Feeling like a fraud when faced with compliments about my looks: How to Deal
August 30, 2012 11:22 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop from feeling like I am a fraud (because I have a lot of flaws) when people tell me I'm physically beautiful? This insecurity in my looks/my reaction to compliments is affecting my life in a lot of ways. I'd appreciate any and all advice on how to deal with this!

I am a 20 year old girl living at home and attending university. On the surface, I seem super confident--I'm highly extroverted and friendly with everyone, I seem rather attractive and I'm easy to get along with. I answer lots of questions in all my classes and though I may come across scatterbrained, I think I also come across as pretty intelligent. I am usually (part of the) life of a party, dancing and talking and flirting with everyone ( though, I'll say that I'm usually hugely ashamed of myself the day after....). However, the surface lies. I've got really deep-rooted body image and other insecurities that refuse to be exterminated.

The crux of my issue is this : I feel like I'm fooling everyone with my supposed "beauty".

I get a lot of compliments from people who don't know me very well--usually along the lines that I am really beautiful and confident--and I feel like a big fraud. I am not beautiful, not when I am naked. I feel like when someone says I am beautiful, I have the urge to immediately tell them about my flaws--My biggest one being the stretch marks I carry on my hips and butt. I feel like I do this to tell them that I'm not beautiful, to assure them they are not correct, but I guess it leaves a sour taste in our mouths afterwards. I have stopped doing this, but I cannot stop thinking this--if I go out and I look good outwardly and some good looking guys check me out, I feel like wow! If only they could see my butt! No, seriously. It's weird. .. I sometimes am so overwhelmed by disgust by my flaws that it makes me anxious, depressed, and stressed out. (I also have rather large areolas. Those bother me, too. I've heard guys who badmouth big ones.)
It's kind of worse now, that I get mild breakouts. I never used to get any breakouts but as soon as I turned 19 I've been getting zits that leave marks. These marks take a few weeks/months to go away and so I've been using makeup to cover them. I feel like when someone compliments my skin, I always tell them about my acne problems and the post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. I just HATE the feeling that I'm fooling them! The difference without the makeup is pretty stark.
I feel like if there was no makeup or clothing in society, I would be considered really ugly. I know it's a weird thing to think about, but shouldn't beauty be unaffected by the absence of cosmetics and the illusion provided by clothing? If so, aren't I fooling people? I get nervous thinking about a potential boyfriend who would be attracted to my looks, or tell me I'm beautiful. Sooner or later, he'd see that I am rather physically flawed, wouldn't he? How could I still be 'beautiful' after that? I KNOW this sounds so immature. But it's the conversation that goes on in my mind. It's really bad.

I hope this wasn't a total ramble. I'm really sorry if it was. It should be noted that I DON'T always feel this way--it's 50/50. A lot of the times, I feel decent about myself, I feel like I look really good, and I know I have a lot of people (family especially) who love me and care about me. I also am aware I have a ton of awesome potential. But when the insecurities come back, they hurt so badly--they make me lethargic, unmotivated, and ruin the discipline I've worked hard to build in various parts of my life.
Please give me any suggestions! I *do* see a counsellor at my school who is AMAZING!!!! but I'd like some advice that's more self-help than therapy. I want to work through this by myself! I want to be successful at overcoming this insecurity by myself.

Thanks so much! This is an amazing community and I'm grateful for any responses/suggestions you may have to offer.
posted by rhythm_queen to Human Relations (67 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The platitude "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" couldn't be more right.

I can understand feeling like a fraud when it comes to work, or being nice, or just about anything, but there really isn't an argument against someone thinking you're beautiful. Physical attractiveness is just about the most subjective measure out there, so if someone says you're beautiful, there is no way to argue against it.

Maybe they're "wrong," by your standards, but there really isn't a way to be wrong about what you consider beautiful. I would take their word for it, just as an excercise, because maybe they can convince you that they're not the ones who are wrong...maybe you are.
posted by xingcat at 11:26 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think one thing that would help would be to remind yourself that everyone has flaws. Every single person on this planet has something about them that isn't perfect. Even the models in the magazines! Do you know how much they're airbrushed? Some of them even have moderate-to-severe acne (that you don't see because it's removed digitally). The prettiest woman or the most handsome man you've ever seen has something they either don't like about themselves or would just die inside if they knew someone else knew about it.

You're very young right now. You will learn as you get older that physical beauty is really, really fleeting. It truly is what's inside that counts. Your inner beauty shines through in your smile or in the way you care for others or in some other way that isn't tangible by simply looking at you. I'm nearly 42 now and I am so comfortable in my (admittedly flawed) skin that I cannot imagine being any other way. I truly wish I could have found this strength earlier.

One last thing: always, always take compliments with a smile and a thank you (and maybe a "That's so nice of you to say!")*. You'll end up feeling better about yourself in the long run if you can just do that.

*unless, of course, the compliment comes from a creeper...that's another issue altogether!
posted by cooker girl at 11:31 AM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hello fellow human.

No one is perfect. Everyone has issues with his or her body. You seem to put a lot of thought into your imperfections.

I'm fat. But I'm also beautiful. I too have stretch marks. Oh well.

I loathed my body when I was 20 and it's probably the best I've looked in my life. I missed out on so much because I was ashamed. Shit, if I could go back in time, I'd walk around naked because I looked amazing. At the time, I just couldn't see it.

I don't think this is something you can overcome by yourself. Based upon what you've written it sounds like you have a distorted view of your imperfections. You need to work this out with a counselor (as you are doing).

If someone is attracted to you, go with it. Who are you to say they're wrong about what they see? Where do you get off saying that you're not beautiful when others see that about you?

I suggest you join a gym, hang out in the locker room and get an eyefull when it's full of different people. There you will see all kinds of bodies, short, tall, pear-shaped, apple-shapped, saggy boobs, mastectomy scars, whathaveyou. Now, each of these folks has someone who thinks they're amazing, that they're beautiful. Just because they don't conform to an artificial standard of beauty (like you would see in a magazine, movie or on television) doesn't mean that they aren't beautiful.

So go, have fun with a guy, if he's lucky enough to see you naked, trust me, he ain't going to be concentrating on some stretch marks, or your areola. He's going to be thanking his lucky stars that this awesome lady is naked with him. Oh, and he loves your ass.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:32 AM on August 30, 2012 [17 favorites]

I think that most of the time when someone gives you a compliment, you have to accept it at face value. I know that there are big bits of me (Hello, belly!) that are not conventionally attractive and, honestly, some people are put of by them. But I can't control them. All I can do is learn to love me.

And it's tough sometimes. This love has to come from within and it can't be spurred from without. I see a lot of people feel temporarily good about themselves when they get a SO and they tell them that they're beautiful. But the old self-esteem knocks come back.

For every thing you tell yourself that other people won't like, there's someone out there who could find that to be the most beautiful thing about you: Blemishes, stretch marks, areolas. I think when someone really sees you for who you are, they just see this being that makes them happy and you are the most beautiful thing in the world to them.

But it's an internal struggle. I have good days and I have bad. But I do know I smile a lot more now than I ever have before. :)
posted by inturnaround at 11:33 AM on August 30, 2012

Beauty has nothing to do with perfection.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:35 AM on August 30, 2012 [20 favorites]

Best answer: The thing is, when someone sees you without makeup, it's usually because they love you and don't care/think about the difference. When you're out on the town with them you look fab, and when you're at home in your pajamas you look comfy. (I mean, certainly there are some assholes who would be super picky about this, but straight away put them in the Shallow Hal camp. They are being essentially unhuman in their view of relationships, and they are a minority.) My boyfriend compliments me on my nice makeup, but says he likes how cute and natural I look when I wake up next to him with none. Certainly I look "better" with the makeup, but human emotions change the way we perceive these things. Guys talk big and the media wants you to feel insecure and &c. &c., but human beings have a lot more tolerance for imperfections than you think. There is (unfortunately) a social expectation that women will wear makeup in public, so no one is going to think you are a fraud when they realize you look different in two different scenarios.

It's great that you're so confident and outgoing. I have a feeling you're a really neat person, who makes other people feel good about themselves (that's why they tell you that you're beautiful and confident, they want to make you feel good too). I often think the same thing about myself-- that without makeup I look rabbity and sick, and without cute clothes I have an average and boring body. But the thing is that we wear these things for society, and it's socially acceptable to make ourselves look different in the social world. (Another way to frame it is that it's society's fault that we feel we have to wear makeup and the right clothes &c., without that pressure we'd all look like our natural selves, and things would be different and beauty standards less unrealistic.) Your look is part of your personality, and that's fine. Stretch marks are normal (exceedingly common) and large areolas are normal. Would you dump a guy because his nipples were kind of big, or because he had stretch marks? Or because he looked really great in that tight black v-neck t-shirt on your date, but at home in a baggy t-shirt he looks like a normal guy? It doesn't really matter, when the rubber hits the road.

This is a not often acknowledged part of the harm of beauty standards at the conjunction of consumer culture: women feel like frauds for playing the game they're told they have to play to be of value. It's bullshit. You don't have to be militant or angry to reject it, just accept the nice things that people say about you. People know how these things go, you're not "tricking" them, they've been around the block. These things are more complicated than "wearing a mask."

Lastly, something I've learned is: the world is harsh. When someone offers you a compliment, take it!
posted by stoneandstar at 11:38 AM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Darling, all our butts have stretchmarks. Even some of those guys complimenting you. See also: weird moles, blemishes, hair in places where you wish it weren't/no hair in places you wish it were.

Luckily, both true love and even just moderate lust manage to look straight past that stuff, right to the beautiful parts.
posted by Ausamor at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

This problem is one that many, many people share, and it isn't limited to beauty. At the end of the day, simply recognize that one of two things is happening:

1: "You're beautiful/attractive/intelligent/clever/sexy/strong/talented" is being said by someone in order to compliment you, because it is socially appropriate to do so, and no response beyond "thank you" is necessary. Corollary: someone says "How are you today?" when they encounter you in the hallway, and the only response necessary is "Good, and you?" -- yet some folks get hung up on it, and either start sharing details of their lives or get stressed out in their heads because their lives aren't perfect and they don't want to admit it. So, "How are you today?" "Fine, thanks, and you?" and "Goodness, you're beautiful, aren't you?" "Thank you, that's kind of you to say" are similar exchanges, and don't need to be overthought.

2: "You're beautiful/attractive/intelligent/clever/sexy/strong/talented" is being said by someone who wants you to know that they see you as beautiful, attractive, intelligent, clever, sexy, strong or talented, and that they'd use those words to describe you. If someone heard you play the guitar and said "you're very talented!" and you responded "oh, no I'm not, I can't pick, I can only play rhythm"...well, you're missing the point, because they're really saying "I see you as very talented!" Similarly, if someone says "you're very beautiful!" they're saying "I see you as very beautiful!" and you should accept it as their opinion, not something that has to be quantified and validated as fact.

At the end of the day, just learn to say "thank you" and move on, because they're not holding a magnifying glass to your stretch marks, they're not judging you against some fixed ideal, and there's a fairly good chance they're simply being polite. When someone responds with "no, because [list of their flaws]" it is off-putting at best and at worst it feels like you're fishing for more compliments.

So say "thank you", and later when you realize you see that person as something positive (attractive, well-dressed, talented, whatever) you can compliment them, and you'll get a "thank you" back, too.
posted by davejay at 11:40 AM on August 30, 2012 [12 favorites]

This might be out there, but for me the first step would be to eliminate your feeling like a fraud, even if it simply means starting the process by thinking that the people who call you beautiful are just wrong, not actively deceived.

Fraud implies that you are actively deceiving someone for your own gain. Wearing pants is not fraud. Wearing bras is not fraud. Covering zits with concealer is not fraud.

Stop telling yourself that you are participating in deception. If you feel you are flawed that's one thing, but it is not your job to disclose those flaws to anyone who hasn't noticed them or doesn't care. It is not your due diligence. Whatever misconceptions others have about you are not of your making. That's for starters.

Secondly, oh, honey. We all have flaws. Every single one of us. Some of us have flaws that are highly visible, some of us have flaws that only we can see, but every single one of us has them. And you know what? Since we all have them, they are normal. Your stretch marks are entirely, absolutely, one thousand percent, uneventful.

And this is where therapy comes in. You are seeing a counselor, and that's amazing, and you should feel free to bring this up to them. These insecurities are absolutely something that you can find the strength to deal with through therapy. You WILL be working on them by yourself, no matter who you're talking with, because YOU will be doing all the work. If it's "really bad" then this is absolutely something you should talk to with your counselor.

Good luck, most of us go through it and most of us come through it with renewed confidence!
posted by lydhre at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

having said all that, being approached by someone I didn't know very well and being told "you're very beautiful" would be off-putting on its own, I think, depending on the context, so "thank you" and moving on is also a good strategy for simply moving past the awkward moment.
posted by davejay at 11:42 AM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Everybody, everybody, has physical imperfections. Even supermodels and nude models are airbrushed before appearing in magazines. It sounds like you are beautiful - but like everyone else on earth, you have physical imperfections.
posted by barnoley at 11:43 AM on August 30, 2012

Previously. (Different context, but some of the suggested wording might be helpful.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:44 AM on August 30, 2012

Best answer: Let me point something out to you - your reaction is not to trust people's compliments because you think you aren't perfect. But they weren't saying you were perfect, they were saying you were beautiful.

Beauty is not the same thing as perfection. In fact, sometimes it's the imperfections that make some things beautiful - there's an entire concept for this in Japanese, wabi-sabi. It's kind of like - seeing a flaw in something gives you a chance to compare it to the rest of it, and get moved by how beautiful the thing is as a whole.

As for how to apply this to you -- you mention your stretch marks. The "wabi-sabi" way to consider them would be for someone to see them, and start thinking about "huh; she probably had a point in her past when she was a little heavier. But wow, look at how fit and healthy she looks now, and look how confident she is. That is really impressive - she didn't get her healthy beautiful body just handed to her, she had the strength and will to work for it. So she's beautiful and has a great personality. Wow!" You know? You may stil have the jerks who are all "ew stretch marks," but people like that tend to be really boring and superficial, and who needs them?

Your "flaws" aren't necessarily flaws, they are distinct markers in a total beautiful package. Each of those "flaws" tells a story that is unique to you and the things you've lived through, and that story is beautiful. Just like one of my ex's narrow little mouth, another one of my ex's thin hands, another one of my ex's SUPER hairy chest, and another one of my ex's bald patch drove me crazy because it was one of the signals that "I am involved with this one particular guy and this is part of the signals that let me know that this is this one particular guy who is freakin' awesome." And just like they thought the same about the big-ass surgical scar on my belly, or the patch of burst capillaries on my calf.

You're not perfect, because you're living a big life. And that is beautiful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:46 AM on August 30, 2012 [16 favorites]

Repeat this to yourself when you get this feeling: "No one else out there sees my flaws the way I do. I will stop obsessing over them, and try to be gracious when someone offers me a complement. They think I'm beautiful, and that means I am."
posted by hamandcheese at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2012

And I should have put '"flaws" in scare-quotes...
posted by hamandcheese at 11:48 AM on August 30, 2012

Do you look at fashion mags?


This was the probably the one thing I did (aside from getting older) that made me feel wwy more comfotable as a human being. That stuff really warps your mind, seriously.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:49 AM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

-way more comfortable-
(sorry, on my device)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:51 AM on August 30, 2012

Best answer: Everyone else is just as imperfect as you are underneath your clothes. Everyone. I don't know how much experience you have with being naked with other people, but everyone has flaws. Bulges, moles, odd hair, awkward proportions, crooked features that don't stand out unless you spend too much time looking at them. The funny thing is that once people are naked together, they mostly don't care. They focus on the features they like. And they're generally too busy having fun to notice the flaws.

No one is expected to give full disclosure about their flaws in order to accept a compliment or be with someone. You give off the impression of being confident and attractive. That impression comes from a real place. That person IS you, even if you know you don't fit the perfect fantasy they might be having about you. You can't control what they think about you even if you give full disclosure. People will go on thinking and seeing things from their own perspective; you can't fully control your image. When someone compliments you, really listen to them and think about why they might have said that. If you disagree, entertain the possibility that you might be wrong and that from their perspective, you might actually be pretty great. Also, it's okay to accept a compliment. As long as you trust yourself to hold yourself to the standard of life you want, a compliment won't trick you into being complacent.

Finally: I'm 28 and I had the same thoughts you did at 20. If I could travel back in time and shake all those thoughts out of 20 year old me, I would. We all have to accept more and more compromises in terms of physical appearance as we get older--skin wrinkles, lines appear, guts develop, moles appear, and hair recedes. You're 20 years old and don't have to think about any of those things. So don't. Thinking about them now is not going to prevent them from happening later. Go enjoy being young and lovely and stop hurting yourself over little details like stretch marks.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:52 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

You've given me *so* much to think about. I feel really guilty sometimes thinking about how ungrateful I am and how I'm wasting my youth worrying about this--ESPECIALLY when there are people out there with physical disabilities or actual physical deformities. I feel sick with guilt thinking about how vain and shallow I'm being.

These are just the right perspectives to get my head screwed back on. I do see myself responding (if this were in person) that "But supermodels don't have flaws like *I* do" and "I was never overweight or anything, I don't have a clue why I have these stretch marks :(" or talk about this lady who recently gave birth with the best, most awe-inspiring body I've seen in years. And how I'm jealous.

But I've decided not to do that...haha. I guess it would be narcissistic and boring if I said that stuff in conversation, especially with people who just want to be nice and move on.
posted by rhythm_queen at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, stretch marks are incredibly common -- a lot of the models you see in magazines probably have them, or did before Photoshop. There's not really much difference between stretch marks and a birthmark or tattoo -- it's just a change in pigmentation, nothing inherently ugly about it at all. I have them, and they've honestly never even occurred to me as something to be insecure about -- I just can't imagine anybody caring.

(Also, bear in mind that stretch marks stand out most when they've just been exposed to heat, and probably the most frequent time you see yourself naked is in/just out of the shower, so you're seeing them when they're at their most prominent.)

Anyhow, your assessment of yourself as a fraud doesn't make sense for multiple reasons, as pointed out upthread, but one of them is that nobody expects you to have completely unmarked skin! It's not like their assessment of you being beautiful hinges on some idea that your skin is totally smooth and without stretch marks or acne. Honestly, plenty of people, especially women, can probably tell that your makeup is covering a little bit of acne, and clearly they think you're beautiful anyway. People just don't care about these things all that much, and when they see them on you they'll probably barely notice.
posted by ostro at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel sick with guilt thinking about how vain and shallow I'm being.

No, no, no, no, no. We all have our own realities. You do not need to feel guilt about the way you feel. Should you change your thought process? Yes, but not because your feelings aren't valid. You should change your thought process because it's doing damage to your self-esteem.
posted by cooker girl at 11:58 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to feel guilty for feeling bad. That just results in a never-ending shame spiral.

1. I feel bad about something.
2. I feel bad about feeling bad about something.
3. I feel bad about feeling bad about feeling bad about something...

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Just know that if you're getting multiple people telling you that you're attractive...well, that more than a lot of people get saying that. They're probably collectively giving you a fair accounting of what they're seeing. Else why bother saying anything?
posted by inturnaround at 11:59 AM on August 30, 2012

People know when their aesthetic sense is being pleased. You don't have a leg to stand on contradicting that. Beauty isn't a set of checkboxes you can mark off. Your feelings about which checkboxes can be marked just doesn't factor.
posted by anonymisc at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have to be perfect. It's not terrible to be vain, or shallow, or boring, or narcissistic if you're aware and trying to improve those things. We're all a little vain, a little shallow, a little self-absorbed, a little dull at times. If any of those things were a serious problem with you, you wouldn't be here asking this question. Go easy on yourself.
posted by rhythm and booze at 12:03 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hi. You're me. Except younger. And probably prettier. :P

I hope this is a temporary thing for you. It really sucks to be doing this at 32, trust me. It's exhausting, and none of us will ever meet our own definitions of perfection, especially since we exist in a world which also contains photoshop.

I did have to learn to just smile and say thank you to compliments, though, after a boyfriend gave me a bit of a come-to-jesus over my attempts to evade them. He told me that it was offensive when I did that, because I was attempting to invalidate his perspective and tell him that he was wrong, and not entitled to his opinions. Upon reflection, I could see that, and so I stopped. It's not easy, especially when you're still squirming inside over them. But with a bit of practice just accepting them and moving on, you actually stop justifying them away quite as much and take them as the nice things they are meant to be.

Besides, when you compliment someone, do you first go over their entire body with a magnifying glass and fill out a checklist before deciding whether they're worthy of being told that they look lovely today? Of course not. But you still mean it when you say that, right? In fact, complimenting other people more often is a good exercise in accepting compliments more gracefully yourself. Plus, it's fun.

Much luck. This is difficult stuff to deal with.
posted by Because at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2012

It's okay to wish you didn't have stretch marks (and I'm not picking that out just to harp on it, it's just the one you've mentioned a second time); but focusing on just that rather than the whole package of you is what's been tripping you up. The people who are saying that you're beautiful either a) don't notice them, which means they're not as bad as you think, or b) they honestly don't care.

My balding ex didn't have any story about why he was balding early, he just was; and early on, I did catch a bottle of Rogaine in his shower. So he was trying to do something about it. But he was confident enough in the rest of himself that he didn't make a big deal out of it, and after the first 1.3 seconds when I first laid eyes on him, I totally and honestly didn't think it was a problem because he was so damn awesome. And the fact that he was so damn awesome made his bald spot....kinda hot, because it was his bald spot.

And hell yeah, supermodels have flaws, if you take apart the pieces of their bodies bit by bit and focus just on them. I mean, if you compare Alek Wek's cheeks to everyone else's cheeks, you'll be thinking "huh, she's got chubby cheeks." Or Gisele Bundchen's face is kinda square, isn't it?....or, doesn't Kate Moss look all bony? But only a very, very few people look at things like that - they just look at the whole total Alek Wek/Gisele Bundhen/Kate Moss package and say "they're hot!"

You are a whole package and you are concentrating on just your flaws. That's like someone giving you an envelope full of hundred-dollar bills and you getting grumpy because one of them is wrinkled.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:08 PM on August 30, 2012

Best answer: You are a whole package and you are concentrating on just your flaws. That's like someone giving you an envelope full of hundred-dollar bills and you getting grumpy because one of them is wrinkled.

Yes, God, thank you. Not to give you any more ammunition for any more neuroses attached to this but--a couple more points:

--Google jolie laide. Even THOSE ladies (!) are beautiful (that's the whole point of the term, and some find them preferable to more "conventional" beauties), and the most beautiful of them all are the ones who own it. Be one of the ladies who own it, whether you're a snub nosed cheerleader or someone best described as a "handsome woman." That's the most important part of beauty--and nothing is more tiresome than someone who argues with you about minor flaws when you try to compliment them. "You are beautiful" is a social transaction that is supposed to bring pleasure to both parties (I'm a straight lady, and I appreciate and love to compliment someone who strikes me as exceptional, whether it's wardrobe, make up, stature, a Botticelli face, etc.). Odds are that no one is telling you you're a supermodel, even if they are, if that makes sense, so you don't have to critique yourself as one.
posted by availablelight at 12:19 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

To say it again, beauty is totally not about perfection. (Have you ever seen those graphics of supposedly "perfect" composite people? They're always far less attractive than the normal pretty people they're based on.)

Now to be very practical with you: if your worst flaws, the examples of the flaws that you despise when you're feeling your absolute worst, are stretch marks, nipples, and mild break-outs...sweetie, that means you're freakin' gorgeous.

Also, if multiple people tell you you're physically beautiful, you probably are. People don't say that to be nice. Lots of 20 year olds never hear that, ever. So for real, you're beautiful.

Oh, and it's fine and normal if you don't like certain things or you'd prefer to change them. (With skin issues, it might be fairly easy to do so.) But virtually no one cares about these minor things unless you actually are a model and they're the people responsible for air-brushing them out.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:20 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: *hearts and love for all the responses*

I am overwhelmed with your kindness/intelligence/experiences/perspectives.

I also wanted to say that I actually have a beauty channel on YouTube...where I talk about confidence and dealing with insecurity. Can you believe it? It's like, some days I feel confident enough to talk about these issues and other days I'm completely down in the dumps. I think that's life, isn't it? And I've been lurking here at AskMeFi for long enough to know that there's a lot of life out there and a lot more problems I'll have to deal with. I just hope I can get through this. I live with my grandma and grandpa (they barely speak to me and hate me, actually, but that's a different story) and my grandma used to be a very beautiful woman! She used to have long, long hair down to her butt, so thick and black, and always dressed in impeccable saris and had clear fair skin. She always rubs her once-clear complexion and hair that was thicker than mine (and my hair is extremely full, very long and curly) in my face and is clearly insecure. I don't want to be like my grandma, full of looks obsessions, regret, and insecurity!

I want to grow up!!
Sorry for the further rambling.
posted by rhythm_queen at 12:21 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my former roommates used to work at a place that Photoshopped mens' magazines. She would regularly tell me stories about which model had moles, hair growing in odd places, and a whole slew of other perfections. Whoosh! All airbrushed away!

Also, large aureolas: I read (somewhere) that the large ones are really good for babies, because they can see them easier. Not sure if that's true, but remember, your breasts are not there to breast feed men, and I've never had a man complain to me about my boobs before. Ever. When you're having sexy time, they do not care, and if someone insults your breasts, no more sexy time for them!

When I was in my 20's, I had giant frizzy hair and big-rimmed plastic glasses. And zits and worries about my stomach (appendix scar, was it too pudgy?). My sister, who is very pretty, constantly complained about her hips and thighs. I made friends with a lot of guys in college, I mean friends, not boyfriends, and we used to play backgammon or cribbage every night after supper. I never worried about my appearance, and I felt truly accepted when they all ganged up and threw me, fully clothed, into the shower on my birthday. Those are the kinds of friends you want, not someone who cares about your nipple size. Sheesh.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:22 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to spend a lot of time over at the Shape of a Mother website when a friend of mine was pregnant and curious about the potential impact.

I stuck around there for MONTHS. Seeing what women look like under their clothes, often at their most vulnerable, was jarring at first. What really surprised me was that after about two months of looking at the pictures, I started being able to see what the people in the comments were seeing: you can consider a body of just about any shape beautiful.

I'd recommend something like this - show yourself pictures of what women really look like, and it may help acclimate you to your own body.
posted by skrozidile at 12:24 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hey. About those stretch marks. They happen because what's under the skin grows too fast for the skin to keep up. And trust me, no one grows faster than a 12 year old who goes from 5' 4" to 5' 10" in a year and a half. So basically, most models. I used to work in the fashion industry, and have been around many naked models. Stretch marks abound. Trust me. These kids grow so tall so fast that stretch marks are just part of the territory. So, you know, those gorgeous models you're comparing yourself to all have stretch marks.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 12:24 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless you work in the fashion industry you have never seen a supermodel.

You have seen ART that started with pictures of a supermodel.

My first real job was re-touching models digitally, later I did it with an actual airbrush for catwalks.

watch This! it's way more dramatic than usual but every photo in every magazine you see has had this manner of work done.

RE streachmarks see this earlier question and my response
posted by French Fry at 12:32 PM on August 30, 2012

This is kind of an extreme suggestion, but a college friend of mine said that the absolute best thing she possibly did for her own self-image was to spend some time working as a receptionist for a phone-sex line.

No, this isn't a joke.

She just took the orders from the guys and then transfered the calls to specific women based on what the guys were looking for ("okay, this guy wants someone who can be sorta romantic, that'll be Candy....and this guy wants someone who can pretend to be a librarian, Becky should get him...."). And she said once that what she learned that there is a guy out there who is seriously and way into whatever little quirk you think your body has. No matter what you think may be wrong with yourself -- you may be thinking your butt is too big -- there are guys out there who would look at it and think "man, that is JUST the way I like it." There are even guys who'd look and think "nope, that's actually not big ENOUGH." There are guys who are seriously into every specific flaw you think you see in yourself, or every weird thing you think your body does. (No joke, about a year ago somene wrote into the sex column for TIME OUT NEW YORK because he said he was sexually turned on by FARTING, and wanted to know how he could raise that issue with his partners.)

So as my friend said, no matter what flaw you think you see in yourself, there are guys out there that are looking for exactly that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:33 PM on August 30, 2012

I get a lot of compliments from people who don't know me very well--usually along the lines that I am really beautiful and confident...On the surface, I seem super confident--I'm highly extroverted and friendly with everyone, I seem rather attractive and I'm easy to get along with. I answer lots of questions in all my classes and though I may come across scatterbrained, I think I also come across as pretty intelligent. I am usually (part of the) life of a party, dancing and talking and flirting with everyone .

I just want to point out that when people say that you are beautiful, they may not be respnonding to your physical attributes but to your charisma. Don't underestimate how attractive and compelling a genuinely friendly, charming, and outgoing person can be, even without knowing someone for very long or very well. It's like their personality casts an amazing soft-focus glow over all their physical attributes eg. it's not a contradiction in terms to say something like "sure Jane has crooked teeth but she has a beautiful smile!" And ironically, what makes these people come across as beautiful is the very fact that they are unaware/ unselfconcious about the way they engage with other people.

I keep thinking of this line from the Roald Dahl book The Twits:

"A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."

All this to say, I have never seen you but you sound like a beautiful person. I don't think you're a fraud at all.
posted by kitkatcathy at 12:35 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Guy here. First, unless you are Tammy Fay Baker, don't worry about the makeup at all. In fact, I bet after a guy gets to know you both ways he will tell you not to worry about the makeup. I can't speak for all guys, but you want to find one who loves you for who you are, not who you are painted up to be. By your criteria, I am sure that every girl I dated had flaws, but I simply never noticed them or cared about them. Finally, what a lot of us find sexy has nothing to do with your body. A smart outgoing intelligent gal can be sexy with a paper bag over her head.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:37 PM on August 30, 2012

I've suffered(sic) from compliments my entire life. I'm pretty happy with who I am nowadays, but I didn't feel happy being myself for an awfully long time. I got the compliments for having academic smarts, and often when people draw attention to how you excel in a particular thing, they're (sometimes deliberately, at least subconsciously, but mostly entirely innocently) saying you're not like them. It's not necessarily a nice thing to be told.

Compliments are pretty awesome when you get them for things you've worked hard at, because it's like the world saying "your hard work is worth it", but when the majority of what you're complimented for is something you didn't work at, then you feel as if it devalues the things you do work at. For this reason it took a long time for me to learn how to work hard at things.

But you want recommendations for you. And what I'd say is to accept the compliments. It's nice to be sincerely told you're beautiful. It's nice to be beautiful. But give yourself control over it. When you get complimented on your looks, think about what you do to make the most of them. Say something like "Thanks, I tried to bring out my complexion with this pink shirt" or whatever's appropriate. And if you really have just thrown on jogging pants and a t-shirt, then you can just say "I'm lucky".

There's no need to feel any obligation when people tell you you're beautiful. I've kind of realised I'm pretty attractive, too. And what does it mean? It means that if I'm attracted to someone, they'll appreciate my body. Does it mean that everyone I crush on will like me? No, but I don't have to worry about whether it's my looks at issue. It's also pretty nice looking in the mirror and appreciating a nice looking body. You've got a nice body to appreciate whenever you want to. That's a great thing to have. But don't think you have any other obligations just because your body looks nice. And if anyone who's complimenting you implies that because you look nice you owe the world anything, they're being a jerk.

So you can't be a fraud, because there's no contract you've entered into just because someone told you you look beautiful. They expressed an opinion and unloaded an expectation on you, but all the social contract obliges you to do is to say appreciate what they said in the spirit intended. So if they're saying it resentfully or creepily, that's they're problem. If they're saying it appreciatively, try your best to see what they're appreciating.
posted by ambrosen at 12:45 PM on August 30, 2012

a really amazing blog you should look at is sociological images - today`s post is especially relevant, but go through the tags and look over some of the topics like re-touching, or fat, or bodies. it`s an incredible eye-opener.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:46 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's some supermodels without makeup (very pretty girls, but still quite human) and here's an example from Jezebel of how the magazine covers work.

There is a massive, hugely proftable industry devoted to making women feel insecure about things so you can sell them something. And they will invent things to make you feel insecure about. Hell, that's the best thing, invent something to be insecure about, then sell them the cure.

Here's an example of how body odor became something to have a complex about. Here's an example of how buying coffee will keep your husband from being a dick to you. Here's an ad to tell you how terrible your vagina smells and here's another and some more. Here's how mainstream advertisers are creating insecurity in Muslim women that take the hijab. And you wouldn't want one of those manly phones, would you? Maybe something in pink is more suitable?

So when you start thinking things like this, what I want you to consider is who profits from these thoughts of yours? Who is pushing you to think these things and how do they benefit? Is there a handy-dandy product you can buy to soothe these worries? Probably. You have the entire world shouting at you about how you're not good enough, but they don't really give a shit. They're just trying to sell you something.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:49 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

That jolie laide clue provided above is really fascinating, in large part because I've always found women who would fall into that category to be imminently more attractive than "traditionally pretty" girls, and yet when I judge myself in the mirror, I judge myself against the "traditionally handsome" when I'm really more of a jolie laide kind of guy (or so I've been told in different ways.) Availablelight, there's a really good FPP in exploring that concept, and the concept of women being thought of as "handsome" rather than "beautiful" in the past.
posted by davejay at 12:56 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also: you could try mirror fasting, to regain some perspective.

Also: as a few have noted, many of your female peers are not suffering from this same "problem". Recognize the privilege of it (even of all of us jumping in and saying, no, no, I bet you really ARE beautiful! No, really!), if that helps you minimize (and not analyze) the meaning of it.

As your grandmother found out, some day (if we're really lucky) we all really do get old. Whatever problem you have with this, you will age out of it, eventually (except for the comments of those who know and love you best).
posted by availablelight at 1:00 PM on August 30, 2012

Availablelight, there's a really good FPP in exploring that concept, and the concept of women being thought of as "handsome" rather than "beautiful" in the past.

Thank you, and interesting thought. I'm a jolie laide who was more laide than jolie until relatively late, so have had the experience of being considered: ugly, invisible, beautiful, all in a relatively short time frame. It's an interesting identity issue.

And there are certainly jolie laide men (I'd leave it to someone with better French to re-gender the term). Liam Neeson would not be safe in a room with me.
posted by availablelight at 1:05 PM on August 30, 2012

First, don't be so hard on yourself about this. A LOT of people share your fears, especially people around your age (I sure as hell did) just as a result of having limited experience; your assessment of "normal" is overly reliant on the few self-selected women who have shared their naked bodies with the public. In research, we would say that the sample size is not representative of the overall population. That's also why whenever some douchebag issues a press release on his areola preferences, what he's actually saying is "I have no sex life outside of redtube." If you want to see some real breasts, check this out.

About feeling like you're deceiving people. Compliments don't come with fine print stating that they are only valid as long as the recipient is free of stretch marks. You feel like you're fooling others by wearing makeup, but you could say that about anything anybody does to make themselves presentable. If someone says you're beautiful, do you think it's reasonable to say, "Well what if I had never brushed my teeth? What if I had never brushed my teeth in my whole life? Then I would have no teeth and would you still be calling me beautiful? Yeah, that's what I thought." Probably not.

But again - don't be so hard on yourself. You're beating yourself up for your perceived flaws, and then beating yourself up for beating yourself up. Really, just about everyone has these fears, and everyone has flaws.
posted by granted at 1:08 PM on August 30, 2012

Um...so what if you're not beautiful? Superficial things aren't important anyway. The people who are telling you you're beautiful are being shallow and superficial, so it doesn't matter what they think. Stop worrying about your looks, because they don't matter one way or the other, and just live your life.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2012

You know, I once eavesdropped on a bunch of female friends having some private "girl talk" (they all thought I was asleep at the time). To my surprise, one of them - a morbidly obese woman whom I thought would never dated - was apparently getting hit by guys I knew left and right, and had a very active sex life - moreso than any of the other women there. None of them publically admitted it, since society frowns on people who are attracted to unconventional "types" (ie, their friends would tease them), but it really opened my eyes to the idea that beauty is entirely subjective and trying to live up to classic norms is a losing proposition.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:22 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry to be contrary, but if you get "a lot of compliments from people . . .usually along the lines that I am really beautiful and confident," then you almost certainly are beautiful and confident.

It sounds like your problem is that you are too critical of yourself, and maybe have some kind of body issues in your head. I don't know whether you need counselling for that or not, but you should begin doubting your internal monologue, and stop discounting people who compliment your beauty.

When you are praised like that, just smile shyly, look down, and say "thank you." Then go on with your day and don't dwell on it.
posted by General Tonic at 1:31 PM on August 30, 2012

Best answer: Other people have given you great advice, so I'm just going to add:

"I am not beautiful, not when I am naked."

Hon, you are 20. You look fantastic naked.

"I don't want to be like my grandma, full of looks obsessions, regret, and insecurity!"

When you look at Hilary Clinton or Madeleine Albright or Condoleeza Rice (or pick the Important Woman who suits you), do you think, "Man, that lady used to be pretty" or "Yuck, look at those stretch marks and that baby belly and that grey hair" or do you think, "HOLY CRAP THAT WOMAN IS AMAZING"? When you look at the Dalai Lama, do you think "ex-hottie" or do you think, "Wow, what an incredible life"?

I saw a quote the other day from Abraham Lincoln where he refused to hire an angry, grouchy-looking man and said that it was fair because "After 40, a man is responsible for his face." At 40 you won't have the smooth perfect skin of a teenager, but you'll either have laugh lines or frown lines, and it's really up to you -- and how you live your life, and what kind of person you are inside -- what sort of face you have. Your face will become more and more the product of who you are, not just an accident of genetics.

It's nice to be pretty. But it's nicer to be the sort of person whose smile digs well-worn lines into her face so that everyone can always tell, this woman is just on the verge of laughing with joy. Her face knows it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Number one, if everyone is telling you you're beautiful, it must be true, even if there are flaws that they can't see at that moment.

Number two, nearly everyone has stretch marks from the adolescent growth spurt. They disappear - partly by fading, and partly because people just stop being able to see them; there's no really effective treatment for them, so the only choice is to learn to live with them, so after a while people literally don't see them.

Number three, I can understand why you'd want to hide your acne, but that can be treated. (Memail me if you want to know how I treat mine.) It's a controllable skin disease, rather than something that disproves all the compliments you're receiving.

Number four, practically everyone feels like this. It's called the imposter phenomenon. The fact that you feel this way proves nothing.

Number five, it's not attractive to point out your flaws, so when someone compliments you don't tell them they're wrong because you have acne, just bite your tongue and say "thank you!" Things you say can increase or decrease your attractiveness, and you also don't want to TMI people.

Number six, the amount of retouching in the media has increased a hell of a lot in the last couple of decades. I encourage you to take a look at some fashion photography from the 1970s - and people complained about that! And that was often retouched! I've seen people look at unretouched photos of what is, in reality, near-perfect skin as approved by a dermatologist, and say "wow I'm so relieved to see that even she has flaws". Um, no, that is what near-flawless skin looks like. What it doesn't look like is a retouched magazine photo, which is more of an artist's impression than an accurate likeness. All this contributes to people seeing their flaws as being much greater than they actually are.

I am not going to tell you not to strive for beauty. It's a mug's game to strive for perfection, though. (And at one time... even the most insanely narcissistic beauty magazines would tell you this. I remember Allure saying this to someone who was also desperate about her stretch marks. They said that if you look great overall, nobody is going to count such tiny flaws. I wonder if they'd say that today... but it was true then and it's true now.)
posted by tel3path at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

each of these folks has someone who thinks they're amazing, that they're beautiful

A bit of an assumption there.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Um...so what if you're not beautiful?

This is also a very good point. If you were not beautiful, what would you do? And whatever the answer is, you should probably do it anyway. Though I was never pretty, I think "Assume that some day you're going to be not attractive at all - what other accomplishments will you want to have at that point, to get you through life? Go work on those now." would be good advice for all young women. It might also help you with the fraud feeling, because you'd have something else to concentrate on and base your worth on.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:36 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't have just baby stretch marks--I have them all over my butt, pretty much! White, thin lines. I have tan to brown skin, so they do stick out quite a bit. I dunno, I think they're the most faded they're going to be! And, well, I got them through puberty.

The thing is I don't even have a big booty, haha.

I understand what you mean completely--absolute flawlessness can't be my ideal. But I don't feel like my stretch marks are normal because I've never seen any in person, especially on girls my age, that are this bad. :-/


That's very close to what my butt looks like, lol.

I just feel like I'm a bit too young to be having them. I don't know, I guess they *bum* me out, haha pun intended.

Thanks for the wonderful comments. This has been really helpful.
posted by rhythm_queen at 2:53 PM on August 30, 2012

No that photo you linked is totally normal. on a girl your age without kids. 100%.

And as a totally superficial guy I have no problems with them. Tiger stripes.
posted by French Fry at 3:01 PM on August 30, 2012

My stretch marks were totally like that from puberty, all over my rear & hips. A few are the really deep purplish valleys, or they were. They really did fade a whole lot in my 20s. A few people have noticed them, but no one has cared.
posted by bizzyb at 3:12 PM on August 30, 2012

Heh. I have those stretch marks as well, also got them during puberty from gaining height and not weight, and... huh, you know, maybe they *have* faded a little. (Hadn't really looked at them for a while, I admit.) I'm 32, so I don't think they're going any further, though. Anyway, I never thought of them as normal either-- our media diet is pernicious that way. But I can assure you that no one has ever noticed. And when I have pointed them out to young gentlemen of my acquaintance, they have looked at me like I was an utter nutball for noticing them myself.

I'd tell you not to worry about it, but if you're anything like me, I know you will anyway. However, no one else will.
posted by Because at 4:24 PM on August 30, 2012

psssst: just to warn you, in case this hasn't happened to you yet.....90% of women end up with cellulite, too. Even the skinny ones, sometimes the very young ones, the healthy eaters, and the ones who run marathons. Be prepared to not freak out about this normal feature of the female body either.
posted by availablelight at 5:19 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do see myself responding (if this were in person) that "But supermodels don't have flaws like *I* do" and "I was never overweight or anything, I don't have a clue why I have these stretch marks :(" or talk about this lady who recently gave birth with the best, most awe-inspiring body I've seen in years. And how I'm jealous.

Well, thank heaven you're not going to do that, because that would be awkward for everyone.

Supermodels absolutely, totally have flaws that they obsess over. Movie stars have flaws that they obsess over. Don't waste a second of your life worrying about your looks; dress in clothes that you think look great on you, do whatever makeup feels fun to you, get the best haircut you can afford (in terms of time and money) and just generally rock you, not some airbrushed image you see on a photograph.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:14 PM on August 30, 2012

But I don't feel like my stretch marks are normal because I've never seen any in person, especially on girls my age, that are this bad.

So, you may be the person in your circle of friends who has the most prominent stretch marks. This does not mean that your stretch marks aren't "normal", it just means you happen to know other women your age who have less prominent stretch marks.

If you Googled "stretch marks 20 years old" you would see questions from hundreds of other people who are equally concerned about their stretch marks at your age. But don't bother; it's nothing to worry about.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:16 PM on August 30, 2012

I am a forever scrawny person with that exact pattern of stretch marks all over my butt and thighs and I think I look fabulous. In fact, I have all sorts of strange and interesting "flaws" (spider leg moles, sharp pointy elbows, hairy finger toes, etc) that I consider a part of me and who I am. And I like me, so I like the parts that make up me. Do you like yourself?

Do you want to be perfect to avoid other people potentially using flaws to attack you, or are you hoping to get the acceptance of those already close to you? It sounds from the description of your home life with your grandparents that your family places a huge importance on being physically perfect and attractive in exchange for acceptance. That can really mess you up.
posted by Dynex at 7:36 PM on August 30, 2012

When I think that someone is beautiful, I don't think "you are beautiful only as I see you now and any currently unseen flaws will diminish that beauty". I think "wow, that person is fantastic and confident and has a persona that really shines". I've known beautiful women with large areolas, stretch marks, acne scars, etc. As odd as this may sound, their beauty is completely independent of their actual aesthetic/physical perfection on a feature-by-feature basis.

Not to mention that the things you mention are so common and so so minor in the grand scheme of things! I don't mean that to belittle your discomfort but to point out that so many people have stretch marks, so many people have areolas that look "weird" to them (because we only see 1 type of areola in the media) and pretty much all of us have some kind of acne blemish. Think of the times you have heard someone say "she would be beautiful if she didn't have stretch marks". I have never heard someone say this in seriousness beyond the age of like... 20. Unless they were a monumental douchebag/misogynist in which case, whatever.

Now, on to the crux of the issue here: Why do you want to prove them wrong so badly? Is it a "they can't believe a lie about me" or is it "I think I'm unattractive" (or something else)? Figuring out the root will help you address the problem.

For example, if you think of it as a lie/objectively false, consider this: THEY are the ones who called you beautiful/checked you out. They stated it thus, for them, it must be true regardless of what you may think. When you see someone attractive, would you suddenly change your mind 100% if they had any of the features you describe?

If it's a self-esteem thing, many people here have given you advice to help with that and I'm sure the archives have more. (I'm really bad at having an opinion of myself so unfortunately I cannot help here.)

For what it's worth, I have very prominent (thick and pale) stretch marks sideways across my knees (like from inside of leg to kneecap). I don't even know how that's possible. It's not like I suddenly developed the Hulk's kneecaps or anything. Sometimes our bodies do weird things.

And I'm sure you know supermodels are photoshopped all to hell and back and that they wear makeup and clothing to hide their blemishes as well - don't compare yourself to an ideal that doesn't exist. They probably look just as awkward naked as the rest of us do.
posted by buteo at 8:05 PM on August 30, 2012

Get away from media. Kill your tv. Don't look at industrial images of women. They're trying to make you hate yourself because it makes you more anxious and vulnerable consumer.

If you think the body you have is so abnormal, look at more real people around you, not manufactured images; you're fine, everyone has a bunch of flaws, it's harmless. If any partner talks shit about your body, show them the door.

You have one body, one life. Love what you are and can do with it. Every moment you spend upset over things you cannot change about yourself is lost and can never be used for something more pleasing.
posted by ead at 8:29 PM on August 30, 2012

So many great answers! Empress Calli is really the bomb!

Anyway, what came to mind right away when I read your question was this great line spoken by Kirsten Dunst's character in the movie Crazy/Beautiful:

"He finds beauty in all my imperfections."

That's just what love will do.
posted by Rain Man at 8:49 PM on August 30, 2012

Kind of an awkward thread to bring this up, probably going to get flak for it somehow, but whatever.

My most memorable breakthrough moment in achieving a positive attitude about my body came after going to a strip club in Montreal with a couple of guy friends at the end of our Saturday night.

The strippers pole-dancing on stage were beautiful, slender, athletic, either small and perky or big and fake tits - centerfold perfect. Of course they were.

But the ladies going around the floor offering lap dances, I was surprised they weren't the same kind of women. These were more like the typical* 20-something women you'd see in the bars or shopping downtown, and here they are walking around the strip club in their favourite sexy lingerie. There was a pretty wide variety - barrel chests and no waist, pear-bottomed, big natural breasts whose bra is sagging a bit under their weight, plump women with round faces, and tummies protruding out as far as their smallish breasts. Waif-like girls with mousey faces. Cellulite. Lack of muscle tone. Large noses, small lips, plain faces all made attractive with well-applied makeup and false eyelashes.

Yet here these imperfect women are, wearing corsets, lacy bras & panty sets, garter belts & stockings, etc. etc. And men are willing to pay money to watch these women dance for them. They think these women look sexy. Some of the girls were close to my body type, some were even bigger in different areas. I felt a bit guilty for scrutinizing these women so closely, but at the same time I thought it was enlightening to see what this lingerie looks like on another average body besides my own. And to see men allowed to show their appreciation. It's just not the same at the beach.

I've slept with (enough) guys to have experienced a fair range of body types and found them attractive and perfectly fuckable. I know I'm not every guy's fantasy, but the guys I've been with were ones who told me they thought I was gorgeous and sexy. At times it's been hard to not doubt their honesty. But at the club that night, it finally sunk in that these guys have all been dating and fucking "normal" women too. This is how what we look, and they like how we look. The men here in the club will even pay to see these girls dance. Proof a woman doesn't have to look perfect to be considered attractive and sexy. So, why scrutinize myself and other women so hard? Who is it for, anyway?

I've found it much easier to simply accept people's compliments about my looks ever since.

*I realize these women still all fit into a size range of 0 to 12 and this may not reflect the "average" weight of 20-somethings in Canada. We can discuss my ex-boyfriend with a thing for plus-size women and my feelings of inadequacy there next time.
posted by lizbunny at 9:44 PM on August 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I love your story, Lizbunny! :) I do feel like other than my stretch marks and nipples, I have a pretty great body shape. I'm lean with a tiny waist and big, rather perky for their size breasts. I have long legs and no (not much, anyway) cellulite...I like my skin tone and all that. It's true that men appreciate women for who they are and how they look. After all, perfect women don't exist, and close-to-perfect women have their own issues too. And I was just thinking about how it's so true that some women are beautiful because of their angel faces and some women are beautiful for their physique. THAT'S WHY i hate the term "butterface" so much. It's like, your body is 90% of you! WHY would you say someone who has a gorgeous body is ugly?

I dunno. The world is depressing if you look at it like that. I'm going to try and be better, and OF COURSE, i've bookmarked this thread and will use it as frequent reference.

thanks, me loves.
posted by rhythm_queen at 9:54 PM on August 30, 2012

When people compliment you, they aren't telling you they think you're perfect. They're saying that right then, in that moment, they appreciate something about you. Nothing more than that. You don't need to convince them they are wrong; it is completely okay if they can appreciate something about someone, even if they are as full of flaws as you think you are.
posted by Polychrome at 2:36 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

You say:

"I live with my grandma and grandpa (they barely speak to me and hate me, actually, but that's a different story) ..."

No, it's the same story.

"[My grandma] always rubs her once-clear complexion and hair that was thicker than mine (and my hair is extremely full, very long and curly) in my face" -- Why? why would she do that? When you have no control over the basic quality of your skin and your hair? It's like telling you that there is something fundamentally inferior about you -- which is exactly what you're saying you feel when you are complimented.

You are saying that the people who are the closest family to you right now (and we know nothing about why you are living with them, where your parents are, etc.) hate you. Is it really a mystery that you (sometimes) seem to hate yourself as well? Is it any wonder that when people "outside" compliment me, you want to say, "you're wrong, because 'inside', in my house, it's a completely different story."

When you want to argue with people who compliment you, you're saying, in effect, "There is more than meets the eye here" -- and you're right - but you're not just talking about your body:

You might want to consider that your feelings about your body are not just feelings about your actual body: your body is also a metaphor for your whole Self, and your feeling that you are flawed physically may represent that you really think you are flawed in other ways as well - and so, when people compliment you and you have a compulsion to tell them that they're wrong, you're telling them not just about your stretch marks etc., but about a "deeper" feeling you have that there is something not-quite-loveable about you that you have *learned* from others such as your grandma.

How can you really love yourself when the family members you live with hate you? How can you feel beautiful when your grandma, whom you clearly admire, as you talk about her past beauty, compares you negatively to herself? You are human and you are being hurt. And if you were in therapy the therapist *might* start formulating some hypotheses about how, when you focus on your flaws, you are perhaps both (1) expressing the same kind of punishing feelings toward yourself that your grandma expresses toward you (you are identifying with her feelings toward you (a very natural response) AND (2) instead of feeling unbearably enraged toward her for not appreciating you adequately, you are turning that rage against yourself (because that's a safer position).

Sorry for the armchair analysis. I just want to suggest that there is something more going on here that you simply alluded to in passing and that, after you did that, every other poster ignored, and that that is why answers such as "nobody's perfect" and "stop looking in mirrors" and "it's our culture" are, even though they are all smart and make sense in their way, ultimately going to have only a superficial, temporary impact on your obsessions -- and why some others have suggested therapy.

I am not, as you know, your therapist. (However, I am a therapist.)
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:45 AM on August 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Demelanogaster:

I wasn't clear before : I live with my parents AND my grandparents from my dad's side. It's a culture thing. They are the typical monster-in-laws to my long-suffering and wonderful mother, and my grandma (used to) take it to a whole new level with me. She was such a weirdo grandma, and now she's barely in my life. I just do the housework wordlessly around her, to the best of my ability, and try to be on her good side.

But yes. A LOT of what you've said is ringing true with me. I have thought, very consciously, that my stretch marks are a way my body manifests the ugliness inside of me. Just as clothes hide my ugliness, my body hides my real ugliness.

And since I believe it's individual, the experience of our bodies and how it manifests things in to our lives, the argument that: well no, she's a horrible person and she has no stretchmarks (lol) or she's AMAZING, and she's full of "flaws" doesnt work =/


<3 Thanks for the response!
posted by rhythm_queen at 9:38 AM on August 31, 2012

You're a million bucks. OK, honestly, you're $999,997 and some change. And like every other huge stack of bills on the planet, you're obsessing over the missing $3 (less some change).

But, for all practical purposes, you're a million bucks. There aren't a lot of guys on this planet who would date you and think, "Heh, I'm a $999,997-aire when I'm with her. I'm losing out!"

There are some, and, god knows, if you don't start improving your self-image and accepting that, rounded off, for all practical purposes you're a million bucks, you'll find these assholes.

But most guys would think you're a million bucks, and not just because your bills look nice on the outside, but because you really are worth that.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:37 PM on August 31, 2012

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