As a plastic surgeon specializing in rhinoplasty in Beverly Hills, California, some of the most rewarding work I do is having open conversations with people about just how beautiful they already are.
They share with me insecurities related to their physical appearance, which often reveal a deeper story. After thousands of patient consultations, I’ve come to understand the truth: every single person on this planet is united in feeling “ugly” in some physical way at one time or another.
Our concepts of ugly have been programmed into us by our cultures, and our perceptions of beauty have been unconsciously shaped by voices around us. We’ve all been trained to think we have to look a certain way to be considered beautiful or good-looking. This is all taught to us, often at a young age.
Depending on where we live, we’re taught different things. When we compare Asian cultures to Middle Eastern cultures to South American cultures, we see their concepts of beauty are dramatically different, not because of natural programming, but because of the way they were taught about beauty.
Likewise, if we go to an African jungle culture where tribal leaders expect the females to elongate their necks using stacked rings, they’re not doing that for fun. They’re doing that because they have been taught that is how to become the most beautiful woman in the tribe.
These varied concepts of beauty exist for a wide variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that they are simply made-up, completely fabricated by social constructs. When we understand that those constructs exist and see them with a heightened self-awareness, we become empowered when it comes to how we think about our own appearance.
For example, as you read these words, why are you wearing the clothing you have on right now? Why have you styled your hair the way you did today? Are you wearing make-up, or did you engage in some sort of personal grooming? Why? I suggest that those choices you made today about your appearance have been shaped by the social constructs that taught you to look a certain way.
Each of us has been shaped by these constructs. It is this struggle to look and feel beautiful that unites us, but we must see the voices that shape us for what they are so we can free ourselves to be beautiful just as we are. Unfortunately, when it comes to assessing our own beauty, we tend to blindly follow the perceptions of others.
Once you become aware of the voices that shape your perceptions of beauty, you can filter them and relax instead of feeling like you have to conform to the expectations of others to be beautiful.
When perceptions are askew, we do not see ourselves as wetruly are.
Many of the patients who have come to me experience their perceived flaws in an all-consuming way, which is not mentally healthy. When someone comes to me who seems hyper-focused to the extreme on a beauty “problem”, I ask them to take a step back to check their perceptions.
“What Bothers You?”
A lot of what I believe about telling the truth about beauty was shaped by my own story. My mentor, Dr. Raj Kanodia, helped me understand the concept of beauty in terms of ethics and honesty because of how he practices.
The first thing he helped me see was that as a plastic surgeon, it doesn’t have to be only about surgery; it can really be about the conversation. Dr. Kanodia taught me to immediately pick out all of someone’s best features and share that with them. I love your eyes. I love the way your lips look,etc.
The second critical thing he taught me was to never plant your perceptions of beauty into someone else’s mind. Let them come to you with their own perceptions. I always ask, “What bothers you?”
As a result of this early mentoring, I came to understand that often I can impact someone more by talking to them than by wielding my scalpel, and so when the situation calls for it, that’s what I’ll do.
There is a toxic self-deprecating culture that has permeated our society to feel less valued in our perceptions of ourselves instead of feeling more valued in our perceptions. There actually isn’t an ideal body or appearance, just perceptions and opinions about what is best.
No one is immune from these distorted perceptions. Everyone shares in the struggle to want to feel beautiful, yet fear they are only different shades of ugly. The reality is that if you think you look ugly, you are very likely the only person who shares your perception. What you think makes you less attractive is probably not even noticed by most others.
I have learned, during the ten-thousand-plus conversations I’ve had with patients on their perceptions of beauty, that a majority of them have a need for external validation, versus finding that validation from within.
As humans, we are naturally inclined to place importance on our physical appearance. It’s why we compare ourselves to others in our friend circle or celebrities in magazines.
We admire them and then start to compare ourselves to them. Then when we believe we don’t measure up externally, our feelings of insecurity about our appearance start to grow.
What’s truly special and interesting about you is what’s inside of you; something that can’t be measured by an artificial beauty standard.