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Though the cultural ideal has broadened to include more diversity, it remains an ideal, setting an unrealistic standard by which we all, consciously or not, judge and are judged. The painful truth is that physically attractive people get rewarded in all kinds of ways: As children they're usually disciplined less harshly and favored in the classroom; as adults they tend to have better-paying jobs in higher-level positions than their less attractive counterparts, writes Gordon L. Patzer, PhD, in his recently published book, Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined. Which, frankly, stinks.

It stinks even if you're gorgeous, by cultural standards. Valuable as it is, gorgeous is not a good stock to invest in. It has a completely predictable payout. No matter what you do, how well you take care of yourself, how much surgery you submit to, one day you are going to lose everything on your investment. You know this, I know this. Even so, we buy into the beauty rules, colluding with a culture that makes us feel inadequate, whipping ourselves when we come up short. Which makes us—come to think of it—part of the problem.

What if, instead of colluding, we traded cruelty for kindness? What if we started a revolution, if each one of us took a vow to catch ourselves scowling or sneering at our imperfections—and simply stop? If we noticed every time we had a nasty, hostile response to someone else's appearance—and simply stopped? Think about who your inner critic is: She's the mean girl who doesn't want you in her club, the one who takes pleasure in pointing out all the ways you don't measure up. Her trump card is your fear, fear that you will never measure up, that you are, bottom line, unlovable. Every moment you spend calculating your imperfections (or anyone else's), you are taking her side.

This is a call to arms. A call to be gentle, to be forgiving, to be generous with yourself. The next time you look into the mirror, try to let go of the story line that says you're too fat or too sallow, too ashy or too old, your eyes are too small or your nose too big; just look into the mirror and see your face. When the criticism drops away, what you will see then is just you, without judgment, and that is the first step toward transforming your experience of the world.

Are you ready to quit the cruelty and take a pledge to be kinder? Sign up today for the beauty revolution

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