The Difference Between Being Told You’re Beautiful and Feeling Beautiful

 
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I was having a conversation with a beautiful woman of color recently (you know, one of those people who always sashays gorgeous?) and I told her how stunning 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.

It doesn’t matter how many times we receive feedback that we’re beautiful, intelligent, kind, or anything positive — we will struggle to accept compliments if we don’t believe that we actually embody those attributes. 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.

As it relates to feeling beautiful, when I was growing up I consistently received critical comments about my appearance, mostly as part of the horrible bullying I experienced (which I share in my book, The Authenticity Principle). 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 people started to tell me that was I was pretty when I finally blossomed in my late teens, I didn’t believe them.

This is why interrupting the negative messaging we’ve internalized is so important and the reason 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. As I’ve said before, we start to see that our real beauty lies in being perfectly imperfect and imperfectly perfect.

If this 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 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 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.” Here are some simple ways I practice mindfulness daily.

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 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.

Ultimately, 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 place where you’re able to embrace compliments — and to feel beautiful inside and out, something you rightfully deserve. 

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The next time you receive a compliment you don’t quite believe about yourself, do the hard work to explore why it’s hard for you to embrace the kind words you’ve heard. Ask yourself:

  • What are the negative beliefs I’m telling myself?

  • Where did I learn these from?

  • How are these negative beliefs harming me?

  • What are 2 positive truths about the feedback I’ve received that I can tell myself instead?