By Sarah W. Caron
It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that you look lovely, if you don’t feel beautiful then it takes a toll on your mental health. Little things – from skin discoloration to the development of skin tags – can steal your beautiful feeling from you. But you don’t have to let it.
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When Eileen Zyko Wolter of Summit, NJ, turned 42, she realized her long-time blonde hair color made her feel old. So she did something about it, dying her hair a darker color. “I’m pleased with the result. I look much softer and younger and I feel the same way,” Wolter says.
Whether your self-perception is being impacted by something easily changeable like hair color or something more challenging, you can take charge and feel beautiful again.
“We all know on some level that feeling and looking beautiful matters to women. Let’s accept that it does matter and it matters for good reason,” says Vivian Diller, Ph.D., a New York psychologist and author of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change. “Women have to become more comfortable with the fact that beauty matters and that it plays a role in our self-esteem.”
What Makes You Beautiful
Diller says that there are three aspects to the feeling of attractiveness – genetics, how well you’ve taken care of yourself and perception of yourself. “What you see in the mirror is an accumulation of all the interactions you’ve had over your lifetime about your appearance,” says Diller.
Diller, a former model and ballerina, says that all women – even models she sees in her practice – can have a hard time seeing themselves as beautiful. “They may be on the cover of a magazine and they feel terrible,” say Diller. “It’s not about what you look like.”
Do you see beauty in the mirror? If not, you aren’t alone. “They really look in the mirror and they don’t see what you see. The experience of self-image is in an evolving interactional experience,” says Diller.
Tina Paymaster, 29, a certified health and lifestyle coach in New York, changed her self-perception by seeking less approval from others. “For the longest time my happiness and self-image depended on what other people thought of me and it made it very difficult to ever feel truly happy because I wasn’t in control,” says Paymaster.
Using self-reflection and stepping beyond her comfort zone, Paymaster changed things. “I became so much more comfortable in my own skin and stopped looking to other people to validate who I was. It is truly empowering and relieving to know that ultimate acceptance lies in no one but myself. Now, I feel great about who I am, more beautiful and stronger than ever,” says Paymaster.
Changing Our Perceptions
Diller says we can change our perceptions of ourselves beginning with a shift in our inner dialogue. “Listen to your internal dialogue and hear what it’s saying,” she explains. Then you can make little changes. “Start shifting it like you would talk to your daughter or to a good friend,” says Diller. “We can start talking to ourselves differently … you have to reinvent that conversation based on how you would talk to the people you love.”
When Your Hang Up is Physical
For Joanie Jacobson, her bucked and spaced teeth kept her from ever fully smiling. “Almost three years ago I was fitted for upper full dentures. Before I received the dentures I also lost quite a few pounds,” says Jacobson. “I am 60 now and I must say I have confidence and face the day in a whole new light because of how I now feel and look.”
The changes have also led to compliments, which Jacobson says boosts her self-esteem even farther.
Everyone has physical imperfections. “We may grow up with this vision of airbrushed perfection. But close up, there is nothing perfect about anyone,” says Diller.
Ultimately, it’s what you do about those imperfections that matter. Stop dwelling on what’s not perfect and instead use a trick from those in the know. “One of the tricks that models and those in beauty business do [is to] highlight qualities that are best about themselves,” says Diller. “You may have discolored skin but you have a great smile. You may have a rounded body but you may have fantastic hair.”
“Everybody has something that makes them feel attractive. Once you train your eye to see that in yourself, you see that in others too,” says Diller.