Get Over Your Selfie
May 21, 2021 1:47 PM   Subscribe

What are some ways I can get over worrying about how I look or how attractive I appear?

I spend some time worried about how I appear to others and whether or not I am attractive. I want to stop caring if others find me attractive and I want to stop questioning my appearance. I generally want to groom myself in the morning and forget about if others find me attractive.

The top thing that triggers this worrying or feeling of wanting to be attractive is when meeting new people, or when I have plans where I will be socializing with newish friends. Or when I will encounter someone I think is special or appealing in some way and want them to like me.

I can have long stretches of time not wondering or caring if others think I'm pretty but there is a pattern of behavior where I want to be desired or appealing to others. With family, my spouse, old friends, I don't have this feeling.

I have had this desire to be pretty for most of my adult life. I am not interested in having romantic affairs but I wouldn't mind if someone found me sexually desirable. This has waned a bit with age. I mostly want people to find me pretty or appealing in a platonic way. I am not self-loathing or perfectionistic when it comes to my body or face. I don't consciously compare myself to others nor do I attempt to attain an unrealistic standard. I don't go to great efforts to improve my appearance. I don't spend a lot of time or money beautifying myself in the ways of cosmetics, botox, strenuous workouts, etc. I am what others would call low-maintenance. I still have psychological issues when it comes to wanting to confirm if I'm pretty or not. I don't ask anyone if I'm attractive apart from my husband, and I have stopped doing this because it's not fair or sane. He could confirm and give me lots of assurances and then I could ask again next month.

I think my issues stem from a feeling of being on the outside or not belonging. I think my longing to be attractive stems from feeling unimportant or unseen and unloved. I think my appearance anxiety surfaces because I want these new friends or new people to like me and to want me in their lives. Intellectually I know there is much more than appearance when it comes to friendship, connection, belonging, etc. I don't pick my friends based on their physical beauty, yet I still want to be pretty so others will accept me. When socializing I can forget about how I look for the most part but there is a smidgen of headspace spent wondering how I'm being perceived aesthetically.

I am looking for advice, books, resources, on how to stop this worry or concern? I find it unproductive but the behavior still appears. Thank you.
posted by loveandhappiness to Human Relations (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You sound really well-adjusted to me since this only comes with new or newish people where you don't know where you stand. It is perfectly normal to wonder if new people are going to like you and accept you. You already know that the fuss about being attractive is really just way of worrying about others (that you don't know very well) will see you.

M advice is try to really own that knowledge. The train of thought might be
1. notice I'm worrying about my appearance
2. realize that means I'm nervous if new people will like me accept me
3. remind myself I'm not in control of what they think - my job is to show up and be me. Lots of people like me and these people don't, that's just the way it is - not my fault.
4. Sometimes it can also help to stop worrying so much if they like you and make you ask yourself if you actually like them. Put your energy in relationships with people that you actually want to get to know better and allow yourself not to worry about folks where you don't actually want to become friends.
posted by metahawk at 2:29 PM on May 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

I understand that you're low maintenance, but could you be interested in taking up a somewhat showy personal care hobby? Like nail polish, or fancy hair braids, or cool shoes. Things that contribute to your appearance but that you actively curate and choose. I'm a person who doesn't really care if other random people find me attractive or pretty, but if someone notices and comments on my nail polish it makes me feel nice. I chose my nail polish, I put effort into doing my manicure, and I've received positive feedback on this particular aspect of my appearance. It's a way to control an aspect of your appearance and passively seek that affirmation in a safe way.

FWIW I think it's entirely reasonable to tell your spouse that it would mean a lot to you if he would spontaneously compliment your appearance in various casual ways every now and then. Based on what you've written (you ask; he confirms) it sounds like maybe he doesn't do this? It's not a moral failing to desire this kind of validation from a person you've committed to spend your life with.
posted by phunniemee at 2:43 PM on May 21, 2021 [12 favorites]

I always enjoy it when friends or even celebrities post non-flattering photos, maybe because they're not wearing makeup, or just caught in an awkward pose. Its a reminder we're all human, and that appearances don't equate with value.
I also found avoiding posting caveats on photos were I don't look good, no matter how tempting, helps... and then avoid obsessing over photos of myself that I don't like.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 2:54 PM on May 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Here are some artists' work you might like, and that I keep in mind regularly as I age and worry about my incipient jowls. The more I regard myself in the mirror the more I like who looks back, and while it's hard to remember being casually hot as a young person, only because of my youth and light bodiedness, it's such a relief to feel seated in my own person. May you find a path to peace with this awful interior litany (I have it too).

Lee Friedlander

Laura Aguilar

Catherine Opie. And this one too.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 3:18 PM on May 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don't know if it's weird to self-promote here but the first chapter in my book (described in Projects here) is kind of all about this! If you're not sure whether it might resonate with you and/or you don't want to spend money to find out, it's adapted from this essay (the book version is expanded though).
posted by babelfish at 5:15 PM on May 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

I haven't read the book yet, but I like the Beyond Beautiful Instagram account, which promotes a body-neutral outlook.
posted by Rora at 5:33 PM on May 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

I like a lot of what metahawk wrote, but I wanted to add a couple of things. If this issue is bothering you enough, might it make sense to seek out some therapy? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has tools to deal with Automatic Negative Thoughts (or you can search for these things independently if therapy is overkill). Basically, when you're not in a situation where you're triggered, you come up with a script (similar to what metahawk describes). Then you run through your scripts when you are triggered.

The other thing I'll mention here is that women are often judged by appearance. Perhaps this applies, perhaps not, but I'm sure there are some women reading this post and identifying with what you described. I bring it up, just because I think it's important to acknowledge. If this bit applies to you (or another reader), it's not your own failing that this is a concern for you. It is messaging that many women have been receiving their whole lives.

You've identified that these thoughts are not serving you, I think you're on the right track to re-framing the story and letting them go.
posted by skunk pig at 6:29 PM on May 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

I can’t help but wonder if it could be liberating to focus on what you do that makes you feel pretty to YOU, a la phunniemee’s suggestion.

I spent a long time in my youth feeling quite ugly, and it was awful. I also was saddened/angered at how beauty is equated with goodness and value by our society. Somewhere along the way, I think I internalized a feeling that I shouldn’t want to be pretty because that would be vain, would buy into bullshit hierarchical norms that I want to tear down, would be a waste of time because I’ll never be pretty, would be A or B or C. The idea of dressing up made me feel physically ill, because I simultaneously wanted to look good and wanted to not want to look good, and was pretty sure that there wasn’t a way for that to happen anyhow.

At a certain point I decided that I would take a stand with myself, and practice being ok with wanting to look good, and figuring out what *my* version of that is.

Who knows why I want to look good? Part of it is probably capitalism and patriarchy, and part of it is human biology and culture stretching back tens of thousands of years (body paints are some of the earliest archaeological signs of meaning-making by our ancestors). Looking good doesn’t have to be about approval or worth - it can be fun. And it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s version of pretty: mine is something along the lines of Charming Architect, and involves short hair, big glasses, and flowy pants. I wear blush very occasionally, but dresses and makeup just aren’t my style. I feel sexiest in sleep shorts and soft tshirts. My partner doesn’t spontaneously tell me I’m pretty, but it’s because he is a Charming Mathematician With His Head In The Clouds Who Nonetheless Thinks I’m Beautiful, so I have normalized asking him to tell me I’m beautiful when *I* feel beautiful.

Things that helped me shed focusing on other people and switch to how much I dig myself: finding clothes that made me feel more like ME, that were comfortable and flattering (nice consignment stores and window-shopping at places I otherwise might think were too expensive was really helpful for this). Spending lots of time dancing in front of a mirror, describing what I love about my body, dressing up for myself. Experimenting with drugstore makeup (learned that it’s not for me!). Joyfully watching other people dig themselves, finding happiness in friends’ selfies, people dressed up for a night out. Giving compliments freely for other people’s choices to look good (e.g., less “you have beautiful eyes!” and more “I love the blue in your sweater - it sets off your amber eyes so well!”).

Sonia Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology is a wonderful book.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 1:51 AM on May 22, 2021 [6 favorites]

You are completely within the range of normal to look for validation from your spouse on an ongoing basis, whether that is for his love for you or his appreciation for your beauty. I hope he gives this to you both unprompted and whenever you request it.

Some food for thought... Female-perceived people (I will refer to women and men going forward, but am referring to outward presentation) are socialized to equate their worth based almost entirely on their looks. And what is more, only the looks associated with youth. Men can be perceived as attractive both as young men and as 'silver foxes', and are socialized to equate their value primarily on their ability to provide and their physical strength.

This leads to women over focusing on appearance and men over focusing on careers/phsyical prowess which results in unpleasantness for everyone who feels they aren't accomplishing those things at the level they think society expects.

As you said, in practice, while we may have an instinctual assessment upon first meeting where these factors come up, it has been my experience that personality ends up being the primary factor in how others decide if they like us or not, whether platonically or romantically.

Though it's tempting to chase that dopamine hit of being engaged with based on the societal standard, it may be helpful to remind yourself that you dont really want to be solely judged on that basis alone. I certainly dont value the attention of people who only see me as a pretty thing to flirt with (though as I get older this happens far less often).

So perhaps when those unpleasant thoughts surface, you can reframe your ideas of what constitutes a gratifying social experience and let those anxieties go gently. Acknowledge they are simply old conditioning, and that you no longer need to entertain concepts that dont serve you.
posted by ananci at 7:28 AM on May 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

As I have aged, I was surprised to see that younger people were seeking me out for knowledge and insight; in other words, that I had acquired some power and status. This did wonders for my self esteem, even though part of my "wisdom" is knowing how little I really know. And that, internally, I still feel 15 most of the time.

As a result, I care less about other people's judgement of my appearance. There were people I sought out when I was younger who were not fashionable or concerned with appearance and that didn't affect my admiration for them.

As for people my age, they are probably dealing with the same feelings I am. Being pretty is very fleeting. By definition, it's about youth, naivete, wanting to please others. Flowers are pretty, then they wilt.

Being powerful, sexy, distinguished, joyful, unashamed, self-loving, though, are always options.
posted by emjaybee at 8:08 AM on May 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

The act of creation always makes me feel like there is more to me than how I present myself. The quality of the work matters less than actually doing it. "Your body doesn't matter as much as your body of work." Crafting, art, engineering, photography, painting, woodwork, or programming all seem to help me get outside myself and worry less.
posted by poe at 7:18 PM on May 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Are you familiar with the concept of love languages? Is it possible that yours is words of affirmation, and you could use some more?
posted by bluedaisy at 8:23 PM on May 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don’t think I’ve ever liked someone because they were physically attractive. Why would that make me like them? It’s just irrelevant. I might like them for being vivacious or kind or funny or free-spirited or some other quality. I might really really like them if they make me feel like I am funny or vivacious or entertaining and so on.

If you would like to be liked more often (a reasonable goal, of course) then make people feel better in your presence than without you. That will, by the way, make them think you are more attractive, too.
posted by argybarg at 9:50 PM on May 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Came here to recommend The Body is Not an Apology, and I’m happy to see it’s already been recommended!
posted by spindrifter at 5:59 AM on May 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for these great answers. Some very helpful recourses and things to think about.

babelfish - I very much enjoyed your essay. We should all be adored.
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:17 AM on May 25, 2021

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