If you’ve ever felt ugly, you know how awful it feels, especially in a culture that worships beauty. I remember a time when I felt so ugly that I felt bad that people had to look at me when they talked to me. It felt horrible. I wanted to shrink away and hide from their gaze, feeling pity for the harrowing experience they were having by looking at me. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. I. Felt. So. Ugly.
Maybe you haven’t felt quite that low, or maybe you have. Regardless of the level of pain you have associated with beauty, you don’t want to battle with it anymore or you wouldn’t be here right now hoping to find some answers.
The good news is: I do have some ideas I’d like to share, things that worked for me. But the truth is they worked for me because I was willing (more like desperate enough) to put in the work required to reap the benefits.
If you’re looking for a quick fix (which only provides momentary relief, btw) then this article is not for you. But if you’re interested in making some lasting changes to how you feel, stick around, try a few of the suggestions, create a new experience for yourself. You can feel beautiful and content with how you look and who you are. I’m living proof of that possibility.
Why Do I Feel Ugly?
When a person feels ugly it’s usually because they have allowed external voices, images, thoughts, cultural conditioning and/or mistreatment to color their beliefs about themselves. Words were said, things happened that hurt deeply and caused wounds. The pain felt more real than anything else, and somewhere in the mix translated into “ugly”.
This can be a subtle process, like with media images. The lie is paraded over and over and over. In response, we feel inadequate; we say degrading things to ourselves; we feel an unreasonable expectation in our hearts and heads and before we know it, we feel ugly and worthless. We’ve tied our worth and value solely to the physical.
If we have been mistreated, bullied, abused, attacked (verbally or otherwise) we may feel an even deeper more pervasive sense of ugly that often overflows, or attaches to appearance. This kind of ugly invades every fiber of being, leaving one feeling worthless in a deep and penetrating way. I call this magnified sense of ugly self-loathing. And it used to be my constant companion.
Now, I can tell you exactly how I came to feel that self-loathing. In fact, I share some of the reasons in my book “The Love Yourself Dare”. But it doesn’t really matter what contributed to those feelings because the answer to fixing a problem is never found in what created it.
We can point fingers all day long at people and circumstances we believe are the reasons that we feel the way we do, but what it really comes down to is what we choose to believe.
That’s a hard pill to swallow for many people. They feel, like I did, that the proof is on their face or body. And that’s the only proof needed. And they believe it’s ironclad and indisputable. You either are, or you aren’t beautiful.
We’re kind of stupid as a culture. We don’t question things. We think beauty has solely and completely to do with aesthetics. The cosmetic and fashion industries bank on you buying into that definition, literally. But who are they to decide your experience in life? Do you really want some money-centered company that doesn’t really care about your happiness coloring your perceptions and influencing your self-talk?
If you’re not questioning the images you encounter, the conversations you hear, the information people share, or the way people treat you, then you’re letting other people design your life. You’re giving your power away. We’ll look at some ways to take it back in a minute.
The Problem with True Beauty Campaigns
A number of years ago, true beauty campaigns began popping up all over the internet. Many organizations had excellent research and official data showing how the beauty industry damages the self-worth of women. There were lots of discussions about the true definition of beauty, songs, videos all refuting the lie that beauty is defined by how you look. And then . . .the whole conversation kind of faded. And here we are still believing we’re not good enough, still comparing ourselves to the even more sophisticatedly-doctored versions of people’s lives and feeling unhappier and uglier than ever before. We just don’t seem to be able to buy into the idea that beauty is more than skin deep, but we’ll literally buy anything that promises the result of beauty. From mascara, to body make-over boot camps to the knife of the plastic surgeon, we buy the lie.
Why is it so easy to buy the lie and not the truth that. . .
Everyone is Beautiful.
Let’s face it. It sounds trite–even though it’s true. But that truth simply stated doesn’t remove the pain. And that’s the problem with beauty campaigns. They don’t go deep enough. Facts and videos and songs are nice and inspiring, even motivating, but don’t actually offer tools or solutions. People begin to feel hopeless and go back to what they know because they don’t know anything else. And what they go back to is the cultural measuring stick for beauty, and if you use that yardstick you are guaranteed unhappiness. You absolutely must create and use your own definition.
But how does a person do that?
The Cure for Ugly—Healing Broken Beauty Beliefs
When I first started to heal my battle with ‘ugly’ I didn’t even know I was doing it. I didn’t have anyone showing me the way. I had to struggle and experiment and be courageous and humble. In truth, it was hard. Really hard. Why am I telling you this? Definitely not to discourage you. Rather, my intent is to give you hope. Hope that you can have a different experience in life–if you choose it. But I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s easy. It’s not, but it’s definitely worth the work. Let’s explore some of the tools that can help you make the shift.
Looking for Proof of Beauty
When you are trying to change something in your life, you have to become a detective of sorts. Your mind likes proof. If you tell it you’re ugly, it will most certainly look for proof of that truth. You will get on Instagram and scroll for ten seconds and find proof that you’re ugly. And the longer you scroll, the more proof you’ll acquire.
What if you told yourself something different? What if you said, “I am beautiful” and then looked for proof of that statement?
I bet you’re asking: Where can I find proof for that?
Definitely not Instagram.
I recommend starting to train your brain by looking for beauty in the world around you, and in your feelings about the world around you. You can practice this by going through my Guided Journal on Beauty . It’s a great way to explore beauty in a non-threatening way.
In this guided journal you’ll explore the world around you. Then you’ll move on to seeing the good parts of your body. You’ll explore things you like about your feet, your hands, your smile, etc. Don’t limit yourself to physical attributes only. Maybe you don’t like your fingernails, but those same hands serve meals to the homeless on Sundays. That’s beautiful. Write it down. My Beauty Journal explores these individual physical attributes too.
As you begin to look for proof in small ways, you’ll eventually be ready to look at the whole person and see your beauty as an individual with your own definition, and confidence in that definition.
Time Reveals Beauty
I don’t believe in hacks for beliefs. In other words, I don’t believe you can shortcut changes to long-term thought patterns. You have to build new habits over time. If you’re not seeing results in your thoughts and feelings right away, just know that you’re normal and that you’re on the right track.
Keep plugging away. Don’t give up. Time is your friend.
Self-Talk Plays a Part in Beauty
The best way to change your feelings is to change your self-talk. If you’re not aware of the things you say to yourself, you won’t know what needs changing.
If you’ve never even considered your own thoughts try setting a timer for a specific time each day to ask yourself: What am I thinking right now? Then consider how you feel about what you’re thinking. This will help you get in the habit of self-reflection.
When you’re ready, try this same exercise when you get on social media. Ask yourself: What am I thinking about what I’m seeing? How is it making me feel?
Need help learning to label your feelings? Read my article on Emotional Vocabulary
In time you will see patterns of thought. Those that bring you down need to be changed, or reprogramed, if you want to feel differently.
How to Reprogram Thoughts
To replace a negative thought pattern, you have to state a new, more empowering thought in its place. If the thought pattern is “I am ugly” then you need to replace it with something like “I am pretty” or “I am beautiful”. At first, the positive thought will feel like a lie. That’s why you need to start looking for proof. Go back and re-read the Looking for Proof section of this article and follow the steps there.
Self-Reflection–A Tool for Empowerment
We talked earlier about giving your power away. Self-reflection is the process by which you take it back. This is not some aggressive, beat-up-on-yourself session. This is where you get real with yourself and ask questions that will help you be more mindful and more intentional in your life.
You should learn to ask questions of yourself about the images you encounter, the words you hear, the information people share, and the way people treat you. Ask yourself if it feels right to you? Are your boundaries being honored? Do you feel good around this content, person, environment, image? Are certain words damaging you? Or do they build you up? Are you saying bad things to yourself? Or are they all externally delivered? What sources make you feel the worst? When do you feel your best?
You need to know how things are affecting you. If you don’t ask good, honest questions of yourself how will you know what needs to change in your life?
One of the best questions you can ask yourself when you hear or say something hurtful is:
Is that really true?
And, a powerful follow-up question is:
Could my “proof” be wrong?
These two questions can help reveal truth about yourself and others. It gives each of us room to be human and to recognize that we may be wrong about a few things. It gives us space to correct mistakes and heal, and allows others the same courtesy.
Learn to ask questions of yourself.
Challenge False Beliefs
My last suggestion is to find ways to challenge false beliefs.
For me, that challenge came in the form of competing in a beauty pageant when I felt the ugliest in my life. It forced me to look at myself and ask hard questions. I had to ask myself “Is that true?” about so many things, and then work toward unraveling the web of lies within me. It was both a painful and wonderful process.
Liberation comes from within. You are only a prisoner to the external if you believe what it tells you.
I’m not encouraging you to go out and compete in a beauty pageant. For some women, that could make their situation worse. But I am encouraging you to find healthy ways to challenge the lies you believe. Try things that stretch you because growth builds confidence, and confidence is something that contributes to feelings of beauty.
Feeling Beautiful is a Choice
Most of us think we don’t have a choice. We were born a certain way and that seals our fate. And yet, the mind and the emotions—where all of life is experienced—is where fate is determined. And that is where choice dwells. And the cool thing is, with practice, we can control the mind and the emotions!
I wasted a lot of years and energy worrying about being beautiful.
I have a big nose, AND it’s been broken 4 times. I seriously considered plastic surgery, but decided not to do it because deep down inside I wanted to accept myself for who I am, NOT change myself to achieve eternal approval. So, I didn’t give in to the knife. Instead, I gave in to healing my broken beliefs and that changed my feelings about myself.
I can now stand on a stage in vulnerability, forget about myself and give to my audience from a clear place of love and complete confidence in who I am. That’s a pretty big achievement from where I came from. Am I perfect at it? No. I still have days where I feel ugly (usually coinciding with hormone shifts) which is very different from a pervasive, consistent, daily feeling of ugliness.
Let’s face it, life is not static. We don’t arrive at some victorious destination of overcoming and then magically never have an off day ever again. That’s fiction. Life presents challenges to our resolve. Life presents fluctuating hormones and bad days. That’s just reality. But the power of those challenges fade over time and I no longer have a daily battle with ugly. That’s what freedom and truth working together look like.
In the end, it’s all about choice. Choose how you want to feel, care for yourself in a way that nurtures how you want to feel. Release yourself from prison. You are the only one who holds the key.
This Week’s Challenge–Embracing Your Beautiful Soul
This week I have several exercises for you to choose from on your self-care journey, or do all five!
1). Order a copy of Beautiful Soul and start identifying the beauty in your life.
2). Look for and list proof of the truth: You are Beautiful. Note every tiny beautiful thing you encounter.
3). Counter negative thoughts you catch yourself thinking about your appearance with a positive statement.
4). Consider and journal answers to the questions under the heading “Self-Reflection–A Tool for Empowerment” in this article.
5). Ask yourself: Is this true? What proof am I using? Is it valid? When state something negative about yourself or someone else?
Check Out These Resources for More Strategies to Empower Positive Beauty Beliefs:
Read my article on why you need an emotional vocabulary.
Listen to I Am a Woman a song filled with affirmations about the worth and beauty you hold!
Here’s another song I wrote about self-worth.