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.