by Anastasia Boulais of Whole9 South Pacific
It’s an open secret that most people around us are insecure about their looks in one way or another. 8 out of 10 women are reportedly dissatisfied with their body. More than half of the girls aged 12 to 14 wear makeup most days and 17% refuse to leave the house without it. 80% of 10 year old girls have dieted at least once in an attempt to get thinner.
There is a misconception that your image anxiety (or as I prefer to call it, “selfie neuroticism”) has anything to do with what you actually look like. You can be overweight or stick thin, blonde or brunette, have crystal clear skin or suffer from acne. The debilitating thing about image obsession is that you are never “enough.” Never thin enough, or curvy enough, or tall enough, or have “enough” of some attribute that you and your society demand you should possess in order to be happy, valued and fulfilled.
This problem is increasingly recognised both in public consciousness and among mental health professionals. So what do we do to empower ourselves and shift the focus to our more meaningful qualities? The majority of advice seems to revolve around self-love message and positive affirmations.
I don’t think this is enough. When we give weight loss advice we recognise that there are strong environmental triggers and encourage people to remove those to maximise success: clean out their pantry of rubbish foods, avoid catching up with friends at the favourite bakery, or move away from the table full of tempting treats at a party. We recognise that willpower sometimes is not enough. Can we utilise similar strategies when trying to preserve your self-esteem?
Here are some ideas that you can try to implement in your everyday life.
1. Eat ALL THE (nutritious nourishing) FOOD.
Hunger is a potent anxiety inducer. The more you restrict, count and obsess, the less nutrition your body receives, the hungrier you get, the more you restrict, count and obsess. I know women who have been caught in that cycle for decades. It does not take one good filling meal to put a dampener on your chronic stress causing neuroticism. It takes weeks of nourishing your body to break the cycle of low level anxiety.
2. Get restorative sleep (a.k.a. don’t go bikini shopping tired).
When I go clothing shopping after working a late shift the night before, everything looks and feels “meh.” Lack of sleep makes you more susceptible to negative self-talk. The undercurrent of irritability brought on by lack of sleep might just explode into a tsunami of rage if your boyfriend inadvertently implies that maybe this piece of clothing does not suit your body type.
Note: if you are a guy and your significant other takes you out shopping after several nights with less than 8 hours of sleep, run. Or fake gastrointestinal distress requiring you to stay at home locked in a small room. Anything.
3. Don’t buy women’s magazines.
You will save loads of money and your sanity. 50% of those mags are ads anyway. It’s like paying for cable and watching only the shopping channel. The other 50% are designed to make you feel inadequate, unfashionable, fat, unattractive, and not hip “enough” unless you buy the recommended $300 bag, the latest lip plumping serum, and a designer outfit resembling a brightly coloured hessian sack. If you are still in doubt, ask yourself when was the last time you felt fantastic about yourself and your life after reading Cosmopolitan?
4. Take a selfie detox.
That means no selfie photos for at least one month. None. Who are you taking them for anyway? Your friends on InstaTwitFace know what you look like. They have seen your face probably more than you have seen your own. And let’s just be honest here, every shot you take is carefully designed and orchestrated to make you look in the best possible light. The sad thing is, your opinion of your best features might be drastically different from that of your friends.
I have a girlfriend whose selfie pose features a smouldering look and a significant pout. I’m sure she thinks it’s off the charts sexy. I happen to think that she looks drop dead gorgeous when she relaxes into a very distinct loud carefree roaring laughter, with her flushed face breaking into dozens of laugh lines and tears streaming down her cheeks.
5. Be wise with your compliments.
We all love being told how attractive, sexy and gorgeous we are. But when you are handing out compliments, be aware what beast you are feeding. Are you encouraging narcissistic behaviour by only ever commenting on someone’s appearance and neglecting their other qualities? When was the last time you left a comment on a friend’s Instagram telling them what a great eye for photography they have, or how you admire their original way of thinking? It’s all too easy to reduce our online and in-person compliments to somebody’s dress, their figure, their shoes or their new hairdo. You love your friends and family for more than just their looks. Don’t forget to tell them that.
6. Go au naturelle.
Yes, ladies. I know you are going to hate me for this one. To every woman who tells me that makeup means nothing to her and she only uses it as part of a feel good ritual I want to say: why then the paralysing fear of going without? Now, let’s not be silly. This is probably not the time to go cold turkey; nobody likes hearing an innocent inquiry from their work colleagues whether they are suffering a debilitating acute illness when they show up au naturelle one day. If your everyday makeup ritual resembles war paint application, you may need to take it slow. Make it into a game: how much can you omit without anyone noticing? Start with skipping a second coat of mascara, forget the lip liner the next day, and do you really need eye shadow for the office?
The barista at the local coffee shop will probably never notice if you are not wearing lipstick when you order your next espresso. In fact, I bet even your friends, family and your significant other would take no heed. The benefits of using less makeup and going fresh faced from time to time? You will save thousands of dollars each year (and won’t have to pretend to your significant other that all these products were acquired “on sale”). Your skin will improve, lips will soften, and eyelashes will get stronger. You’ll probably avoid exposure to some hormone-disrupting chemicals. And finally, you will realise that what you were hiding under the mask was beautiful in its own right.
7. Don’t be a slob.
This may sound like the exact opposite of what I just said but loving your body does not mean you let yourself go, neglect your hygiene or wear unflattering clothes. Teenage girls seem to struggle with getting that balance right and I frequently feel the urge to mention to some girls that red lipstick and greasy unwashed hair is not an attractive combination. Being able to walk into a room full of strangers with your head held up high requires a high degree of self-respect. Sure, we all have bad days when you would rather slouch in the corner and become completely invisible, but these are the days when you gotta pull out the old “fake it till you make it”. Dreading the necessary socialising at a party? Put on your most comfortable piece of clothing (not your onesie), pull your shoulders back, lift your chin up, and walk in with a lion tamer’s confidence.
Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Influences
So be brave and give these strategies a go. Self-doubt can be paralysing and we all struggle with pressure put on us by the society’s impossible standards. Don’t just let yourself be swept away by the current of constant criticism telling you that you somehow you are not enough. Take an active stance and reduce your exposure to these toxic influences. Good luck!
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