When you see photographs of yourself, what do you notice?
Do you see yourself as you are?
Or do you see what you believe is there?
The reason that I’m asking this is that for many many years I didn’t see what was there.
I saw what I thought was there.
You see, when I was much younger I got some very fixed ideas about my appearance.
At school I wasn’t one of the popular girls. I didn’t get into makeup and hair very early on, and I certainly wasn’t obsessed with it as some of the people I went to school with were (the curse of an all-girls school I guess!)
I wasn’t one of the ‘popular crowd’, I wasn’t one of the girls that the boys were interested in or asked out…in fact I don’t think that many of them even noticed me.
Combine these facts with my grandmother’s insistence on describing one of my closest friends as ‘Claire’s Pretty Friend’ (…as opposed to…?) and my perception of my own personal appearance wasn’t very high.
…and, being perfectly honest, this perception stuck with me for a long time.
Even when boyfriends described me as ‘beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’ I would often rationalise it by thinking that they were the exception to the rule, that they were talking about who I was on the inside or that they were saying that because ‘that’s what boyfriends are supposed to say’!
I spent years battling to be ‘skinnier’ than I was, trying diet after diet….I even tried the awful atkins and slimfast options at various points.. One word…yuk.
Taking on my ‘one of the boys’ mentality meant that I hid my body behind jeans and baggy jumpers for the most part. I remember one ex boyfriend even commenting how surprised he was the first time he saw me in a dress…not just because I was wearing a dress, but he couldn’t believe how slim I was because he assumed my baggy tops were covering more weight than they were.
Over time I became more comfortable with how I looked, but I never saw myself as particularly attractive, and I certainly wouldn’t have used the word ‘beautiful’ to describe myself.
Over the last few years though, something shifted.
I started noticing some of the comments I was receiving…and how many positive remarks I was getting about my appearance.
A random tweet from a friend I’d not seen in years introducing me to his followers as “One of the most beautiful woman I have ever met” really surprised me.
I have received so many lovely and humbling comments about photos that I’ve shared on Facebook and videos that I’ve shared…it got to the point that I couldn’t ignore what was being said to me anymore.
One day I realised that I wasn’t seeing myself as I was, or how anyone else was seeing me. I was seeing myself as the plain, unpopular teenager who didn’t feel pretty next to her attractive friends.
…and I wasn’t the only one.
So many women see something different to what’s really there.
Several years ago one of my favourite TV shows was called “How to look good naked”. In it, the fabulous Gok Wan would take women who hated their bodies through a process to reconnect them with the beauty of their gorgeous real figures.
Part of the process was the “Gok Shock”, displaying images of their body somewhere agonisingly public and have people from the street comment on what they could see.
This video of the lovely Angela shows how drastically different a person’s perception of themselves can be from what other people see…she even manages to pick up a date along the way!
Another part of the process was to get the lady in question to do a line up with other women, looking at a particular area of her body that she disliked. Gok would line up the other women from smallest to largest (of the body part in question) and then get her to position herself at the point in the line where she believed that she belonged.
Every time without exception the women would place themselves in the wrong place…always seeing themselves as larger than they actually were. This video of the lovely Cindy shows that her perception of her tummy meant that she was walking around with an extra 2.5” of imagined weight on her waistline.
It’s no wonder with the bombardment of ‘perfect’ women in the media that we question our own appearance at times, but we need to see it for what it is…an illusion. Almost every image we see is doctored, tweaked…or changed completely…it’s not real.
After all, in real life each and every one of us is perfectly imperfect…and that’s beautiful.
So I would like to invite you to take a good look in the mirror today, to release any past perceptions that you might have had…and to see yourself for the beautiful woman that you are.
Because it’s about time that we all recognise our own beauty…and start to celebrate it!
So smile, find three things that you love about your appearance and say them out loud….you deserve the compliments! 🙂