We all know criticism can be hurtful. But that doesn’t stop us from going to extremes in criticizing ourselves. Minor flaws or problems that we would easily overlook in others become ongoing sources of agony as we berate ourselves for poor choices, abilities, or even things that are beyond our control.
We moan about our flabby arms, sagging skin, or crooked ear lobes and fail to see the beauty that is inside us. As a health advocate, I hate it when I see any of us – myself included – undermining our emotional and physical well-being with destructive self-criticism.
And that’s only the beginning of the problem. It’s bad enough that we tell ourselves that we are not good enough, smart enough, thin enough or pretty enough. We’re also passing those lessons on to our children. I finally figured this out when I heard my daughter say, “My mom doesn’t think she’s beautiful.”
That moment was a turning point for me. I can’t keep telling her to be proud of herself when I refuse to do the same thing for myself. I need to live the example I want her to follow, not teach her that getting older means getting “worse” in every way.
So I decided to make a conscious effort to change my attitude. Here are some of the things I focus on now to keep me on track:
• I am beautiful – No, that doesn’t mean I love everything about my appearance. I still have “fat days” when nothing fits and days when I didn’t get enough sleep so my face looks tired and older than I feel. But I refuse to concentrate on those things. I believe my beauty comes from the inside, not from my skin or skirt size. So I look for things I like about myself and celebrate them.
• I am allowed to mess up – I am human. I do things and say things – or fail to do or say things – I later regret. But I now try my best not to dwell on them. When I make a mistake or miss an opportunity, I take a little time to think about it so I can learn whatever I need to learn so I don’t do it again. Then I let it go and move on.
• I am worthwhile – Some people have a knack for accepting a compliment while others, especially women, react like a compliment is an arrow we need to dodge. So I now work at accepting the compliments that come my way rather than trying to turn them aside. If someone else sees something in me worth complimenting, I owe it to myself to recognize that I have value in that way to that person. It’s a powerful feeling to be appreciated by someone else. Of course, that’s a two-way street. So I also make sure I’m not stingy in giving compliments when someone else deserves them.
• My beauty shines when I smile – For me, a smile is more than showing teeth. It’s a reflection of inner beauty and joy that can be shared with everyone around you. So even when I’m feeling down, I make an effort to connect with others by sharing a smile. Seeing that light reflected back from someone else always perks me up. And I know my smile is a gift I can give to others without limitations. As long as I choose to do it, I will never run out.
I believe many aspects of our society skew our perceptions of ourselves. We see celebrities on TV or in pictures who always look fabulous and “done” and we think our regular lives should be the same way. Even on social media like Facebook we’re quick to un-tag pictures that we think are unflattering.
Reading about “Bad Picture Monday” on the Today Show’s website made me appreciate all those “ugly” photos that people choose to leave online, or even post deliberately to make a point. Our diversity is part of our beauty. I don’t want to be a cookie cutter image of someone else’s idea of beauty. I choose to celebrate my own inner beauty and respect myself for who I really am. I deserve it.