “And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning.  Now, what have I been saying for the last year? That the very reason I thrust myself in at the deep end into all the things I was afraid of was yes, primarily because I wanted to take control of my life and not be controlled by fear; but very much in addition to that, because I wanted to be seen as someone who was capable, courageous, fun and intelligent – someone who could have some sort of an impact in this world. Said impact may be small, but I’ve always maintained that if one person somewhere saw what I was doing and felt they could, too, then all the butterflies, nausea, shaky limbs and potential for humiliation would be worth it. And the desire for that outweighs fear every time.

That being said, here’s the part where I admit my own hypocrisy: to this day, I haven’t been able to cross off the one goal I’d hoped to more than anything. I wanted to stop listening to the inner voices that for so long have occupied my head; setting up residence and plastering the walls of my mind with their can’ts, won’ts, and not good enoughs. I think I’ve made a little progress, but my natural reaction to so many parts of myself is still one of negativity. I see myself in the mirror and instinctively begin a mental list of all the things I wish were different. My weight, height, skin, hair, facial structure… the list goes on, and in writing it down I recognise that I’m talking the talk, but not walking the walk. I tell others to focus their energy on things they can control, and not waste time musing about things they can’t. At the end of the day, we can’t change the past, but by choosing to pave the way for a better future from this moment forward, we’re using our mental energy proactively instead of wastefully. Practising acceptance of rather than resigning to life can go a long way in developing a healthy attitude to carry you through it. Yet I’m not living it out myself.

“If we divine a discrepancy between a man’s words and his character, the whole impression of him becomes broken and painful; he revolts the imagination by his lack of unity, and even the good in him is hardly accepted.”
– Charles Horton Cooley

But as hard as I try to put it into practice in external things, when it comes to dealing with my own self-image, I’m still doing just the opposite. I’ll sit across from somebody at dinner and allow worry to run rampant through my head, worry that the whole time they’ll internally be taking note of all the things that I worry about myself. That I’m too quiet, or not quick-witted enough. That I’m horribly disproportionate, or unattractive. That I thrust open the doors of my heart far too widely and far too quickly, that I’m emotionally too intense, and therefore abnormal or intimidating. That this plaguing self-doubt is scrawled all over my face, a traitor to the person I want so desperately to be. Another friend has been calling me on it lately. Pointing out the discrepancy between my negative self esteem and the positive influence I want to be. When someone calls you on something that is in such stark contrast with everything you’re trying to be, a natural reaction is one of opposition. Nobody likes having their flaws pointed out, and furthermore, nobody likes being called a hypocrite. So I ask myself what’s a more worthwhile use of my time – whining and making a lame endeavour to tell my friend why he’s wrong, or actually doing something about it?

I refuse to be a fraud. I so desperately want to be a person of substance and integrity but I’m never going to be able to make an impact in the world if I can’t apply the same attitude across the board, starting with myself.  I look back at the aforementioned quote. People will take you very much at your own reckoning. If I’m trying to put positivity out there into the world yet cannot apply it internally, then how is it ever going to be 100% genuine? If I say the words, but internally tell myself I’m not good enough, how can they come from a place of integrity? The discrepancy is alarming. And I have to do something about it. I’ve talked about changing my self-image before, but I’ve never actively done anything about it. And that’s hard to admit. I’ve filled my time with endeavours to conquer one-time goals instead of working on changing an entire mindset. Because it’s difficult. But if I want to uphold and spread the idea of being an active participant in the course of one’s life, I have to start from within. Any ideas on where exactly to begin, however, would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

In the spirit of substantial quotes, I end with one from my favourite movie:

 Let’s try this again.