What to do when all you can think is “I hate how I look”
Whether “I hate how I look” is a daily or an occasional thought, it’s a destructive one that will wreak havoc on your body image and quality of life. New clients often say to me, “I don’t like anything about my appearance”, and they’re worried they’ll never get beyond hating their looks.
If you’re stuck in a cycle of body hate, I can guarantee that you’re engaging in one or more of the following habits on a consistent basis:
- You’re over focussing on your appearance
- You’re ‘compartmentalising’ your body (seeing your body as individual parts – and criticising them individually)
- You’re making comparisons
- You’re living by a definition of beauty that is too narrow
Just one of these habits has the power to keep negative body thoughts on a constant loop. Even if you’re convinced that you can never learn to accept, let alone like your appearance, there are ways to press pause on those thoughts.
Here are some things to try:
Take the focus off appearance
Your appearance is just one part of who you are as a person. If you rely on your appearance for your self- worth, you’re discounting everything else about you.
“Seeking to control life through appearance is pointless. Appearance is just how you look, not who you are.”
Try this: Divide a piece a paper up into four columns labelled: my personality, hobbies, achievements, skills. Describe your personality, hobbies, etc. under each heading. Once you’re done, look at what you’ve written in each column and repeat to yourself, “I am a unique human being with personality, skills and interests.” Doing this exercise will help you define your worth based on the totally of who you are – not just your appearance.
See the bigger picture
Women have a tendency to compartmentalise their bodies, finding fault with individual parts. This is a practice we’ve learned in part from marketing practices. Companies selling beauty/health/diet products encourage you to divide up your body so you see a multitude of faults – e.g. large pores, saggy necks, and flabby stomachs. With so many faults, what is there to love? Just understanding this tendency will give you a better perspective on your body. The key is to see your body as whole, not separate parts.
“I can see how futile it is for any of us to have anything but praise & awe for these vessels that house our humanity.”
Try this: Look in a full length mirror at yourself. For 2-3 minutes, take in your body as a whole without focussing on any one part. Try not to pass any judgement – moving from your head to your feet, notice how each part of your body joins and connects to each other. For example, observe how the neck connects your head to your shoulders, your shoulders to your arms, your arms to your hands and so on. Your body is a whole, with each part designed to fit together. Repeat this exercise daily until you get used to seeing your body as a whole. Although the individual parts may not conform to the beauty standards we see in advertising, they do fit with your overall shape. Training your brain to see the bigger picture stops the critical focus on individual parts.
Quit the comparisons
Comparing your appearance to other women, media images or even different versions of yourself (younger, thinner, heavier) only sets you up for one thing – dissatisfaction. Appearance is unique to each of us (and each stage of our lives) – so celebrate that.
“Wishing to be like someone else is a waste of the person that you are”
Try this: when you feel a bout of comparisonitus coming on, write down 5 things that you are grateful to your body for. For example, you might be grateful that it is well rested, allowing you to go about your day, or that your eyes have seen a beautiful sunrise, sunset or other natural event. This practise retrains your brain to replace negative, unhelpful thoughts with positive grateful ones.
Create your own definition of beauty
If you struggle to identify anything that you like about your appearance, chances are that you are not only in a constant cycle of comparison, but you are judging yourself against a standard of beauty that is too narrow. ‘Beauty’ as a word so inadequately expresses what makes a person wonderful. Society’s definition lacks any depth (it typically doesn’t include inner as well as outer qualities), or diversity (it holds up one body type as superior without recognising a variety of body shapes).
“To me beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about knowing and accepting who you are.”
Try this: create your own definition of what makes a person ‘beautiful’ – why not even ditch the word altogether and create your own? Think about all the wonderful people in your life, what qualities do they possess both inner and outer that makes them ‘beautiful’ to you? Make your definition as diverse, fun and bold as you like. Just because society has created a one-dimensional view of beauty, doesn’t mean you have to live by it.