It is commonplace to hear that the media is to blame for the negative voices in our head about beauty. But it’s not just media and the movie stars, television actors, and social media influencers who shape our beauty perceptions.
After culture, the real-life people we hang out with are the biggest influencers on our perceptions of beauty—romantic relationships, friends, and family—usually in that order.
These are a huge factor in defining how beautiful you feel and how confident you are. If your special someone tells you you’re beautiful, it’s obviously going to make you feel good about yourself. Even if you don’t think you align with cultural beauty standards, knowing someone you care about thinks you’re beautiful will often (though not always) mean more.
These relationships are the next most influential in shaping our beauty perceptions. If you’re friends with people who are uplifting about how amazing and beautiful and great you are, you likely feel confident and energized being around them.
But if you are around people making you more self-conscious about the way you look or dress on a daily basis, this could easily bring your energy and confidence down.
For example, if you hang around Sue who is always saying, Oh, you’d be so cute if you did this…. Would you feel your energy level drop and your anxiety go up about your looks?
That’s when you may realize you may need to filter some real-life people from your life and not only on social media! What and who you allow into your headspace is truly important in terms of whether or not you perceive yourself to be beautiful.
These are probably the least influential voices we listen to when it’s a positive comment (after all, because she’s my mom, she has to say I’m beautiful). Paradoxically, though, these voices can be the most influential when it comes to negative comments (even my dad says I’m fat, so Imust be hideous).
Mental health counselors hear stories every day from people whose parents messed up their self-worth and self-image. For that matter, so do I!
Healing from our childhood traumas and any damage to our self-esteem is a huge part of growing into the beautiful beings we strive to be.
Acknowledging how positive or negative our families may have been, in our perceptions of ourselves is a burden we must all undertake before any healing can begin.
But it is important to remember that whether it’s your partner, your friends, or your family, all of their perceptions of beauty were influenced by the perceptions of their partners, friends, and families as well. This is an ongoing cycle of influence over perceptions of beauty that we continue to spread and propagate.
And while the Western cultural ideal of beauty is largely accepted as the beauty standard we are all programmed by, there are also unique ways beauty is perceived among different cultures around the world.
Examining these differences is helpful for understanding the fluid nature of our perceptions of beauty.
What to Do With Negative Family & Friends
Limiting and filtering your exposure to media that leaves you feeling less is one thing. But what if some of the people in your life are those negative voices?
One blogger on a parenting site shared an experience she had with her mother:
My mother has commented on my looks hundreds of times since I was a child, and I thought it would stop when I grew up. It hasn’t. I get praise when I meet her definition of what’s attractive and criticism when I don’t. She said it again, just in case I hadn’t heard it the first time. “Oh, now you have a pooch in the back AND in the front.”
Nobody laughed. Nothing effectively curbs her commentary, but I tried a different tack anyway: “You know what they’d call that at (my daughter’s) elementary school? They’d say that was unkind.”
Parents can be one of the most painful sources of negative input, yet often don’t realize their words are hurtful because they are well-intentioned. If this is an issue that resonates with you, it is time to establish healthy boundaries.
But how do you politely tell a parent to rein in comments that are hurtful to you?
Therapists suggest you be specific about what you would like and what the consequences will be if the boundary is crossed. Perhaps you can say something like, “Mom, your comments about my weight are hurtful. If you comment on my weight in any way, I am not going to continue this conversation.”
You can expect people to have a negative reaction at first to your newly-established boundaries, but if you are determined and consistent with enforcing them, most people will eventually adjust.
In the case of the blogger above, she decided to confront her mother by writing her a letter:
It stops here. I mean that in the most respectful way…. If you had lobbed your hatred of my weight at me during a time when my daughter wasn’t there, it would have had a different impact. But here’s something for you to think about. Is this really what you want the next generation of our family’s women to learn? That it’s okay to cut down a female family member based on her appearance? Is this what you want to perpetuate? … I’ve learned that I am more than how I look. I accept myself. I have something to offer the world, and it can’t be captured by numbers on the bathroom scale or the tags on my clothing.
Remember, just because someone has said something derogatory or insensitive about your appearance, it doesn’t make it true. Their words do not have the power to affect you unless you decide to take them to heart. Ask yourself if that person’s opinion really matters, then make the intentional decision to let their thoughtless comments go.
Managing Input from Outsiders
We live in a day and age where the anonymity of the metaverse allows people to make comments without any ramifications. Though it is less common, sometimes people do say hurtful things to others even in real life.
If someone is thoughtless, rude, or unkind, it is understandably tempting to respond angrily, but that can leave you feeling bad, too.
Instead, try some of the following tactics to let the other person know you heard them but you are not going to let their comments phase you.
- Walk away. If the person’s comment seems to be a direct confrontation, your best bet is to just walk away, especially if you feel threatened. Anyone who is rude enough to make negative comments about your appearance isn’t going to be interested in anything you have to say back to them. When you walk away, you show that you are in control, not bothering to respond to their rudeness because they are not worth your time.
- Give the person a look. Don’t say anything; just look them in the eye for a couple of seconds, then look away. You could also maintain eye contact and frown or raise your eyebrows. They will get the message.
- Speak up. Be direct. But with Low Expectation. Say something like, “I don’t think it is very nice to say things about someone’s appearance,” or, “It seems like you have a problem with the way I look. I don’t have a problem with my appearance.”
- Remember your positive affirmations. If you don’t feel like you can actively let someone know they are out of line, then remind yourself that they are wrong: What they think is not my problem. I would never be unkind enough to speak that way. There is much more to me than one person’s opinion of how I look.
“Mom Stop Trashing My Appearance – It’s Bad for the Grandkids”, Parentco, November 3, 2016, https://www.parent.com/blogs/conversations/mom-stop-trashing-my-appearance-its-bad-for-the-grandkids.