“Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful.” Sophia Loren
I have a beautiful friend who doesn’t see anything to admire about herself, who genuinely complains about her body, her weight, who has terribly low self-esteem and cannot accept a compliment. She sees a photo of herself, and sees only what is wrong, what is fat, what is wrong and sees nothing to celebrate. I see the same photo and argue, pointing out what is beautiful and offering reassurances which she cannot receive.
Unfortunately, she isn’t alone in feeling body-loathing, low confidence and not feeling good enough. Never before have we had so much advertising and marketing telling us what and who we need to look like. As Gloria Steinem says ‘Most women’s magazines simply try to mould women into bigger and better consumers.’ Girls and women are told we need to be ‘improved upon’ that we need external products and treatments to be happy, and fit into the jelly mould of female perfection. The rise of the selfie culture and social media externalises merit and worth, creating an obsession around how we are being perceived and if we are being ‘liked’.
Millennials are in particular being affected, with the highest levels of anxiety and depression compared to all other generations. Building esteem and confidence is of vital importance, not only for ourselves; but for our families, friendships, workplaces and communities. The question is how to we build our own confidence, and then allow this to ripple out? Here are our top three suggestions to help build confidence and allow your natural beauty to shine through.
1) Positive Self-talk.
Ask yourself this: How often do you say negative things about yourself and your body? Every hour? Every day? Every time you see a photo of yourself? The first step is always awareness: Being honest with how you talk to yourself, and how it makes you feel.
Would you be willing to be less critical of yourself if it would lessen your negative self-feelings and allow for more positivity? It takes time to form new habits and change behaviour, so are you willing to dedicate five minutes a day to looking at your body with love? In the mirror, look closely at the places you don’t like and criticise and instead being open to seeing the beauty in them – just the way they are. Saying ‘I love you’ to your feet, your ankles, your calves, your thighs, your stomach, your bottom, your back, your shoulders, your chest and breasts, your arms and hands, to each feature in your face? This may cause tears and other emotions to well and let the emotions be there, and love them too. As Louise Hays, the wonderful best-selling author and founder of Hay House, says ‘Loving the self, to me, begins with never ever criticizing ourselves for anything. Criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change. Understanding and being gentle with ourselves helps us to move out of it. Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.’
2) Accept compliments with appreciation
Many people struggle with receiving compliments, gratitude and praise. They can dismiss the compliment, not realising they are dismissing the words of the person giving them the compliment or praise, and are actually training that person not to offer compliments in the future. My beautiful friend when I gave her a compliment of a photo she was in, instantly dismissed it and gave me three negative things to focus on instead, ‘Look at my fat arms, my stomach, my face. I look disgusting. I hate this photo.’ She couldn’t hear my words of love and praise. Learning to accept compliments is an art. Instead of disagreeing with them or dismissing them, try saying thank you and taking a moment to really believe them and their words. You can even take one step further when someone gives you an important compliment, by telling them how their compliment makes you feel. For example, imagine if my friend had responded, ‘Thank you – it makes me feel really great that you see my beauty even when I am having trouble seeing it.’
3) Make positive pacts
Everyone needs support and help to sustain change. Robyn Silverman, author of Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls has identified that girls and women engage in conversations of spiralling negative self-talk, to console the other person’s perceived self-criticism. For example, “If a woman says ‘I’m so fat,’ the other woman might feel like she has to say ‘no, I’m the fat one. Have you seen my thighs? … Then there’s this back and forth over whose body is worse to elevate the other person.” This teaches women to talk badly of themselves with other women and that body appreciation isn’t allowed. If you have friendships that do have this critical self-dialogue you can make a positive pact with your friends to be more self-appreciating and not engage in self-criticism or criticism of other women – how they look, dress, or what they are wearing. If they’re not open to a positive pact, then change the subject and focus on something fills you with joy and connection. For others it maybe their romantic partner or family member, you can shift and improve any relationship by having open communication, telling them how you feel, and asking for support and participation.
Building confidence takes a commitment from you to you, to be kind, patient and loving; to choose positive words to say to yourself and to allow yourself to believe them. The more time you spend affirming your positive qualities and beauty, the more you will inspire more confidence, beauty and love in the world.