Ways To Get Past Insecurities About Your Looks
People who aren't happy with their social situation usually have insecurities. One area they can be unsure about is their appearance. Of course it's hardly just socially awkward types who have these kinds of doubts. Most of us have been insecure about our attractiveness at one time or another.
This longer article gives many suggestions about how you can become more confident about how you look. A topic like this needs a couple of disclaimers:
- I completely realize looks-related insecurities are a tricky, complicated issue, which can affect some people quite severely - I have no delusions that this one article is going to help everyone. If you're mildly or moderately unsure about how you look then the ideas here might help you feel better. If you've got more serious problems, like a longstanding eating disorder or body dysmorphia, the ideas below aren't going to do much compared to getting more dedicated, intensive support.
- Many of the suggestions below are broad overviews - While this article can bring them to your attention and let you know they might be useful, it can't possibly go into detail about how to implement them. Countless books and websites have been written about some of these topics.
- Each reader's mileage will vary about which suggestions they'll find helpful or not - One reason is because looks-related insecurities have different causes. Some people's are more straightforward and surface level. They're insecure about, say, having bad skin, because they really do have stubborn acne. If they woke up tomorrow with a clear complexion their worries would vanish. Other people's insecurities come from a deeper sense of low self-esteem and feelings of unworthinesss. Other issues, like perfectionism or a need to be in control, may come into play. If they suddenly transformed into a model they'd still find things about their appearance to dislike, or their self-doubts would just shift somewhere else.
The other big reason is that some suggestions will help more than others depending on your starting level of attractiveness. Some insecure people are unarguably good looking, but they can't see it, or beat themselves up for not being even prettier. What will help them the most is addressing the mental baggage that keeps them from seeing themselves accurately, or which causes them to be too tough on themselves. Others are average looking (i.e., still decent looking, just not stunning), but see themselves as being uglier than they are, or unnecessarily get down on themselves up because they're not super hot. They mainly should try to reframe the way the view themselves in a more positive light. Some people's looks are on the lower end of the scale. I think very, very few people are truly, inescapably ugly. Most have the potential to look at least average, but some reversible issues, like poor fashion sense or crooked teeth, are dragging their appearance down. People in this category can especially benefit from making practical improvements to their look, while also accepting their features that they can't change, and learning to work around them.
- Reducing your insecurities about your looks isn't something you can do in a few hours - It's not that you just have to read a few sentences saying, "Hey, you don't look so bad!" and then you'll instantly feel better. Increased confidence and comfort with your appearance comes over time, as you gradually push out the old beliefs and replace them with new ones. Like with most improvements, your progress will have ups and downs.
Having realistic goals for becoming more secure about your looks
The goal is not to reach a headspace where you believe you're incredibly attractive. If you're more average looking you have eyes and a brain and can clearly deduce you don't look like a supermodel. More realistic goals are to:
- Get to a point where you're content with your appearance - You may acknowledge there are some ways it could be better, or that you'll never be the best looking person on the planet, but you're happy enough with where you stand.
- Have a balanced, healthy view on looks in general - You don't think that looks are everything or that looking less than perfect makes you worthless.
- Have a sense that your looks aren't holding you back from the things you want in life - E.g., "Sure, I'm not the stereotypical tall, square jawed CEO type, but I'm good at my job and I know my career is going places." You realize your looks play a role in how you do, but many other factors go into being successful, and you have faith you can make up for any issues with your appearance in other ways.
- Have a view of your appearance that's ultimately positive and optimistic, but also grounded and realistic - For example, "I know I'm on the shorter side for a guy, but aside from that I'm still pretty cute. Not a hunky god, but very decent, especially if I dress well. I know my look isn't for everyone, but enough people are into me that my dating life isn't going to suffer if I put myself out there" or, "I realize I wasn't born with the best features. I'm alright with that. My life is in a good place otherwise, and I've learned if I carry myself with confidence and show my personality, I can still make a great impression on people." If we tell ourselves we're super hot when we clearly aren't, we know we're b.s.'ing ourselves. Our minds prefer and can accept more sensible, middle ground messages.
- Have a view of your appearance that's pretty stable and resilient, and comes from within - You're guided by your own compass, not anyone else's. Your positive view of yourself won't shatter if you hear one negative comment about it. If you know you're solidly average, and someone tries to tell you're uglier than that, you truly feel they're wrong.
- Be able to accept the aspects of your appearance you just won't be able to change - That doesn't mean you have to be thrilled with them, but they don't cause you undue stress, depression, or bitterness either. You've made peace with the fact that, like most people, you weren't dealt a perfect hand in this part of your life, and that you may have to work harder in some other areas to compensate for it.
- Feel okay with your appearance the majority of the time - You're human. It's fine if you still feel down on yourself every so often or have physical features you'll never be totally happy with. If you're having a rough week or you've recently been rejected, you may dislike your looks, but it won't be long before you go back to being comfortable with them.
Depending on how deep seated your insecurities are, you may never fully get rid of them, at least without a lot of therapy. Sometimes if we absorb messages early enough in life it's very hard to completely shake them off. You can meet people who have been in shape for decades, but who still inwardly feel like the fat kid, because they were chubby in middle school. However, you can get to a point where your self doubts don't outwardly hinder you, and they're reduced to a hidden nagging feeling you sometimes get.
With all that preamble out of the way, here are the actual suggestions:
Address your deeper insecurities
Sometimes our feelings about our looks are rooted in core negative views of ourselves. In any number of ways, some people have had rough or deprived upbringings that instilled the belief that they're fundamentally flawed and unlovable, and that they don't deserve and won't get happiness. That central negative self-image can then influence more specific areas. One person may be convinced they're dumb and give up too easily on their school work. Another may become certain they're ugly. Trying to pick at their look-related insecurities will only help a little, as long as the more core sense of being unworthy remains.
Other people didn't have a rough enough childhood to feel flawed all around, but did get rejected and picked on a lot at school, sometimes over aspects of their appearance. Even if as adults they logically know things are different now, their self-concept may still be stuck in the past. On an emotional level they still think they're the weird looking student who could never click with anyone. Again, until they've done on work on these issues, other attempts to feel better may bounce off them.
This is the first suggestion, and already you can see I wasn't kidding when I said I couldn't go into depth about how to put every one into practice. There are many varieties of deeper insecurities and childhood baggage, and they can take time and effort to identify and change. Many people find this kind of work is best done with a counselor or support group. There are also many books that can help, though which ones will be most useful will depend on your exact circumstances (e.g., abuse, trauma, neglect, growing up with an alcohol abusing parent, living in the shadow of a disabled sibling, and so on.)
Try to practice self-acceptance
Self-acceptance is a core aspect of self-esteem:
- People with good self-esteem don't think they're perfect. They acknowledge their strengths, but are also comfortable with their weaknesses, and the fact that they have flaws, like everyone does.
- Self-acceptance means going easy on yourself and being on your own side. You may not be stoked about the cellulite on your thighs, but it doesn't mean you have to trash yourself over it. Why not be a compassionate, supportive friend to yourself?
- Self-acceptance doesn't mean loving or condoning everything about your current self or situation. You can totally be accepting, but also acknowledge you have things you want to change. It just means that while things are the way they are, you'll be okay with them. E.g., "I hope to lose some weight over the next few years, but until I do, I may as well accept that for now I'll be heavier, and try to like myself anyway."
- Acceptance is realistic and practical. It feeds into a pragmatic attitude. You may prefer that you were born taller, or with a faster metabolism, or with less-frizzy hair, but you weren't, so you might as well stop feeling angry or sorry for yourself, and instead focus on how you can work around your weaker points.
The tone you take with yourself when you're accepting of your looks is sometimes misunderstood. The word "love" is often thrown around, as in "Love your body, no matter what you look like!" That can make people think of the enthusiastic, gushing type of love, as in, "I love going out of town on long weekends!" The idea of "loving" the fact that you have a gummy smile or bags under your eyes can be hard to swallow. When you unconditionally love your body, it's more like the love you might have toward a family member. You don't always agree with everything they do, but in the end you're in their corner. Your body may not always look the way you want, but it's the only one you have, so you should try to accept it. Also, as weird as this sounds, your body wants the best for you. It's not your enemy. All its functions are there to keep you going. Even when it does things you don't want it to, like adding weight, as far as it's concerned it's trying to help out by building up reserves for leaner times.
Acceptance also doesn't mean weary, pessimistic, resignation. It's not a case of, "I accept I'm a cow that will never have a relationship." You can accept your current difficult situation, but also have hope that you can turn things around down the road.
Indirectly let the air out of your insecurities by generally doing things to improve your mood, take care of yourself, and get your life together in other ways
Whatever our insecurities are, they tend to get stronger when we're feeling depressed, stressed, and anxious, and recede when we're happier and on top of things. Many people with body image struggles have noticed that if they start suddenly thinking "I'm fat" or "I'm too old" it's often a signal that they have another issue in their life they need to attend to, like that they're feeling overwhelmed at work that week.
It doesn't address their root cause, but you can turn down the volume on your insecurities by generally doing things to boost your overall mood and quality of life. You don't have to do all of these, but generally the more the better:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get enough sleep each night
- Get enough sunlight each day
- Set aside enough time each week to relax and unwind
- Do some fun things each week. I'm talking about the kinds of truly fun activities that you look forward to, like going for a hike or seeing a band, not mainly time passing stuff like watching whatever is on TV
- Deal with other stresses and hassles in your life (e.g., finishing that paper you've been putting off)
- Have a support system you can talk to about things that are bothering you, whether it's your friends, family, a counselor or therapy group, someone from your church, an online forum you post on, and so on
- Hang around supportive people, and try to limit time with anyone who's overly critical of you
- Do things to help other people and the planet, like volunteering at a film festival or helping pick up litter in your city's parks
- Keep a journal of things you're grateful for or which are going well in your life
This article goes into more detail about these mood boosters:
Lifestyle Changes That Can Improve Mood
Find ways to get the things you worry your looks are keeping you from
Some people's insecurities are less about their actual looks, and more that they feel their appearance will prevent them from achieving certain goals in life. For example, a man may not be upset that he's losing his hair for its own sake, but worry women will no longer find him attractive. Similarly, someone can be unhappy with their looks because they're not where to want to be in terms of their friendships, love life, or career, and have mistakenly concluded it's because they're ugly. In reality other factors are to blame. Most things in life are influenced by a lot more than how how hot you are. Most people pick their friends based on personality and commonalities, not looks. Your career success hinges more on traits like work ethic, talent, networking skills, and willingness to learn.
- Someone who doesn't have a lot of friends may need to work on their basic conversation skills.
- A woman who's stalled in their career might have to improve her skills as a manager.
- If a guy's never had a girlfriend his real problem may be that he doesn't have the confidence to talk to women he's attracted to. Or maybe his natural looks do put him at a disadvantage in dating, but he can make up for it by cultivating other attractive traits.
- A guy may dislike his small stature because he worries it makes him vulnerable and less masculine. Taking a martial art class may address both those concerns.
If you can develop the skills or mentality to gain the things you want, then once you get them some of your hangups about your looks may go away. You're no longer missing something. You have firsthand evidence showing your looks won't keep you from everything. So your mind may not feel the need to worry about how subpar you are. You'll still realize you don't look perfect, but it doesn't as feel as relevant to your happiness. To start, even finding examples of people who look like you, but have managed to find success can give you hope and make you feel better. Once again, I know these changes can't be accomplished overnight, and that it's beyond this article's scope to cover everything you might need to know about how to form a social life, or get into a relationship, or advance in your field, but that information is out there (or right here on this site if you need help with your social skills).
Question your beliefs about looks in general
Sometimes we're not happy with our appearance because we have counterproductive beliefs about what it means to be at a certain level of attractiveness, such as:
"Good looking people live perfect, effortless existences. If I was attractive then I'd have a dream life too" - Being easy on the eyes absolutely opens some doors, but pretty or handsome people still have their share of problems. They still get rejected. If they're shy and socially inexperienced they can still be lonely. Having nice cheekbones doesn't save them from every issue with their studies, workplace, family, or health. You're not missing out on as much as you think just because your looks aren't a nine out of ten.
"How good I look is the main thing that determines my value as a person" - There are dozens and dozens of other traits that can give someone value as an individual, like being a loving parent, being funny, creating art, and on and on. And these things really do have value. It's not like "being a good friend" is some meaningless consolation prize, and the only real way you can matter in the world is by having nice abs.
"I'm a failure unless every last person finds me attractive" - Aside from the fact that your worth comes from way more than people's ratings of you, no one is attractive to everyone. Some people have a more broadly appealing look, but even they won't be everyone's type. Most of us have a look that some people find attractive and others aren't into (e.g., some people like thin, petite women, others prefer taller, curvier ones). That doesn't make you a failure. It's normal.
"All other people care about is looks" - People do give weight to how others look, especially when they're deciding who to date. It's hardly the only thing they take into account. If you're a tad under the threshold of how good someone wants their partner to look, but you're a great match for them otherwise, you're probably going to be fine.
"There's no way I can get the things I want looking like I do" - Assuming you've got other aspects of yourself together, having average or below average looks closes off fewer opportunities than you think. No, you may not get a job as a model. You may not be able to date a really good looking person who only wants a partner who's as hot as they are. But the majority of things in life are open to everyone. I'm sure you can think of examples of less-than-gorgeous people who still have interesting jobs, good friends, and who are in happy relationships with partners they're attracted to.
"If you're not on the upper end of the attractiveness scale, then you're hopeless" - Being very attractive makes some things easier, but it's not an All or Nothing situation where if you're not at the very top then you get zilch. Like the previous point says, you can still get most of the things you want in life with more typical looks.
"Well having average looks is one thing, but if you're below average then you're out of luck" - Being less attractive can undoubtedly make life harder. Fewer people will be open to dating you, you'll hear more hurtful comments, and you may be subtly discriminated against at your job. Though that's a far cry from your life being a total write off. Once more, if you look around you can find plenty of cases of less pretty people who are doing just fine for themselves.
"If someone rejects me it's because of how I look" - Again, particularly in dating, your looks may be a factor in why you were rejected, but there are many other reasons someone may not be interested.
"A single poor feature can make you ugly" - A single prominent, out of proportion feature can certainly detract from your appearance, but usually not enough to make you seem ugly if your other features are okay.
"Everyone judges people's looks by the same criteria I do" - People vary in what features they find attractive. A guy who's insecure about his smaller frame may subconsciously rate any more muscular man as being more desirable than him, and assume everyone else has the same standards. The reality is not everyone cares about muscle size when deciding how attractive someone is.
Insecure people can also be overly harsh when judging others' appearances. They either apply their same impossible, judgmental self-standards to everyone else, or they unconsciously try to tear down other people to try to make themselves feel better (as I'll explain in a bit, this doesn't work). They assume people are evaluating them as strictly as they view everyone else. In fact many folks are much more forgiving. They're okay with imperfections. They'll bump someone up a few points in their mind if they have a good personality.
"The kinds of people I want to date expect absolute physical perfection or a specific look in a partner. I don't have that, so I'm a lost cause" - People care about looks when when it comes to dating, but most just want someone they're reasonably attracted to, not the perfect specimen.
Try to adjust the way you think about your looks
Most of us know we're never going to look like models, but we can still view ourselves through a more positive lens than the one we currently use. This suggestion has several subpoints. Whatever angle you use to try to look at yourself differently, it may feel forced at first. Like you can tell yourself something more positive, but you won't really believe it. Don't give up right away if that happens. New beliefs take time to take hold.
Learn more about society's unrealistic beauty standards
One reason you likely feel bad about your looks is you're comparing them to the gorgeous ideals society shows in the media. I'm not the first, or even the millionth, person to say this, but those standards are unrealistic and harmful. For one, many of the images, even if they feature naturally attractive people, are altered to portray a level of beauty no one could actually achieve, let alone sustain. A fashion model spends hours having her hair and makeup done by professionals. Fitness models starve and dehydrate themselves for days before a shoot so their muscles are as defined as possible. They're shot under perfect lighting. Of the hundreds of photos that are taken, only a handful of the most flattering are selected. Then, of course, the images are heavily photoshopped.
Second, the media tends to push only a handful of looks as being the most attractive. And I'm not saying this in an empty, feel good, "everyone is equally pretty" sense. What I mean is that even if you only started with the looks and body types that people find attractive in the real world, some of them are featured in the media way more than others. When the media does promote other looks, there's often an insincere lip service quality to it.
You can lessen the power these standards have over you by learning about them. Read up on all the ways photos can be digitally manipulated. Go looking for examples of people who are attractive, but whose look doesn't usually show up in the mainstream media. View pictures of celebrities who aren't wearing makeup. The point isn't to be petty and rag on them, but to show yourself how their true, day to day looks don't compare to their heavily made up, post-produced versions.
Expose yourself to beauty standards from different cultures and time periods
Standards of beauty vary quite a bit, from country to country, and also across time within the same culture. I don't want to overstate this. It's not as if a man who's considered extremely handsome in one country is going to be thought of as hideous in another. And there are some physical traits that are never going to be particularly appealing. It's more that among regular, average types, much of what determines whether they're seen as attractive is subjective.
In some countries fair, pale skin is considered beautiful. In others it's a sign you're unhealthy and never leave the house. Some cultures want women to be stick thin. Others prefer more curves. In some areas the ideal man is muscular and rugged. In others he's lean and androgynous. In North America beards have gone in and out of fashion over the decades, and so on. Learning about these various standards can help break the spell your particular culture's current standard has over you.
I'll mention again that it can be hard to truly believe these kinds of things at first. It's tempting to think, "Okay, sure, this one part of the world finds bigger women attractive, but the people there have got to be misguided. I don't want to fool myself. Everyone must know deep down slim women are actually the best looking." Those kinds of thoughts show you're still operating only under your own culture's standards. It's easier said than done, but you can develop a larger perspective. Once more, the point is not to finagle yourself into thinking you're incredibly beautiful, just to open yourself up to the possibility that you're not grotesque just because you don't fit one culture's ideal.
When it comes to dating, realize that even if you're not considered gorgeous to most, a subset of people may really like your type
Some of us have deeper insecurities that make us feel we must have everyone be attracted to us. I think most people are realistic and practical, and would be happy enough, and feel more confident, if they knew their look had its subset of fans. If you know enough people like you, then what's it matter if not every last person does? Odds are that's where you stand, or at least that's where you have the potential to stand once you make some tweaks to your appearance.
If you're a straight guy, realize just because you haven't gotten a ton of attention from women it doesn't mean you're hideous
Some men conclude they're ugly because they can't recall a time a woman flirted or asked them out. However, it's not just grotesque guys who don't get hit on. Plenty of decent looking men haven't had women be forward with them. That's especially the case when they're younger or homebodies, and just haven't had as much time or opportunity for it to happen. Without going on a tangent about why, women as a whole are way less likely to play the pursuer role. Also, some guys think no one's ever showed an interest in them, but it's happened and just went over their heads.
Make a case to yourself about why you're not as bad looking as you think you are
It's well known that people with low self-esteem look for information that agrees with all the bad things they "know" are true about themselves. Up until now you've likely used a few cognitive distortions to cherry pick "evidence" from the world that agrees with your poor self-image. You probably use Filtering to remember any negative information about your looks, and disregard anything that says otherwise. Similarly, you likely use Disqualifying the Positive to brush off any compliments about your appearance. Maybe you do some Mind Reading, where if someone isn't interested in you, you assume it was solely because they didn't find you physically appealing.
Those same processes can be used to gather support that you're actually decent looking. I know I'm repeating myself, but it's important to emphasize: The idea isn't to convince yourself that you're an Adonis, but that you're attractive enough to get by, rather than an unlovable monster.
As an exercise, sit down and try to gather all the evidence you can that you're okay looking, and quite possibly extra attractive to a subset of people. Really try to put yourself in the mindset of someone who has reasons to be secure about their appearance. Don't use your usual mental processes to find reasons why the things you come up with don't count. It may help to imagine you're someone else, like a friend who wants to help, or a vain narcissist who thinks they're God's gift to the world.
- Make a list of all your features that you think are attractive. Rather than focusing on the handful you think ruin your appearance, focus on the good ones. The key word is "good", not "perfect". Don't be too quick to say, "I don't have any good features." Try harder. No one is 100% devoid of them. At worst, admit you have to make some changes to your appearance, but once you do, you know some nice features will reveal themselves.
- List the times people told you they find you attractive. (Note though that it doesn't automatically mean you're ugly if you don't have any examples, especially if you're younger or don't go out much. Men also don't get complimented as much.)
- Find examples of people with your features who are considered attractive. Like the Western male ideal is rugged and muscular, but there are plenty of celebrities who are considered hot who are thin and young looking. Don't just limit yourself to the mainstream media though, since it's known for only showing a small selection of types.
- Similarly, find people who say they're attracted to your type. That may be a friend who's not shy about saying she likes dating chubbier guys, or the fans of a celebrity who has a bigger nose, but is still considered a sex symbol.
If you find yourself dismissing any evidence for why you're better looking than you think, start questioning that. Why do you assume Person A's negative opinion of you reflects reality, while Person B is just paying a compliment out of pity? Why do you theoretically accept that some men like tall women, but if one is interested in you, it must be because he's a loser with no better options?
A related exercise is to pick someone who's considered attractive, and then imagine you're them and that you're really insecure about your appearance. Pick out minor flaws of "yours" to make an argument that you're unsightly. Of course, this is ridiculous, and that person is good looking, and any small flaws they have don't change that, or even add a bit of character to their appearance. Doing it for someone else can drive home how you may be making too much out of your own unnoticeable imperfections, and missing the overall picture that you look fine.
Realize you've got a range of potential attractiveness levels
Some people have nicer looking natural features than others, but we all have the potential to look better or worse on some days. An average looking guy can appear much more attractive if you put him in a sharp suit, style his hair in a flattering way, and have him project a confident, happy vibe. That same guy can look slovenly and dorky with bad clothes, grooming, and body language. Similarly, some women can look plain and mousy before they get dressed up and do their hair and makeup, but gorgeous after.
Most people don't go all out with their appearance every day, but knowing you have the potential to look a lot better can make you feel a bit more secure when you're not as dolled up. When you look in the mirror after you've just got out of bed, rather than telling yourself you're inherently frumpy, you can see yourself as a more attractive person who temporarily looks worse because you haven't taken some time to get rid of your bedhead and put on some real clothes.
If you've never done so, it can be eye opening to really get dressed up and see what your peak attractiveness is. You may not be aware of how good you can look under the right circumstances. If you want to go the extra mile, get dressed up, and then have professional photos taken. Not only can this boost your confidence, but it can also take away some of the mystique of unattainably hot public figures when you see firsthand how the same tricks can work on you.
Look back and really question the negative comments you got about your appearance in the past
A lot of our look-related insecurities form because of things other people say about us. Again, I won't try to paint an unrealistically rosy picture. Sometimes these comments are accurate, though still mean-spirited. Like someone might get teased for having an overbite when they really do have one. At other times the comments people made were wrong, but we believed them at the time, and haven't questioned them since. Children tend to unskeptically accept the things they hear about themselves. Like you may have gone all your life believing your normal sized head was too big, because of one random insult someone made to you in the fourth grade.
Go back over the comments people made about your appearance and give them more scrutiny. Some of them may clearly turn out to be wrong when you really think about them for a few seconds ("My aunt said I was fat, but looking back I was a totally normal weight at the time.") Also, dig into people's possible motives. Even if they correctly pointed out a minor flaw you have, they may have made it out to be worse than it was ("Sure, I was slightly chubby as a kid, but my mom's comments were more about her own eating issues than about how I looked."; "Yeah, I have a small gap in my front teeth, but no one else has ever said anything about it. The bully who did was only trying to hurt my feelings.")
Learn to use your body effectively in other ways
People who dislike their looks can have a strained relationship with their bodies in general, and mainly see them as a source of stress and disappointment. You may come to like your body more if you do more with it than view it as a means for looking cute to strangers or not. For one, try more physical and creative activities. Push yourself and learn what your body is capable of. Try to find a physical skill you're naturally good at. That can help you view your physique in a more positive, well-rounded light (e.g., "I'm really lanky, which makes rock climbing way easier.")
What not to do: Putting down other people's appearances to try to make yourself feel better in comparison
This is a pretty classic insecure person move, but it doesn't work. It may momentarily make you feel better, but long term it cultivates a toxic, negative mindset, and does nothing to address your real issues. It also subconsciously sends you the message that if you're like this, then everyone else must also be really critical, which can make you even more paranoid about how people see you.
Try to cut down on the little habits that help sustain your insecurities
When we feel insecure about our looks we tend to do things that we hope will reassure ourselves or clarify where we stand, but which actually increase our uncertainty and self doubt. Consciously trying to cut down on these habits can help keep thoughts about your looks out of your mind. Again, it doesn't address the root problem, but can reduce some of the day to day unhappy chatter going through your head. Try to stop habits such as:
- Checking yourself out in every mirror or window to see if you look good or bad in that instant ("Phew, I looked okay that time... Damn, my features looked old in that store window...")
- Picking through every photo someone puts up of you, to see how good you look
- Making regular close examinations of a feature you're not happy with (e.g., scrutinizing your nose in the mirror from all angles)
- Checking out other people's features and comparing them to your own ("How does her arm fat compare to mine?")
- Taking tons of photos of yourself and then over-analyzing how you look in them
- Consuming lots of appearance-related media, like fashion and fitness websites or YouTube channels
- Measuring yourself constantly (e.g., weighing yourself, measuring the size of your arms, calculating your body fat percentage)
Seek reassurance from people
Sometimes we'll feel insecure about our overall looks or a particular feature, and we haven't gotten anyone's direct feedback on it and really aren't sure where we stand. Just hearing from someone else that we look fine, or that our forehead is completely normally, and not huge like you were told in middle school, can be all we need to put the matter to rest.
Of course, this doesn't always go smoothly. Some people are told they look amazing constantly and they refuse to accept it, because it's too far out of line with what they "know" to be true. It's also possible to get a short-lived boost from reassurance, but then want more soon after.
Make improvements to your looks
As I said toward the beginning of the article, some people are good looking, but see themselves as less attractive. Others are unhappy with how they look because they justifiably realize aspects of their appearance aren't as good as they could be. If they could make themselves look better than they'd feel more secure with themselves. It speaks to that larger contradiction with self-esteem: On one hand it's good to self-accepting and be okay with yourself as you are now. On the other hand, you can't help but know if certain aspects of your life are up to your standards are not. When they are you tend to feel better.
This suggestion can make a difference if you've got clear areas where you could make improvements, and you have realistic expectations about how much you can adjust them. It can backfire if you try to perfect your already-good features, or you feel there's no point unless you can make yourself look flawless. It's also possible putting more focus on your looks, so you can change them, will also cause your insecurities to temporarily flare up. If you can account for this, and manage it if it comes up, the risk may be worth it. Generally, it's good to try to address your insecurities in other ways first, so when you make more hands-on changes your mentality will be in a more helpful place.
Here are some changeable aspects of your look you could improve:
Your grooming and sense of fashion
What we wear and how we groom and style ourselves makes a huge impact on how attractive we appear. If you have an unflattering haircut and wear bland, dowdy clothes, you're simply not going to look as good as you can. Another thing is that other people tend to judge us more on our clothing and grooming choices than our natural features. That's because we instinctively understand someone can't change their height or the shape of their chin, but their style and grooming are under their control and can give us hints about what kind of person they are. If someone is really poorly put together we assume it's a sign they may have other problems.
Possibly finding a less-conventional style that works for you
More attractive people can dress in any halfway reasonable outfit and still look good. Other people do better or worse with some looks than others. For example, if you take a chubby, bald, bearded guy and put him in glasses and a cheap business casual outfit, many people will see him as a stereotypical IT dork. That same guy in a biker or metalhead outfit starts looking more burly and edgy. This isn't to say you have to join a whole subculture that doesn't interest you, but you could still use stereotypes to your advantage and incorporate certain elements into your look. Like a taller, chubbier guy could wear some vaguely biker-esque clothing to give his look a bit of edge. (That's not a formal fashion suggestion by the way, just an example. Biker clothes might look lame or out of fashion on some guys, but you get the idea).
Your posture, body language, and facial expressions
All in all confident non-verbal communication looks better. You've probably met someone who wasn't the best looking, but they had a confident vibe and you couldn't help but see them as more attractive than they technically were. People who feel they're ugly often carry themselves in a self-doubting, sadsack way, which doesn't display their natural features in the best light. You don't need to come across as hyper-confident, just more or less self-assured. That means things like standing up straight, seeming fairly friendly and cheerful, and generally not looking meek and down on yourself.
Aside from the importance of confidence, sometimes aspects of people's default body language don't do them any favors. Like they may unintentionally have a goofy looking smile, or slouch in a way that makes their stomach stick out, or come across as more tense or unfriendly than they're feeling. With practice you can consciously adjust much of your non-verbal communication.
Your weight and fitness levels
This point is not to say you can only be a svelte 110 pounds as a woman, or 190 pounds of well-defined muscle if you're a man. It's more that even if you're on the heavier or skinnier side, and are fine with that and it's working for you, there's still probably a weight and level of fitness where you'd look your best. Like if you're happy with being a curvier woman, there's still a difference between being 170 pounds vs 370. If you're slimmer guy you'll look better being in shape than skinny fat.
Of course, while your weight and fitness can have a big affect on how you look, it's no secret that it's the hardest aspect of your appearance to change. It can be a pain to learn about fashion and go clothes shopping, but ultimately that takes a relatively small amount of time and effort. Having a procedure to fix your skin costs money, but once you've saved up and paid for it, it can then be done fairly quickly. Staying at a certain weight or maintaining a certain level of muscle along with a low body fat percentage takes much, much more work. It can literally be a lifelong project, which requires energy and discipline every day. Trying to lose weight can bring up other mental baggage you'll have to deal with, like using food as an emotional coping strategy. More than with the other suggestions in this article, I don't want to imply that just because I can write it, and you can read it, that it's easy to just go out and do.
Medical interventions to change your physical features
This could mean dental work, plastic surgery, hair transplants, or skin procedures to remove acne scarring. If you have a feature that detracts from your appearance like crooked teeth or ears that clearly stick out too much, fixing them might be a good option. You don't have to of course. Some people accept these quirks in their appearance and still live good lives. However, others are happy to be rid of them and feel they look much better once that one weak spot is gone.
Generally other people have no problems with dental work or skin treatments, but can look down more at plastic surgery. They may see it as vain, and think that people should accept themselves as they are. They'll point to sad stories of already gorgeous celebrities who've had a dozen pointless procedures to tweak the size of their nostrils. No one's denying that cosmetic surgery is sometimes done for unhealthy, unnecessary reasons. However, many people who do it report they're satisfied with their decision. They had one body part they weren't thrilled with and were glad to fix it.
Plastic surgery can be a good choice if you're doing it for the right reasons and you have realistic expectations. Here are some psychological traits that make someone a good candidate:
- They're more or less happy with their lives and secure with themselves, but the look of one body part has always bugged them. They want to fix it to take a weight off their shoulders.
- They're doing it for themselves, not because of outside pressure from their partner, family, or employer.
- They don't think making some tweaks to one body part will radically alter their appearance or make them much more attractive. They realize they'll still look more-or-less the same, just with that one part more in proportion to the rest of their features.
- They don't need or expect the surgery to make the part look flawless, just to make it look less extreme and hopefully bring it into average, unnoticeable territory (e.g., to change a big nose into a typical looking one no one would think twice about).
- They don't think tweaking one body part will dramatically change their lives. They expect they'll feel less self-conscious about that specific feature, and maybe a little more confident overall, but they don't think it will turn them into a whole new person. They know removing a few millimeters of bone from the bridge of their nose won't erase the fact that they have trouble setting boundaries with their friends, are bored with their job, and resent their parents for being too critical.
On the other hand poor candidates have unrealistic hopes of the surgery radically transforming their appearance and fixing all their problems. They don't view their appearance accurately and think they have tons of glaring issues, when other people think they look fine. They want to change everything about themselves, not just one feature. They have deeper-seated self-esteem issues, where even if they were to fix one aspect of their appearance, their insecurities would just glom onto another one. Any good plastic surgeon will screen potential patients to see if their expectations are reasonable and if they'd psychologically benefit from the procedure.
Learning how to be more photogenic
One thing that bothers some people about their appearance is that they never seem to look good in photos. You can learn to look more natural and comfortable on camera. You can find the poses that look the most flattering for you. This doesn't mean you have to become vain and spend hours a day taking practice selfies. It's more about knowing how to put your best foot forward, and getting to a point where every time a friend wants to take a picture you don't flinch away and think of how weird you're going to look in it.
Just learn to act in spite of any lingering insecurities
Sometimes you'll have done all you can - you've improved your appearance, tried to see the ways you are attractive, accepted the things you can't change, etc. - but you still feel insecure. You know you're not that bad looking, but you still feel that way. Maybe you'll overcome those feelings with more work down the line, but for now they're still there. You're at the point where you just need to act is if those insecurities weren't there. You have to introduce yourself to those guests at that party, even if you're inwardly worried they think you're overweight. It's kind of like how if you're prone to headaches you can do all you can to minimize them, but sometimes you still get one and you just have to go on with your day.