The longing to be beautiful is fundamentally a longing to be free from shame. If you can't do this by getting a makeover, contradicting your inner critic, creating a more logical worldview, or acting "as if...," you might as well attack shame directly. How? Open up. Find someone you trust, and start talking about your appearance, about how it makes you feel, no-holds-barred. This isn't an opportunity to fish for insincere compliments but simply to let another into your real experience.
When I ask Maria to do this, she reveals amazing courage. Even after her makeover, remembering and describing her life in her former skin makes her literally shake with shame, with the accumulated loneliness of 10,000 humiliations. As she talks, a sort of miracle happens—not to her but to me. Maria's appearance fades in importance until I forget to judge it. I no longer experience her as merely a physical form but as a loving, sentient being who has suffered deeply.
If this conversation had taken place before Maria's nose job, the same thing would have happened—I've experienced it with countless clients and friends. I've seen proof positive: Openness won't make you pretty, but it will make you beautiful. Everyone wants freedom from shame, and if you dare to tell your heart's story, you'll become a source of that freedom. That sort of loveliness really does outshine the divine proportion, overpower social norms, outlast a youthful complexion. This is not another shallow fib but one of the deepest truths of human experience.
Since it's my job to be inappropriately honest, I ask Maria to look me straight in the eyes, and then I tell her what I see: all kinds of beauty, of which her new physical look is the very least important. She seems desperate to drop her gaze, to keep shame's dictates by avoiding seeing herself being seen. But with effort, Maria keeps looking at me looking at her, and something changes. Her horrible self-concept begins to break down. The ugliness in the mind of the beheld can't help yielding to the beauty in the eye of the beholder. Be your most open self, then gaze deeply and honestly into the eyes of anyone who really sees you, and the same alchemical magic will begin to happen.
As you consider these instructions, from ridiculous makeover strategies to sublime truthfulness, you'll begin to see everything and everyone very differently. You may develop your own list of the world's 50 most beautiful: famous folks like Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu; relative unknowns like your best friend or your grandma; and last but not least, yourself. Take whatever action makes you happy about your appearance, but know that being unapologetically yourself will make you more attractive no matter what. You'll get everything you once thought good looks could buy: acceptance, intimacy, connection, confidence, joy. Trust me, it will be beautiful.
More Martha Beck Advice
We Hear You!