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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Why I get tired of “You are beautiful!”

July 5, 2011 16 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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{Image Credit :: Annie Varland}

You tossed and turned all night after a major blowout with your girlfriend that left your face smudged with your not-so-waterproof mascara. Your hair hangs like a dirty mop, greasy from being out last night in the muggy summer air. Your teeth are slightly stained from all the coffee you’ve been drinking to make it through “the busy period” and your breath… well, it ain’t pretty. You notice a huge pimple forming on your chin and you pile on goopy white acne cream, hoping the fire-engine red at least turns into a more subtle pink by the wedding tomorrow.

This might be the least desirable time for someone to tell you that you look beautiful.

You call bullshit.

Are you suffering from negative body image? Do you have a distorted perception of yourself? Are you in need of some positive affirmations reminding you of your beauty?

Maybe… but maybe not.

As body image advocates, we often spent inordinate amounts of time and energy telling people that they are beautiful. That no matter their size, shape, color, hair texture, or personal style, they possess this magical, ethereal quality that we call beauty.

When I refer here to beauty, I am talking about physical attractiveness. Sure, there are an infinite number of others ways that we can define beauty. But for the sake of the point that I hope I can establish today, I mean the aesthetic quality that launches a thousand ships and intrigues our visual senses.

Now, I whole-heartedly believe that beauty is built on diversity, and I believe there should be no “standard” of physical beauty (whether there is is another issue). I see this physical beauty in the gorgeous depths of wrinkles around eyes and in the gentle curves of flesh around bellies. To me, the human body in all of its imperfect glory is stunning.

But there are still days when I look in the mirror and don’t feel beautiful. In fact, I don’t look beautiful either. I’m tired, I’m stressed, my skin is breaking out and my fingernails are breaking.

And it’s okay.

I don’t need to tell myself I’m beautiful because, well… it doesn’t matter that much.

When we constantly tell each other, “No, you are pretty! He just didn’t see it!” or “You’re crazy not to see how beautiful you are today!”, we buy into the belief that we have to be beautiful to be okay. We feel this urgent need to help each other see that we *really are* physically attractive, implying that it’s vitally important that this is true. We hear it from magazines, billboards, radio – but most importantly, we hear it from each other.

Well, there are more important things in life than being pretty.

When we focus on ourselves as ornamental – as things to be looked at and acknowledged for our physical attributes – we lose sight of the fact that we are so much more than how we look. So what if someone truly isn’t beautiful? Does that make them less of a person? Are they capable of less amazing things? Can their bodies, perhaps not aesthetically pleasing (though that is quite subjective, of course), not be used in the pursuit of adventure, joy, and peace? Do they not deserve our love?

So here’s my point. Affirming ourselves doesn’t have to come from convincing ourselves that we are physically attractive. We can spend years of our lives trying to feel beautiful and still encounter people – including ourselves -to whom we do not appear attractive. Instead, we can remind ourselves that beauty is not all it’s cracked up to be. Our lives are so much richer, wider, more important than what we or others can physically. When we fill our children’s minds with platitudes about how beautiful they are no matter what (while not praising their kindness, intelligence, or creativity), we teach them that beauty is the primary – the only – currency.

This doesn’t mean we should ditch our attempts to boost our confidence in the way that we look. There’s no denying that we are biologically wired to prefer things that please us aesthetically. But we’re also wired to be so much more.

As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For today, behold something else about yourself.

This post is part of the Self-Discovery, Word by Series. Val over at Balancing Val is the awesome host this month and has asked the community to focus on the word BEAUTY. Learn more details here!

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14 Comments

  1. Joy Tanksley
    3 years ago

    This is so spot on, Ashley. Thank you for writing this. One of the most powerful steps I took in healing my own body image issues was to simply stop caring so damn much about how I looked. I spent less time in front of mirrors. I took a more laid back approach to hair, clothing, and make-up. I made a conscious effort to focus on what my body could DO and how my body FELT rather than how it looked. I learned to describe myself using neutral language.

    As long as I believed that having a healthy body image meant I would be in love with my reflection every time I looked in the mirror, I was totally stuck. But once I realized healthy body image is really about LIVING LIFE and not obsessing about physical appearance, I was set free.

    The cool thing is that I’ve been doing this personal work for about five years now, and I really have come to a place where about 90% of the time I look in the mirror and see true beauty. I really, truly like the how I look the vast majority of the time. But on those days when I’m not feeling it? It just doesn’t matter. It’s not a crisis because “looking good” is no longer the end all be all. What a glorious relief!

    Reply

  2. Kat
    3 years ago

    I saw feminist/author/professor Susan Douglas speak this past year and she said something quite similar. Except she also discussed some of the unforeseeable problem with spending time making beauty a goal – why women are making a mistake by telling each other they’re beautiful and making them want to strive to be that. She said if we truly believe everyone is beautiful, we shouldn’t need to comment on it.. and that striving to be beautiful is a dumb ass thing to do if we are, as we say – all beautiful… and there are so many better things to strive to be… and then look at all the lost hours and brilliant minds we’ve possibly lost to the intangible treasure of achieving the ideal beauty. Surely if we used all the efforts we use to try to make ourselves beautiful (or acceptable by the media’s standards) towards gender equality (or something else) we would be progressing instead of regressing…

    oh and this little piece of YOUR writing, “we lose sight of the fact that we are so much more than how we look. So what if someone truly isn’t beautiful? Does that make them less of a person? Are they capable of less amazing things? Can their bodies, perhaps not aesthetically pleasing (though that is quite subjective, of course), not be used in the pursuit of adventure, joy, and peace? Do they not deserve our love?” this. definitely this.

    Reply

  3. Katie @ Health for the Whole Self
    3 years ago

    This directly connects to my recent post about Lisa Bloom’s article on talking to little girls. She argues that we need to stop telling little girls they’re beautiful all the time, not because we’re only using that adjective with certain girls (because we’re not), but rather because we’re totally downplaying all of the other important characteristics. Having a positive body image isn’t just about thinking we’re physically beautiful; it’s also about realizing that our physical appearance is just one tiny facet of ourselves.

    Reply

  4. Nancy Lebovitz
    3 years ago

    Thank you. It was a relief to read that. I’ve been working on not forcing my emotions, and I hadn’t noticed that particular issue.

    Reply

  5. Valerie
    3 years ago

    Love this post. I would also say sometimes I get tired of hearing that we are “beautiful on the inside,” too. I get where it came from, but why still the word beauty, which almost always feels like an backhanded compliment of “well, you’re not pretty, BUT” – if we can be more genuine in our compliments and observations about WHO a person is inside, rather than just telling them they’re “beautiful inside,” I think it’s a win-win.

    Reply

  6. KCLAnderson (Karen)
    3 years ago

    Love, love LOVE!! I don’t think I realized just how much I worried about my looks, even when I thought I had stopped. Your post opened my eyes.

    And I also love Joy’s comment, “But once I realized healthy body image is really about LIVING LIFE and not obsessing about physical appearance, I was set free.”

    Reply

  7. Alexie
    3 years ago

    I get tired of the ‘everybody is beautiful’ culture because, biologically, we’re not. I’m not beautiful. I don’t have the symmetrical proportions to my face or my figure that will make even a baby respond to me (there have been experiments done that show that babies respond to symmetrical faces).

    However, I’m pretty darn happy with my body, including its imperfections, and I feel attractive. That’s a radical statement, apparenlty. I don’t need to be soft soaped and told I’m beautiful to make me happy in my own skin. It shows that we’ve elevated beauty above all else when that becomes the default thing to tell women.

    Reply

  8. Lael
    3 years ago

    A woman I met at a library function told me about an experiment she’d done.
    She covered up every mirror in her house and avoided reflectve surfaces wherever else she went.
    She did this for a month and was surprised by her her image of herself changed. She said the person in the mirror just didn’t match the person she’d come to know. It was really illuminating for her. I’m considering giving it a go myself.
    I think it’d be a nice break from the constant appraisals everytime I pass my reflection…

    Reply

  9. charlotte
    3 years ago

    Fabulous post! I totally agree! Plus, it always makes me feel worse when people tell me I look pretty when I know very well I do not. It feels like they’re patronizing me. We are not ornamental – love!!

    Reply

  10. sui
    3 years ago

    I agree! I wrote about this topic a while ago ranting about a Facebook event called “Tell Her She’s Beautiful”… http://s.rvxn.org/2010/02/09/you-are-beautiful/

    The statement doesn’t mean anything in itself. It can be so trite & meaningless.

    Reply

  11. Lori Lieberman
    3 years ago

    Beautiful Ashley!

    Reply

  12. Hannah
    3 years ago

    I love this post! And also-women are always known to talk about how beautiful someone is but men don’t give a damn….because it doesn’t matter as much whether or not another man is “beautiful”. There is so much gender involved in this issue!

    Reply

  13. Lori Lieberman
    3 years ago

    You’ve inspired me. Rather than leave a lengthly comment here, please check out my response on my latest blog post.

    Reply

  14. Hannah Siegle
    3 years ago

    Sadly beauty has become somewhat of a commerical concept. I actually wrote a blog post on this a couple weeks ago and it just got published to the elephant journal today. Check it out!!!
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/07/how-do-you-experience-beauty–hannah-siegle/

    Reply

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  1. By Beauty Post Round Up on July 31, 2011 at 6:03 am

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