For so many women, one of the biggest barriers we come up against when it comes to feeling empowered is the way we feel about ourselves, and that includes our physical bodies. We’ve been raised in an image-focused society where we’re constantly bombarded with messages about our appearance and what we should do to be beautiful, from the make-up we wear to what we do with our hair to the shape of our bodies and more.
On top of this, beauty for women is defined as an external experience, rather than being an internal experience (which in my humble opinion is far more important in defining beauty, and so whenever you hear me talk about beauty, know that I’m referring to both our internal and external attributes), and so for many of us, it doesn’t matter how many times we receive feedback that we’re beautiful, intelligent, kind, or anything positive — we still struggle to believe that we actually embody those attributes.
For example, a while ago I was having a conversation with a friend who is a beautiful woman of color and who I think oozes both intelligence and gorgeousness. When I told her how radiant I think she is, she thanked me but then told me it was hard for her to believe the compliment because of her struggle with her weight.
It made me really sad to hear this, but I empathized with what she was saying. Given that I also used to have difficulty accepting compliments, I know that there’s a difference between being told we’re great and truly feeling it.
Why Do We Believe We Aren’t Beautiful?
For many of us, the reason we don’t believe the kind words coming our way is because we have internalized negative messages from a young age that we lack these attributes.
For example, when I was growing up, I consistently received critical comments about my appearance, mostly as part of the horrible racist bullying I experienced.
With my brown skin and long black braids, I looked different in comparison to my peers at school and was constantly called ugly for it. Also, as a darker skinned brown girl growing up in South Asian culture, where fair skin is valued over dark skin, I spent my early adolescent years believing that I was not as beautiful as others.
The cherry on top of this messy cake? For a chunk of my early teens, I really wasn’t very cute (picture an overbite, acne, facial hair, and thick glasses). When I finally blossomed in my late teens and people started to tell me that I was pretty, I just didn’t believe them.
This is why it’s so important to interrupt the negative messaging we’ve internalized, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m an advocate for self-love. By cultivating self-love, we increasingly move to a place where we start to believe deeply in our core that we are worthy of both receiving compliments and of feeling beautiful. When we cultivate self-love, we start to see that our real beauty lies in being perfectly imperfect and imperfectly perfect.
Feeling Beautiful Comes from Within
If feeling beautiful is something you struggle with, one of the most important things you can do to cultivate self-love is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about tuning into the present moment and being aware of what you’re doing, feeling, and thinking without judgment. It’s about slowing down to observe how you talk to yourself — no more negative self-talk! — and how you feel about yourself.
The more mindful you are about your thoughts and about how you feel, the more likely you will be able to identify the negative messages you’re harboring about yourself. Once you identify the negative messages, you can work to replace them with positive truths about who you are, for example, “I am beautiful.”
Aside from practicing mindfulness, there are a few other simple things that I do to help me feel beautiful from the inside out that I’d like to offer you:
1. Focus on Activities that Make Your Heart Sing
Not surprisingly, it’s when I’m doing things that I’m most passionate about, like dancing to my fave tunes, cuddling with my boyfriend while watching Netflix, or presenting to a warm and receptive audience, that I truly feel my most beautiful. And I note, not surprisingly, these are also times when I’m radiating my Authentic Self.
2. Look Good so You Can Feel Good
I believe that one’s body is like a personal art canvas. We use what we wear, how we do our hair and make-up, and more to self-express what we’re about internally. But I also believe that how we self-express externally impacts how we feel internally. Because of this, to feel beautiful on the inside I always make sure that I’m wearing something I’m comfortable in and that I feel great in. Sometimes that means a fabulous dress, while on other days it means leggings, but the point is, I make the effort to do whatever makes me feel good.
While it can be challenging to shift negative self-beliefs to positive ones, cultivating self-love and taking actual steps to change your behavior are critical to get to a place where you’re able to embrace compliments and to feel beautiful inside and out. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves, and it starts with self-love.
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