'You Are Beautiful. Now Say It'

The author of the 'Simple Abundance' series helps us see our own beauty and worth.

BY: Sarah Ban Breathnach

 

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Sowing the Seeds of Self

Self-admiration giveth much consolation

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--Gertrude Atherton



Looking in the mirror is a startling subjective experience. When facing her reflection, one woman may say to herself, "I wish my hips were smaller," or "My fat hips make me ugly." Or she could say, "My curves make me sexy." In each example, the hips are the same—it's how a woman feels about them that's different. But where do these feelings come from? Whether or not you realize it, you've spent your entire life developing them, honing them, cloning them. Transforming the messages communicated by society, your family, your friends, your rivals, and your enemies into cellular memory.

"As preschoolers, boys and girls have already learned the lessons about physical appearance that our society teaches," explains psychologist Thomas Cash, author of "What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?" "They know that lovely Cinderella gets the prince; her ugly and mean stepsisters do not. From childhood on . . . we judge our self-worth by the physical standards we've absorbed." The world's standards—to be extraordinarily thin, conventionally attractive, and forever young—are uncompromising and unrealistic, yet so pervasive in the media that women who do not conform (and who does?) feel flawed, inferior, unsuccessful, unlovable.

Society's ideals are reinforced in children by parents who overemphasize the importance of appearance, consciously or unconsciously. Their messages, be they subtle or painfully obvious, are expressed in dozens of ways: Were you put on a diet as a child or compared unfavorably to a sibling? Or were you praised for your prettiness, made to feel that it was your looks that made you lovable? Did your father disparage your mother for the way she looked? Or did she obsess about her own appearance? Don't discount the influence of friends and classmates: Being teased as a child or ostracized as a teenager can undermine the efforts of the most accepting parents.

Do you have memories of experiences that might have contributed to the way you see yourself today? As an adult, you may be able to "understand" them, to understand that your parents' criticisms did not mean they didn't love you, or that the bullies at school were acting purely out of their own insecurities. But this doesn't make the memories any less hurtful or their hold on you any less powerful. However, facing them, before you face yourself in the mirror, is the crucial first step in reshaping your body image.

A lifetime pattern of self-denigration is not going to disappear overnight. You're going to have to learn how to replace your automatic criticisms with praise. Self-admiration takes many forms. It can and should include the new compliments you pay to yourself everyday. But the most powerful self-compliment of all is honoring the promises you make to your own soul.

 

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