Change Your Story
Most people run a nonstop mental monologue highlighting their physical shortcomings while ignoring their pleasing attributes. Your friends probably focus on your beautiful baby blues, having long ago accepted your short neck and irregular hairline. But your inner critic? Never! She rains criticism and torment upon you all day, every day. It's time you talked back.
For the rest of this day, each time you mentally criticize something about your face or body, you must also find something to praise. ("I'm fat!" versus "I still have my teeth." "I hate my stomach!" versus "I have nice eyelashes—okay, one nice eyelash.") You don't have to believe the praise, just force yourself to say it. Self-talk has a subtle but profound effect on your demeanor and presentation of self. It paves the way for the next strategy.
Change Your Comparisons
Once you've made room for a little positive inner dialogue, put your rational mind to work accepting your appearance. In particular, stop evaluating yourself in comparison to the "50 Most Beautiful People" lists in magazines. Such comparisons make no statistical sense. If you come in at 51, beating out seven billion people, you'll still consider yourself a loser.
Instead, consider that fairy-tale heroines, invariably described as the "most beautiful maiden in the kingdom," lived in teensy prehistoric kingdoms, some of which boasted as few as 150 citizens. Only 75 would've been female, and many of those were too old, young, or experienced to be considered maidens. In other words, Snow White was competing with about 35 other chicks. Next time you're at the mall, instead of comparing yourself to Gap posters, count 35 women at random. Ask yourself how many of them you'd really, truly want to see in your own mirror. Doesn't that feel better?
The point is that while a small percentage of the population resembles Reese Witherspoon or Salma Hayek or one of those gorgeous Russian models, only a very small slice would be mistaken for Mrs. Elephant Man. Most of us are in the great big relatively attractive middle.
I coped with high school much as Maria did, by praying for invisibility. This worked pretty well until my drama teacher, apparently in the grip of a fever, cast me as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. I was ecstatic—and horrified. How could someone who looked like me play a romantic lead, in front of God and everybody? As opening night drew near, I decompensated into a quivering mass of panicked plasma.
But all's well that ends well, and my ordeal ended very well, with a Valium prescription and a life-changing observation. Once sufficiently stoned, I stumbled onto a mystical perspective from which it seemed obvious that I didn't have to be beautiful to play Kate; I had only to believe that Kate was. When I let myself dissolve into the character, I felt her confidence—and, astonishingly, the audience seemed willing to play along. The effect lasted even after I ran out of Valium, and has allowed me to function almost normally in many subsequent situations.
If you're struggling with appearance issues, think of someone whose beauty you admire (my puffy, black-eyed client Maria chose Celine Dion). For five minutes, be this person. If you really get into the role, you'll find that people begin to respond to you differently. This can create a sort of enchantment—the original meaning of the word glamour, by the way—no matter what the enchantress actually looks like.
We Hear You!