A letter-writer longs to be pretty. Our elder can relate – they struggled with self-esteem issues too.
Find an older woman to confide in, and start building up your confidence.
Hi to whoever comes across this letter. Thank you for the time you will use to read this and for whatever advice you may be able to provide. I am a 24-year-old black female from the UK. For a lot of my life I have had issues with my appearance, I just do not like how I look. By society’s standard I am not pretty/beautiful – average most days. For the past few years this has got to me deeply. Sometimes I wish I could be pretty or beautiful so much that it’s painful. Feeling this way causes me deep emotional pain. I sometimes wonder if the things that happened in life would not have had I been pretty. I also worry about how this affects dating. I just cannot imagine myself being loved. I am in a place where I am contemplating plastic surgery. I know everyone who gives me advice means well, but I am tired of being told I am pretty when I am simply not.
Thank you for writing. I’m sorry that you’re struggling with a lot of self-esteem insecurities right now. I went through some similar issues when I was younger. I have a very good idea what you’re feeling. I’m going to try to give you lots of advice so that you can start feeling better about yourself.
First, I think that you should talk with some older women, like your mom or some other female relatives, who can offer you some support and encouragement. I understand from your letter that you’ve already received advice, but it doesn’t seem like you’re accepting it. If you’d like to receive some perspectives from people other than your family members, are there any other available females, preferably POC, who can offer support? Look around in your community and neighborhood for strong female role models who can take you under their wing. When you find someone you can trust and feel comfortable with, confide in her about how you feel. Share with her what you’ve shared in your letter, but remember, you also have to be open to receiving their advice. If you’ve already decided that you’re going to reject it, then you’re just hurting yourself in the long run. If someone is trying to help you realize certain things, and you dismiss it, then how can you proceed onward and make some changes? I think you’re going to have to change some of your negative thinking and talking (to yourself), but this is a decision only you can make.
I’m not going to downplay or trivialize your concerns, but it’s fairly typical for many women to be very critical of their own appearance. There are many reasons for this scrutiny that we put ourselves through. You noted in your letter, “By society’s standards I am not pretty/beautiful…” My response to this statement is to not let so-called society set standards for what should be considered ‘beautiful’ or allow it to determine your happiness. ‘Society’ is like an imagined reference group or community which is having some kind of influence on you and how you think about yourself. You’re giving this ‘society’ power over you. We see photos of models and other people and then we compare ourselves with them. What we often fail to remember is that those models are heavily made-up and most of the photos are touched up, so what we’re viewing isn’t completely real. So, we realistically shouldn’t be comparing ourselves with fake photos, but that doesn’t always stop us from doing it, does it? You don’t mention anything in your letter about comparing your appearance with models, but subconsciously I think that’s indirectly what is happening, among other things, and it’s leading you to feel very badly about your appearance. Some of the media and Hollywood create their version of what the ideal beautiful person should look like, but most of it is a myth and/or an illusion. There are a lot of complex factors involved, that I don’t want to get into here. But it’s something that you can learn more about on your own, if you’re interested. It’s also something you can talk about with other females who have gone through similar self-esteem issues that you’re experiencing right now. You’re not consciously thinking about Hollywood influences, or so-called societal standards, or any of that other stuff when you look in the mirror at yourself but all of these factors can play a significant role in how we think about ourselves.
I don’t like to stereotype, but I’ve noticed that many women often seem to do a lot of comparing themselves with other women. Sometimes we’re socialized to act this way. There are many other complex influences that contribute to this behavior, like the one I mentioned above concerning Hollywood influences, but the important thing is to not put ourselves down and/or be overly critical of ourselves if we think we don’t measure up to what we consider an ideal appearance. It takes some practice and some internal strength. The more you give yourself positive talk, the better you’ll feel over time. When we’re around our peers, we can admire certain physical attributes that we find appealing while also feeling good about our own appearance.
If you’re unhappy with certain aspects of your appearance, try to determine which things you can improve. In other words, what is within your control to modify or change? Some people choose to have plastic surgery to modify their physical appearance, which is their personal prerogative. However, there’s still no guarantee that this person will automatically feel good about him/herself. That’s why many people who are seriously considering plastic surgery are also referred to counseling to determine if there are other sources of low self-esteem. Changing or altering one’s appearance cannot assure that one will feel happy and content.
When I was young, I spent a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror. I thought that a lot of improvements were needed. My mother would say things to me like, “Beauty is only skin deep.” I never really understood what this meant until I became an adult, but now it makes sense to me. Have you ever heard of this expression before? It makes a lot of sense. I’m thinking about many different people that I know right now. I know several women, in particular, whose appearance is considered absolutely stunning by many people. However, although their outward appearance is considered beautiful to many people, they possess very little, if any, inner beauty. In other words, they aren’t nice people. So, although they are considered by some people to be nice to look at, these people aren’t nice to be around.
Think about all the women that you really know close-up that you consider pretty. Be honest. Don’t they still have problems and concerns just like everyone else? Interestingly enough, sometimes women, who many people consider attractive, have their own particular concerns like, “Am I just arm candy for him?” Or, “Does he really like me for me or is he just attracted to my looks?” and so forth. So-called attractive women can also have certain insecurities and self-esteem issues too, just like anyone else. A so-called attractive outer package doesn’t mean the inner package is secure.
This also reminds me of another saying: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” We all have our own idea of what we consider beautiful, so even though you may not see your own beauty doesn’t mean that others won’t be able to see it. The key is that you have to be able to see it and right now you’re not able to do that. You mention in your letter that you’re “tired of being told I am pretty when I am simply not”. But aren’t other people entitled to their opinion? From your letter you seem to be accepting this mythical ‘society standard’ of beauty and you’re willing to go along with that, but when an actual real-life person tells you that you’re pretty, you reject it! Think about that. You’ve internalized something, chosen to believe it, and then allowed it to damage your self-esteem. Please don’t abuse yourself like that! You write that you cannot imagine yourself being loved. You need to start loving yourself! I’m sure you have people in your life who love you right now. There are also plenty of other people out there who will love you, but I think you need to change your thinking and build up your confidence in yourself!
I understand from your letter that you have concerns about dating. Ask yourself if you want someone to be attracted to you solely on your looks? If your ability to attract the attention of someone is solely based on your looks, then isn’t that kind of superficial? Don’t you want someone to also get to know you as a person? So, my suggestion is that while you’re making certain modifications to improve your outer appearance, if that’s what you choose to do, then please continue to work on your inner self. You can do this by developing skills and interests so that you can continue to improve your personality. Other people will be attracted to you because you’re considered to be an interesting person and they’ll want to be around you. You can also work on your conversational skills so that other people will enjoy talking with you. These are all things that are within your reach to improve. As you develop more confidence in your outer as well as your inner self, you will feel much better and less insecure. Don’t forget, everyone has insecurities, whether they talk about them or not. Remember, even all those so-called pretty girls have insecurities. So, you’re definitely not alone. The key is to not let these self-esteem issues overpower your life. You have lots of things to look forward to in your future. As you learn to get a handle on these insecurities, you’ll find that you can move forward and pursue all your dreams and goals without having these other distractions.
If you’re not able to feel better about yourself after confiding with a female family member, or mentor, I strongly suggest that you speak with a therapist or counselor if you can. As I mentioned before, self-esteem issues are fairly common among women. But perhaps you need some very specific professional guidance to help you resolve some of these appearance anxieties. I suspect that over time, with the proper support and encouragement, many of your self-esteem issues will improve. I think that as you grow older and become more mature, you’ll learn to change the things that you can about your appearance and accept what you can’t change. In the meantime, I hope that you’re able to become more aware of both your inner and outer beauty.
I hope my advice was helpful. Please try to change the negative self-talk and start being a friend to yourself.
Please feel free to write back if you’d like to continue this dialogue.