I've spent the majority of my teenage and adult life wishing I was someone else, and for some reason I believe I am not alone in having this feeling. Is it a complete escape from our consciousness that we are looking for? No. It's instead an upgrade or improvement upon the element of who we are that we collectively seem to glorify more than any other, our physical body. Whether we feel we are overweight, have a big nose, an awkward body shape, thin hair or any other physical "imperfection," there seems to be at least something -and in many cases many things -in almost all of us that we wish could be different. Things that just because they do not meet a particular expectation or criteria we regularly direct internal displeasure, and in many cases hatred towards.
But where did this displeasure come from? We certainly weren't born hating the size of our nose, and as much of a blur as my infant years can be, I somehow feel that I can say with pretty good confidence that I didn't spend any of my time in the maternity ward comparing myself to rest of the newborn crop on display. That being the case, I think it's pretty safe to say that the idea of what we believe to be beautiful has been programmed into us. The term 'program' might sound a little intense, but I promise that in the context of this article it has a very light connotation. By a programmed belief of what beauty is, I simply mean it has been shaped, formed, accepted and ultimately re-enforced by something outside of our natural state.
Think about it, almost every TV show, movie, commercial, billboard, magazine, newspaper and website is littered with ideas of what is beautiful, popular and most acceptable to the public eye. The more we expose ourselves to these mediums the more likely we are to find ourselves shaped by them, and for many of us the impact is a lot more than we are probably ready to admit.
Looking at and overcoming this programming is in my opinion of utmost importance, not just because its unnatural, but because of how far it's impact can reach. For many, feeling and believing that you have a physical "imperfection" can lead to but is not limited to:
The Hiding of One's True Self - Rather than just be, we instead become a self-conscious version of ourselves.
A Tendency to Hold Back or Say No - We certainly can't fully accept ourselves for who we are, so how can we expect a new situation or individual to do so.
Forced Adoption - We may not even like a particular hair or clothing style that is currently popular but we choose to adopt it in hopes of attaining the approval that may come with it.
Overblown Judgement - What may start as simple preference can quickly transition into a perspective that sees the unwanted feature as a complete monstrosity.
A Ripple Effect of Displeasure - Your thin hair may be the root cause but it can quickly and easily become any and everything else.
A False Perception - We consciously believe something to be so unacceptable that we actually begin to see ourselves as different than we actually are.
Whether we find ourselves struggling with all or even just one of the tendencies I mentioned above, it certainly is a pretty serious list of potential side effects for something that only holds true within our mind. No matter how different we may be, we all hold within us the ability to love and be loved, the key to remembering and experiencing that however, is to once again love ourselves unconditionally as we did when we were first born.
The Naked Truth
To assist with this I would like to share with you all a simple, yet powerful exercise that I have found and continue to find helpful in my process of coming to love myself for who I am. Of course I cannot guarantee any form of effectiveness with this process, nor am I trained in psychiatry or anything else within the medical field, I simply present it as a friend. That being said, please practice it within your own means and use your best self-reflection to determine whether or not it suits you and your situation.
The exercise is simple: find a time slot where you comfortably know you can be alone without interruption, take off your clothes, stand in front of a mirror and look at yourself.
It may not be your dark childhood basement, or the creepy girl from The Ring crawling out of your TV, but for many people this can be the scariest thing imaginable. Now of course the exercise doesn't end there, this is in fact just the beginning.
Looking at yourself begin to pinpoint the factors that bother you the most. For many people this will come quite easily since we naturally find ourselves focused on these elements anyways. Once they start to become more apparent turn all of your attention to one in particular and truly look at it for what it is. Knowing that you weren't born holding any opinion towards whatever it may be, try to identify when or where your opinion came from.
A) Is it a particularly traumatic experience from your past? One where perhaps you were made fun of or rejected for it?
B) Is it a comparison to a particular person/ feature that either you or general society idolizes?
C) Is it a resemblance to someone that you once judged and now can't stand the internal/ external similarity?
In my own experience I've found that the root of my opinion has almost always been founded in one of these three scenarios, or in certain cases a slight variation of them. Still focused on the bothersome feature, but now with a root cause, it's time to breakdown what we have allowed our mind to give so much power to.
A) Rather than continue to see yourself as a victim to the traumatic experience, choose to accept it for what it was. Remember that just as you were programmed by the experience to believe that you were overweight, ugly or whatever the case may be, the person who ridiculed you was programmed to make that judgement. Do they in their natural state see any facet of you as an imperfection? No! So the thing that you have been so sensitive to for however long has no true substance in anyone.
B) Believe it or not but at the conscious level there is nothing that makes Channing Tatum's abs, Scarlett Johansson's breasts, or Angelina Jolie's lips more appealing than anyone else's. Popular opinion has simply been shaped to push us to believe that to be the case. We need to remember that what may be glorified as perfection today could just as easily be undesirable tomorrow. What does that show? How fickle a lot of what we compare ourselves to really is. In the end we are all unique and are a lot more likely to find peace in our uniqueness than in the continual chase of what is temporarily idolized.
C) The one thing that I find this particular scenario to be helpful in pointing out is the concept of us playing needed roles in each others lives. In one situation we may find ourselves as the one passing judgement, while in another we are the one being ridiculed. Either way, as we identified earlier, both simply stem from programmed beliefs, but the realization of this experience being agreed upon at a higher level can be quite profound. Is it not more difficult to get deeply caught up in something if we instead view it from the perspective of, "as challenging as this may be, thank you for giving me the opportunity to feel self-conscious about my hair and more importantly the opportunity to learn to love myself in an even more profound and less volatile way?"