Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Hey, Ugly!" Grappling With That Little Voice In My Head

A while back, the fabulous Penny Dreadful of "Penny Dreadful Vintage" Blog did an outstanding post about body image:

This post got me thinking about my own "body confidence" and it made me realize that not only am I my own worst critic, I am not alone when it comes to self-image.

I have never been one to think of herself as "pretty." When my mother recently asked me if I thought of myself as pretty, I responded, "If I had to answer, I would say 'normal.'  I am not ugly but I am not pretty either." My mother expressed concern. I would expect her to. She has a mother's bias because like most mothers, she sees all her children as beautiful.

However, when it comes to my intelligence and wit, I am quite confident and happy. I just wish I could feel the same way about my appearance. Throughout the years, I decided to focus on being smart because I never felt pretty, especially when I compared myself to other girls/women. (This was particularly the case when I was at Viva). So, every day I put my makeup on, do my hair, workout, eat well, and just try to be me.

I know I judge myself too harshly. I see flaws that perhaps no one else does. To others, they may see a just a vintage-clad, redheaded gal with a streak of blond in her hair while I see an awkward girl with a chubby face, thin hair, big bum, and short legs.

Nevertheless, I suspect my acerbic self-criticisms stem from an expectation that others judge me.  Basically, I judge myself before others have the chance. That way, I can anticipate any hurt feelings and therefore soften the blow.

But here's the thing, no one is standing around, lining up to pick my looks apart. No one is 'chomping at the bit' to put me under a microscope to better study my flaws. It is human nature for us to be harsh on ourselves but I shouldn't allow this trait to render me vulnerable and I wind up classifying myself as 'ugly.'

Some days are better others in the 'looks department.' For example, days when the hair refuses to cooperate, when my 'time of the month' is approaching, or when the 50s sundress I bought last year is too tight. Regardless of my knee-jerk need to wallow in self-pity, I know that hair can be fixed, my body will go back to normal after my cycle is done, and I can just do more cardio and that dress will fit again.

I know I am a strong, independent, and positive woman. I do not need the approval from other people nor do I base my entire self-worth on trivial things like 'looks.' Despite my self-assured personality, I allow myself to listen to the 'little voice' in my head that seems to shout out, "Hey, ugly!"

Like all things in life, my body image/self-image is a 'work in progress.' I will not gain boundless confidence overnight but I know that if I focus on what's important (i.e. health, family, friends, living life to the fullest) I am going to be okay.


  1. I love seeing posts like this - I think it's hard to write this sort of thing and be honest about it! I'm the opposite - I have no confidence of my 'inner qualities' whatsoever but I'm working on it.
    And it's very true - most people aren't standing around picking others' looks apart - if they are, they're clearly, well, not very nice are they?
    -Andi x

  2. What a great post. You're so right that other people won't judge you as harshly as others.

    Recently I was teaching a class as part of a wardrobe construction series, and several students expressed concern about the upcoming "dresses" segment. You should have heard the hatred heaped on dresses. Goodness. I probed a little and asked what people hated about dresses. One woman started talking about the fact they never fit (when bought from the store, but we can sew!) and then started listing off her "flaws," winding up calling her legs "Absolutely hideous and they should never see the light of day." She's a smart, funny woman who always has something interesting or positive to say about other people.

    When I picked my jaw up on the floor I called her out on it, and pointed out that she'd never talk about other people that way and she darn sure better quit talking so badly about herself.

    I think she was shocked. It hadn't occurred to her to extend the same courtesy to herself that she always extends to others. I look forward to getting her into some nicely proportioned, well fitting dresses.

    I also wonder if we're conditioned to hate our bodies and ourselves through mental pollution. It's an evil way to make money, like shooting fish in a barrel.

  3. Great post. I have never thought of myself as pretty, and like you, always worked towards developing my wit and character. The last couple years, since I lost weight, I believe I am more attractive, and that I might be considered "attractive," but not pretty.

    I like this advice, not to be harder on ourselves than we are on others. I suppose that being critical to ourselves is a self defense tactic. If I point out my flaws first, then no one else can make me feel bad by pointing them out. Or maybe, it's an attempt to squash any thoughts someone might have that I think I am more attractive than I think I am.

    The truth is, I like compliments, and I am vain, but I don't always know how to just accept the compliment without pointing out my flaws.

  4. What a great post if I could have written it as well I would have! I echo every sentiment. I hate having my photo taken for the very reason that I am not happy about how I look. As you say some days are better than others. It's only been in recent years that I will actually leave the house without make-up on! I have been asked if I wear make-up because I want to attract attention but I don't it's because I want to blend in and with it on I feel I can pass in a crowd.

  5. Sorry first line I meant if I could have written it as well as you did I would have done, I should re-read before I press post!

  6. I almost feel like I have the opposite attitude to you - really insecure about my wit, intelligence and social skills; so I focus on making myself -look- like a happy, confident, successful person. When I have makeup and a smashing outfit on, I feel like I can pretend to be better than I am. Last year I suffered a terrible series of rashes on my face - they were very obvious, in my opinion disfiguring, and part of my treatment was not wearing any makeup. I was shattered and felt like my 'shield' was taken away, that without my razzle-dazzle people would start to see me for what I really was. Of course that is a whole other barrel-full of issues, and I'm working on it! I'm just grateful now to have clear skin again. I used to have 'fat days' and 'bad face days' but now any day that is a 'no-rash day' is good enough for me!

  7. "Basically, I judge myself before others have the chance. That way, I can anticipate any hurt feelings and therefore soften the blow."

    I hear you. I used to do that for my personality too. Pick myself to pieces so that it wasn't a surprise when other people didn't like me. Aren't we girls horrible to ourselves? I always think you are gorgeous and totally immaculate xx

  8. It's so true that we can be our own worst critics.

    I find sometimes it gets into a vicious cycle: if an insecurity is holding me back, we dwell on it and THAT is what holds me back, which 'confirms' what I was thinking. E.g. If I think 'I look rubbish in this dress- then I sit in the corner, stoop etc- then maybe I'm not enjoying my day/fewer people talk to me- and I think 'see, I look terrible...'

    I find a useful strategy is to do something I KNOW will make me confident (ha ha not drink a glass of wine! Although that can work when combined with a nice chat with friends) and distract myself. Then suddenly I'll realise I'm not bothered, no one's looking at me funny, I must look OK. Usually it works, but like you say, everyone has rough days.

  9. I think almost everyone has those kind of thoughts. I too have a small list of things I do not like about my physical appearance. I think we have to start telling those stupid "your ugly" sort of thoughts to screw off! Do the best we can with what we have and ROCK IT! After all... confidence is a very attractive quality!

    And Tara I HAVE ALWAYS thought you were PrEtTy!!

  10. What a beautifully written piece and you have hit the nail on the head!

    I think my self confidence has suffered more and more the older I've got and the fatter I've got, I've always struggled with my weight but it seems to have hit unbelievable proportions as I get older and it makes me feel very very unattractive. Yet I do see other women who are overweight and beautiful but I couldn't possibly be!

    Thanks for bringing up the subject

    FYI I think you're very pretty!

  11. I realized how completely wrong I was about looks and getting older. I thought I'd harp on my younger days and reminisce about how much nicer I thought I looked but I actually have more confidence the older I get. Who in their right mind woulda thought that'd happen? We're always our own worst critics and once we find the strength to change that, it all becomes a bit easier to deal with because we realize others aren't thinking about our insecurities nearly as much as we are.

  12. Thank you all so much for your amazing and insight comments. I truly appreciate each and every one of you!

    It is obvious that all of us have endured the harsh self-criticisms and heard that little self-doubting voice in our heads. We all seem to agree that we would not allow anyone to judge us in such a cruel way yet we do it to ourselves. I am so guilty of this. I may not be the pinnacle of self confidence in my life but I will strive to improve my self view nonetheless.

    Andi: I agree that no one is lining up to pick our looks apart. And if they were, they are not nice. And why should be value their opinion or concern ourselves with what they think? At the end of the day, it will be them who should be ashamed.

    Steph: What an interesting response from the lady who was in your class! That could have been me. I agree that the garment industry does a "number" on us women. We are bombarded with images of false perfection and sadly we compare ourselves unfairly to this unreal representation.

    Kim: You are a doll whose always impeccably dressed and you are lovely! I agree that our tendency to judge ourselves is total defense tactic. We think that if we judge ourselves first then others' words will be rendered powerless. As for negating compliments, I do the same thing!! I cannot simply accept a compliment without making a self-effacing comment about myself. Why?

    Miss Magpie: Thank you for the compliment. I tend to shy away from photos too. If I see a camera, I hide. If I do get my picture taken, I will often make sure to pose in a way that makes look the most thin and make my face look the least fat. As for makeup, I will run and workout with lipstick on. I am so silly.

    Miss Emmi: Sorry to hear about your rashes! I got a chemical burn from a skincare cream about 10 years ago. I had to get treated by a doctor and I could not wear any makeup for three weeks. My face looked hideous and I felt ugly. My face was covered in blisters and scaly dry patches. It healed completely after a month. I was lucky that the burn did not have any lasting effects. As for you, you have a lovely style! And you seem very intelligent and quite articulate!

    Penny Dreadful: Thank you for the compliment! I think you look amazing! Your blog post was truly an inspiration! Thank you!

    Perdita: You are so correct! Our insecurities can be such a vicious cycle. My usual trick for helping me get over myself is a good run or long session of yoga.

    Melzaelf: You are right about confidence being attractive. When I am feeling confident, I notice the husband compliments me more. I need to learn to let go off these thoughts and not judge myself. I will be okay. It may not here immediate but I will get there.

    Fiona: Thank you very much for the kind words! I think you always look so pretty! I have seen so many pretty girls, in all sizes! Tall, slim, curvy, petite, average, and athletic. I have somewhat embraced my body but my face is going to be a work in progress for a long time.

    The Natural Retro: I have done the same thing! I thought I looked terrible in high school but when I look back, I realize that I looked "not bad!" I have more confidence now than I did then but my body confidence will take a while. I had a setback when I was in Vegas for Viva Las Vegas last month. I was surrounded by so many pretty girls and I felt like the ugly, awkward girl who was just kidding herself. I thought, why am I even here? I do not belong in the same league.

  13. Such a great post! I also never have thought of myself as pretty, and hearing anyone else say it, even my husband, makes me very uncomfortable. I have so many insecurities and while only some of those are physical, it seems so much easier for me to focus on those flaws than anything else in my life. Of course, I am a recovering bulimic, so perhaps I have more pathology than the average person behind those insecurities. All I know is that I relate whole-heartedly to what you wrote.

    Also, I awarded you the One Lovely Blog Award over on my blog. :)

  14. Thank you oh so much, Nicole! I will be sure to post that award! :)

    I am also bad at taking compliments! I either say something to brush it off or I just smile, awkwardly.

    That is incredible that you recovered from bulimia. You are a survivor and that alone makes you stronger than you realize.

    I was overweight from the ages of 23 to 30. I lost 33 pounds in late 2005. Even though I have kept off the weight and I am fit (I run and do yoga), I often still feel fat. I also still have "fat dreams" where I wake up in a panic thinking all of the weight came back in my sleep. I am always going to have body and face issues but in the end, I will be ok. I have my health and a good family so I should count my blessings!

    Speaking of family, I hope you are doing well with your pregnancy! I read your blog and you make pregnancy look even more beautiful and chic!

  15. Thank you, Ashley! I love your blog and I adore your makeup reviews and tutorials! Your style is always impeccable! You are so inspiring! You make motherhood look retro-tastic!

    Love your blog id! I am a "jew lover" too! I married a beautiful Jewish boy 15 years ago and each day I feel even more blessed to have him in my life!

  16. Funny I have been having all these same issues come up regularly for me as I have gained a lot of excess weight since my youngest was born. I have been trying to make some healthy changes for myself in the last few weeks but my husband took some pictures of me today and I told him that they all looked awful and he told me I am overly critical of my appearance(and his is right). I think this issue affects most women as we place a lot of value on our looks as we feel that is what happens in th world at large.

  17. Hello! Sorry I missed your message on my blog, we had already left and I made a point of not going online (apart from to check work email) while I was away! I had such a great time in Florida and hope you did too :))
    On this post, I could write you an essay. So well put and obviously hit a chord with a lot of readers. I was bullied about my appearance when I was younger - being called ugly all day, every day for 2 years by a gang of boys at school from 14-16 years old. They made my last few years at high school hell and I had 0 confidence about my looks for many many years afterwards. I still have dreams about it now, 17 years later. I still don't have masses of confidence now, but have learned over time that when I DO get a compliment, to smile and say thank you, rather than to shrug it off and dismissive as I did for many years :)

  18. Tara I miss your post! I am hoping you have shushed that voice because I think you are fabulous and want to see more post really soon.

  19. i think pretty is boring and average....i would rather be striking.....which my dear you have in spades <3

  20. Living Vintage,

    Thank you so much for sharing! I totally understand about weight gain! I gained 33 pounds from the time I graduated high school to when I turned 30.

    I was so hard on myself when I was in high school and friends or family would take pictures of me, I would cringe and lament how bad I looked! And when I was bigger, I pined for those "salad days!"

    I have always been hard on myself when it comes to looks and from the responses here, I know that I am not alone! We women need to embrace the beauties we are I know that some days are easier than others but in the end, we will be fine!

  21. I love your post so inspiring.
    Fijate que I used to hate my fat, now I have accepted it and am much happier, as before I never like taking full body pictures, now I dont care ,but I do like to have control of the camera. I still have fat days ,but woman doesnt. I see everyone as beautiful fat or thin. as long your happy amor.

  22. BTW
    I always thought you look like Nicole Kidman amor hasta mas bonita.