Monday, July 28, 2014

Make Peace With Your Looks

How do you respond when someone says something positive about your looks, tells you you're attractive–for example, likes the way you wear your hair, or the sparkle in your eyes, or your beautiful smile?  If you're like most people, you probably dismiss what they say, because the critic in you doesn't believe it, or, at the least, is suspect of it.  So you put yourself down. You say something self-depracating, something that says you know you're not worthy of their kinds words.  

I was reminded recently, when I received an email from a reader in the United States, of how I used to do this all the time.  In part, he wrote:

Another insecurity is my body.  I don't feel fully confident with my body, though I'm not heavy.  In fact, I'm tall and I think [I have an] "average" build, though X. tells me "I think you are perfect the way you are." He's so sweet.  Following our recent trip, he told me that he can sense I'm insecure about my body.  I asked him how and he said when I touch you, I can tell.  I told him the insecurity about my body comes from the pressures of the gay world, how we are so visual and that having a lean or muscular body is the goal.  X. told me it's all in how you see yourself, think about those pressures and standards.  It's true.  I hope to get more secure about things soon.

Wow!  Could I relate.

Here's what I wrote to my reader in response:

What I learned from being with Chris is this:  I used to put my body down [how I looked] all the time too, because I struggled with feeling good about myself (for the same reasons you do).  Yet Chris would always compliment me.  He said I looked great, that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.  Later, he pointed out that, when I put myself down after he'd complimented me, I put him down too, because I called into question what he’d said about me.  If he said I looked great, but I said I didn’t, wasn't I calling him a liar?  Didn't I suggest he didn’t know what he was talking about?  See what I’m getting at?  

If someone pays you a compliment, accept it gracefully.  You don't have to do anything more than say "Thank you."  You are not expected to object.  X. obviously sees something in you.  Maybe you don’t see it now, but you should.  Until then, go along with it.  Believe me, he's looking at you in a more levelheaded, fairer way than you’re looking at yourself.  Don’t insult him by suggesting you’re not as attractive as he thinks you are.  In other words, don’t give him a reason to push away from you.  Just accept what he says and believe he’s being sincere.  Make sense?

The lesson here is, we need to see ourselves as others see us, which is far less subjective, harsh, and unrealistic.  Sure, we have to live with ourselves all the time.  Sure, we see what we consider our flaws whenever we look in a mirror, or when we're in the shower, or when we get dressed.  But are they really flaws?  Not at all.  They are nothing more than those things that make us human, that make us who we are, and they are neither worse nor better than anyone else's. They just are.

Learn to love what you don't like about yourself, because there's a good chance you're the only one who's hung up on it.  Chances are, someone thinks what you're hung up on is what makes you special, what makes you, you.

Accepting how you look is foremost on the list of the things you need to do to improve that relationship with yourself–and, coincidentally, with those around you.  Make peace with how you look.  Like I've written before, your body is merely a vessel.  It's what's in that vessel that means the most.  That's what you should work on.  

There are so many more important things in your life than how you look, which, as you get older, you'll (hopefully) come to realize.    

Looks are fleeting; character is forever.        


  1. Thank you for this interesting post. While I can understand what you say, and it has it's validity, I always feel like there is some underlining factors that are sometimes at play.

    As someone that doesn't normally have people come onto him, or doesn't have relationships, it's fair to say that compliments don't come my way very often. When they do come from a stranger, I'm not skeptical. When they come from someone I know, I'm highly skeptical.

    A lot of people I know tend to offer lots of compliments in the "after getting to know someone for awhile" stage of friendships, and in nearly every instance I've found out someway or another that they are just saying those things to try to make you feel better, even if they aren't true.

    So when you say you like my hair, when you don't; what does that say about me? So when you say you like my body, when you don't; what does that say about me? It sounds picky, but the genuineness of the comment is what is important, and I think people can generally tell when someone is being for real.

    And as a further point, I know myself and where I fit into society. I know what my visual strengths are, so when some sort of compliment comes my way from an area that is outside of those "strengths," I can be quite skeptical. Having said that, other people's opinions are valid too.

    At the end of the day I'd rather someone compliment me about something on the inside, but frankly speaking people don't stick around long enough or care enough to look that deeply. Just my two cents. :)

  2. You've contributed far more than two-cents worth here, oskyldig. This is a very thoughtful and insightful comment, and I always appreciate those.

    I guess what I was trying to say here is, does it really matter what other people think of how we look? All of us have visual strengths, as you aptly put it, and most of us should be aware of our own. There's nothing wrong with playing those up; in fact, we should. But I'm still of the opinion that, in the grand scheme of things, how we look isn't important, or it shouldn't be. (I also understand that's a naive position, given how caught up our culture is in physical attractiveness, and how physical attractiveness often plays a role in one's destiny–for example, the most attractive people get the best jobs, etc.).

    The other point I want to make is this: I'm all for people working on improving how they appear to others (although I think we can agree that can be taken too far). If you don't like something about yourself (let's say you're overweight), then by all means work on living a healthier lifestyle that will allow you to reduce your weight to normal range for your height, age, etc.). But I think people are far less likely to do something about their physical appearance, if they don't like themselves enough to do it, or, worse, if they don't think they're worth it.

    This post was about saying, we're all worth it. We should all work on being as attractive as we can be, if that is a priority in our lives. But I come back to the last line in the post: Looks are fleeting (boy, are they ever, the older we get), and character is forever.

    Thanks for your contribution to this subject. Your points are important ones, and we can all relate to them in our own lives.

  3. Hello, Rick and Chris!
    Remember me? I hope you still do. ^_^

    It's been like forever since the last time i came here. You are like my mentor, Rick. And i will always be forever grateful for you and your amazing blog.

    First thing first, how are you and Chris? I hope you guys are doing great. I'm great too!

    I read this post first from my inbox. I always read your post from my email but this one intrigued me more to also leave some comment. So here i am. I'm sorry (again) for my not so perfect English.

    I dated this guy about eight months ago. In the end we actually had to end it because our LDR were getting pretty bad. But we definitely had our awesome moments together.

    I like to believe that I'm not so good looking aesthetically. Ugly is a strong word, but i think some could put me in Ugly section when they see me. That's why I'm so shy and always walk with my head looking down to the pavements. Then entered this guy. We met at the first time on Facebook. But it took me two years to gather my courage to ask him out. We went to lunch first then went to watch movies together. On our third or fourth date, he complimented my look. You're so handsome, he said. And that sounded so sincere it made me blush. He had this habit of watching me in my awkwardness. He told me that I'm cute every now and then. I never said thank you to him for his beautiful and uplifting compliments. I always responded his compliments with either 'stop lying' or 'no' I'm not. I'm ugly.' Then i would walked away from him or did something to distract him from me. I realized that all of my responds were basically came from my image insecurity. I didn't even let this amazing guy to compliment me. I don't meet a lot of gays and he's like the second person who ever gave me nice compliments every day. He helped me to overcome my insecurity too. He taught me a lot really. But eventually not all relationship are sunshine, right?

    I still have some issue with how i define myself, about my image insecurity. But i keep trying to be better and be more positive and value myself more. I suggest that the person who wrote that letter to do what Rick did when he overcame his image insecurity. It takes time, sure, but in the end of will worth it. You'll see that you're actually handsome.

    1. Of course I remember you, Aries boy. Of course I do. And I'm so glad to hear from you again. You sound like all is well, and I'm grateful for that.

      What you described here is the perfect example of what I was talking about. We are always hardest on ourselves, especially when it comes to how we look.

      Then someone we've never met comes along, and he sees us in a whole new way. He sees something about us that is beautiful or attractive or handsome or cute. And I believe we have no choice but to take note that maybe, just maybe, we don't look as bad as we thought we did. I believe we have to let in the new information, sit with it for a bit, and maybe even change the way we see ourselves, as a result.

      Maybe this wonderful person, who is among the first to say something nice about how we look, how we present ourselves to the world, knows something we don't. Maybe we should accept his gift. Maybe all we need to do is say "Thank you."

      Of course, I'd still prefer if the world around us didn't place so much emphasis on physical appearance. I certainly don't believe how we look is the most important thing about us. But that's not realistic, is it? And it sure gives us a lift when someone pays us a compliment. There's purpose in that too.

      Thank you so much for all your kind words about my blog. I really appreciate them. It's great to know you're still checking in from time to time.

      I sincerely hope to hear from you again, so you can let me know how you're doing. Take good care of yourself, okay?

  4. Sometimes when I get a compliment, I feel pressure to say "Oh come ON!"...not because I don't believe the compliment, but because I feel like we're supposed to sound self-depracating and 'humble'. It's false humility. When my partner gives me a compliment, however, it's certainly genuine, and I'm in agreement with him, and grateful for the moment...because he doesn't just say things to say them. :-)

    1. I agree with what you said in your comment, Simon. I think there's the unspoken expectation in our culture that the only way to accept a compliment about how we look is to be self-deprecating.

      On the other hand, would saying a simple "thank you," as I recommend in the post, be any worse? I don't think so.

      I don't receive a lot of compliments on my physical appearance, but, when I do, I sincerely appreciate them, and I'm only too happy to show that appreciation by saying "thank you." Those two simple words validate someone's kindness, and make me feel like I've finally discovered the best way to respond.

      Thanks for your interest in my blog and for taking the time to write a comment.