Sometimes I look into the mirror and I am pleased. I see a woman well into her seventh decade who is slim and active.
At other times I’m less satisfied. I feel as if my face looks like a cross between a shar-pei and an iguana.
My hair bears no resemblance to the ultra-chic photo I liked at the salon. My body seems to have morphed into a thicker, crepier version of itself.
That’s when the critical messages kick in.
“You need to exercise more,” they chide. “While you’re at it, trying losing some weight. And that color looks terrible on you.”
I instantly feel like a failure. I’m unworthy and need to be punished.
Of course, the real problem isn’t my appearance. I’m confident enough to know that I look fine. Rather, it’s the negative messages about my body image that get me into trouble, the ones that say I don’t measure up.
Like most American women, I’ve had an uneasy relationship with my body.
Even though I was never particularly style conscious, I caught the “I’m-not-pretty-enough” bug at an early age.
My case was relatively mild. I was outdoorsy and athletic, raised rabbits and loved working up a sweat.
Still, I knew that I fell woefully short of the models in Seventeen magazine and that prom queen was way beyond my reach.
Decades later, those critical thoughts are alive and well.
They can crop up when I look in the mirror or see someone who’s styled to the max.
That high school reject reawakens with a jolt and feels as inadequate and unattractive as she always has.
Fortunately, I no longer waste energy trying to change my appearance. And I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m not a style maven.
But those pesky negative messages — they’re another matter. I’m willing to dedicate time and vigilance in order to keep them in control.
How to deal with critical messages about your appearance
Recognize critical messages when they arise. Notice which thoughts make you feel lovely and which ones cause emotional angst.
Separate yourself from the messages. Just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true. Identify them for what they are — critical messages — and give yourself permission to turn them off.
Learn to relax. Negative messages inherently cause muscle tension, so take a few slow breaths, shake out your hands and roll your shoulders. Your thoughts will naturally slow down.
Replace negative thoughts. Think comforting messages, such as “I’m beautiful just as I am” or “Wearing this hat makes me smile!”
Avoid comparing yourself to others. Take stock of what you’re doing, then turn your attention to something else.
Repeat the steps as often as necessary. You may quiet criticism for a moment, but it will crop up when your guard is down. Keep these tools at the ready whenever your psyche needs a boost.