i just feel gross
September 20, 2007 4:52 AM   Subscribe

How do you learn to love your imperfections and flaws?

I suppose, my question revolves more around physical imperfections rather than otherwise. How do you learn to acknowledge and accept the things that make you feel bad about yourself? Things that make you feel... ugly and gross. Things that you cannot, at all, change.

This should be a very exciting time in my life, in a new place with new people, and some great, amazing changes and opportunities. I'm not depressed. Rather, I am SO excited to live and try new things, but feel brought down by vanity.

Basically, I'm female. And have extra androgen in my blood. Which on the upside increases my libido, but on the downside, makes me break out BADLY (I have tried everything. Nothing has ever had an impact). The androgen basically fucks with my hair follicles. I'm also pretty damn hairy for a female. I try to keep things under control, but get so frustrated with my skin/hair that it keeps me home, ashamed, feeling gross, instead of wanting to go out and enjoy myself. I am moderately ok with the hair on my arms, but dealing with the sprouts of black hairs on my face is cumbersome, frustrating, and makes me feel awful. I don't have PCOS, I don't have insulin problems, I just have naturally high levels of androgens. I hate it and feel gross, and feel bad - and jealous of girls who have glowing skin, and hair in only the right places. I didn't ask for this.

I've considered electrolysis, but it's expensive. And new hairs sprout up every now and then, so it's an ongoing battle.

I don't know how to love my flaws, to be content with how I am. How do people do this and gain the confidence to love themselves, imperfections and all??

throwback anonymous e-mail: flawedanddiscontent@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
First, everyone feels this way sometimes (or at least I do). And you have what feels like an additional issue with the higher levels of androgen/hair issue. I am officially acknowledging that hey, that sucks and I hear you.

Here's what I would do. I would invest in laser treatment for the hair, especially the facial hair. Set aside whatever you need to do it at a reputable, well-recommended salon. With a few treatments, the hairs do not return (though one must go several times to complete the treatment). Yes, it is expensive, but then you won't *ever* have to think about that again.

Now. How do you love your flaws, be content with who you are, imperfections and all?

That's a tough one. I don't think everyone 100% of the time loves every single thing about themselves. I'm willing to be that even Angelina Jolie is self-critical at times (though we'd all argue with her, of course). But you can have an overall sense that you are doing well. I believe one important component in this is sport/exercise. In my experience, training for events gives us so much body confidence, along with inner strength.

Good luck to you.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 5:16 AM on September 20, 2007

...but it's expensive

How expensive is it? Is the long-term quality of a miserable life spent indoors a less expensive price to pay? When you are depressed any way out seems too difficult, but in this case, you have options. Expensive options, sure, but it's something.

Take out a small personal loan, if your credit's good enough. Have your family chip in for your birthday. Stop paying for cable or high-speed internet, if that's what it takes to save up.

Whether or not your condition is as disfiguring as you feel it is can't be debated here. But this isn't about vanity, it's about achieving normalcy, and while the electrolysis or laser treatments will only treat your external problem, you can't even begin to crack your internal one until you can actually see someone in the mirror that you think is worth saving.
posted by hermitosis at 5:53 AM on September 20, 2007

Spend some time volunteering in a hospital burn unit. We always compare ourselves to the people ahead of us in the fortunate line, rather than those behind us.
posted by orange swan at 5:53 AM on September 20, 2007

Excess androgen without PCOS? Other acne medications not helping your skin and hair? I can relate, I couldn't look in a mirror for three years. FWIW, Roaccutane followed by Dianette made a huge difference for me. After a number of years I was able to move on to Yasmin and the problem is well under control. Also, I had several cosmetic surgery procedures after the skin calmed down, and am satisfied they were a very good investment. My face doesn't look perfect, but it looks good enough. If you want to get in contact to discuss specifics, email's in the profile.

As for the dealing with it, I sought out activities where looking past the surface is not only useful, but necessary. Joined sports, and felt like I was improving my body and overall health. Overhauled my diet. Took time for meditation courses and similar activities. Funnily enough, people will start to remember you as "Ms Anonymous? You know, she runs the fastest mile in her age group/teaches vegan cookery/is running that great weekend yoga course?" instead of "Ms Anonymous? You know, with the hair and skin problems?" After a while the mirror didn't bother me so much any more.

That was a long process (started aged 17, and I'm 31 now, and I still freak out about my appearance every now and then). It's a cliche to say that everyone has their burdens, but it's a cliche cos it's true. I'm afraid for you, this may be it. Good luck :)
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:54 AM on September 20, 2007

I agree with the investment in laser surgery, although not in a personal loan to do it. I know women with all kinds of unique qualities (not all of which society considers positive attributes) that are just gorgeous humans, period.

One thing that I did years ago when I was feeling the way you do was to make a list of my flaws. There were 27 of them. Through the years, I've really improved upon a lot of them (quitting smoking, less critical, taking better care of my skin), and those that I haven't improved upon (letting my dishes pile up, rarely finishing books I start, big rear end), I've worked on loving instead.

That being said, I think a lot of it has to do with age. As a woman, the older you get, the more comfortable you get in your own skin, so to speak. It's crazy that we can't enjoy our bodies more when we are young, but it takes time to settle into them.

Watch this video from Dove. I encourage you to take beautiful pictures of yourself, even if it takes makeup and touchup of the photos afterward. And investing in those other activities, the ones that build you as a HUMAN as opposed to a female whose value is based largely on physical appearance, are essential. You can read Ingrid Muscio's C*nt or Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth for a more intellectual approach to the concern. Both are really brilliant, inspiring books.

And remember, the feeling passes. It does.
posted by letahl at 6:24 AM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Basically, I'm female.

That's the best sentence I've read in a long time.

The following may just apply to me, but in case it helps you, here goes:

Back in my bachelor days, I spent time in therapy, dealing with my "ugliness" issues. I was convinced that I couldn't get a girlfriend because I wasn't attractive enough. My therapist kept telling me -- over and over -- that I was avoiding the real problem(s). I kept saying, "No. my problem is my looks. If I could just magically fix them, I'd be fine. I'd have girls hanging on my arm."

I was wrong. My therapist was right. I wasn't able to admit that until about two years after I stopped therapy. Too bad. I didn't let me therapist help me. But I guess she did help me by planting a seed of doubt in my mind.

It was SO hard to hear her say that I was using my complaints about my looks to avoid more serious issues -- because it was SO hard for me to talk about my looks. Why would I use something so painful as an avoidance tactic?

To avoid dealing with something even more painful!

Like you, I worried and worried about things I couldn't change. If you think about it, that's (painful but) pretty convenient. If you can't change something, you don't have to work on it. You're free to just give up and complain about it. Though I was doing it in a harsh way, I was letting myself off the hook.

I won't go into the PERSONALITY issues that I had to work on (when I finally clued in). They won't be the same for you that they were for me. But maybe you have some.

In short, if you can change something -- as people in this thread have suggested -- then change it. If you can't, get over it and work on things you CAN change.

"Getting over it" doesn't mean never thinking about it. You can't totally control your thoughts. It means not wallowing in self-pity when you don't have to. And not using stuff-you-can't-change as a wall to hide behind.
posted by grumblebee at 7:36 AM on September 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've considered electrolysis, but it's expensive.

Think of it like you would think of debt as a result of school. You're able to nix something you feel is a flaw, and the end result is feeling tons better about yourself. In the interim, you spend a bit of money. It's an investment to boost your self-esteem. If you can afford it in the long run, I say go for it.

As for learning to acknowledge and accept your flaws...

Bottom line is that most people grew out of high school when they graduated from it. People focus a lot less on your flaws than you may think. If they even notice them, it's probably just to take mental note of them and file 'em away. YMMV, but this is from personal experience.

I make an effort to talk to new people when I meet them, and it's kind of surprising what people will let slip when you read in between the lines. Other People are a lot more insecure about themselves than you might think.
posted by Verdandi at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2007

I definitely agree with grumblebee that there are most certainly other issues that you probably are going to have to face. Confidence, self-esteem, maybe even dealing with some distorted thinking.

However, I know so well how feeling like you look good boosts your confidence & self esteem. And that's ok. It's not always vain. You are entitled to feel & look good.

I realize that the acne & hair are a huge issue for you. I definitely think with the hair that it is worth investing in laser treatments, especially for areas like your arms. It can be expensive, but usually you will get several sessions that are a few hundred each...I believe you can space them out so that you can get your treatments over time allowing you to save up the money. If there are areas on your face like on your lip or chin that are really bothersome, maybe do those first.

Don't let yourself worry over new hairs. Every woman I know has a random hair popping up someplace unexpected now & then. Don't focus on how it sucks that it's growing. Just grab your tweezers and pluck.

As for the acne, have you seen a dermatologist? I would also make that a priority. I do not believe that your acne is hopeless.

In the meantime, you also should find things that boost your self-esteem. Give yourself a manicure & pedicure. Go to the makeup counter of your choice & have them give you a makeover so you can find some makeup that makes you feel gorgeous (I recommend Bare Escentuals, especially for breakout prone skin). Get a hair cut. Get the areas you don't like waxed for the time being, even. Or learn to wax yourself and get the supplies at a beauty supply store. Use lotion & bath products that smell great. Get a few new outfits, or some inexpensive jewelry to dress up what you have.

No matter what your budget is, there is something out there that you can do to make yourself feel good.

And always remember that we are always our own harshest critics. What you see in the mirror is NOT what other people see. They see a person, where you just see your flaws. But you can change even that.
posted by tastybrains at 7:52 AM on September 20, 2007

How much would be too much to pay to keep the hair issue at bay, for real? If it cost $5000 to solve the problem, isn't that still reasonable, considering the length of the rest of your life?

Here in NYC, it's around $50 for a 15-minute electrolysis session. (I'd recommend electro for face and laser elsewhere.) How much hair can be treated in 15 minutes? About the same number of hairs you could tweeze in that time. I'd imagine the average upper lip could be entirely treated in one or two sessions. Then, because you're not allowed to tweeze in between (tweezing damages the hair root, extra blood flows in to repair it, and then the hair grows back stronger because of the extra nutrients), you come back in a month when new growth appears. So that's about $100 a month to treat your face. Personally, I'd do that forever if that's what it took to change my self-perception so radically. But in real life, you'd probably only have to do it for a year, and then after that, every few months or so.
posted by xo at 8:37 AM on September 20, 2007

Though I think this is more of a self-esteem issue than an androgen issue (why? Because I'm a woman, too, and we all have these feelings of unattractiveness sometimes, I think it is built into the XX chromosomes), there is a topical cream that the FDA has approved for removing facial hair.

How do you love your flaws? I think it is more about focusing on your attributes. You've told us all about what you feel is negative about you, but you need to find a way to shift the internalizing to focus on your positives. Positive affirmations apparently can work, according to a recent thread here on askme.
posted by misha at 9:07 AM on September 20, 2007

The one thing that really helped me get over physical flaws was re-positioning them from uncontrollable (awful) things about myself to things that I could control, if I was willing to spend the time, money, and whatever else on it.

I mean, if I was willing to work a couple of part-time jobs and save every penny, and was okay with the pain of having my nose intentionally broken, I could "fix" my funny-looking nose. And if I was willing to put myself on a starvation diet, never drink beer again, and/or save money for liposuction, I could get rid of my stomach pooch.

However, when I really look at it that way--that fixes to these problems are available, but at a cost (money-wise, pain-wise and just general life-enjoyment-wise) that I'm not willing to pay--it becomes a lot easier to accept them. My stomach pooch isn't this focus of disgust in the mirror anymore, because I'm conscious of the fact that I'm choosing to keep it. I didn't ask for it, but now that I have it, I'm making the choice that other things are worth more to me (beer! precious, delicious beer! happy hours!) than having a relatively flat stomach.

Moving your headspace away from "this is what my life would be like in an ideal world" towards "these are the choices I'm making with what I've been dealt" can make a huge difference in how you feel about your body. You might not have asked for this, but you are making a choice in how you deal with it (deciding electrolysis is too expensive, for example--which I think is a valid decision), so see if owning that choice can shift the focus off what other people have to what *you* have and the trade-offs *you've* decided to make.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:19 AM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

i presume you have seen an endocrinologist, but if you haven't, do. you might be able to get a prescription for a testosterone inhibitor. a gynecologist may be able to prescribe this as well. also, a high-progesterone or progesterone-only birth control pill may help. (no, i'm not a doctor--i've just had some hormonal bumps of my own)

i think the electrolysis or laser treatment will be worth it--especially if you don't want to be on medication for the rest of your life. likewise, a dermatologist may be able to help you make some permanent changes with your skin.

as for learning to love yourself...a therapist might help. friends help. a support group helps.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:24 AM on September 20, 2007

For me, part of it is about loving myself for hating these flaws, as if doing so validates my excellent taste and aesthetic abilities. Then being clever about either playing them down, playing them off, or concealing/removing them altogether. Also, try seeing the flaws as proof that one does not have to suffer the pressure of being perfect. Can you imagine how Angelina Jolie must feel some mornings, scared that when people meet her they might notice that her eyebrows are crooked, her lips are chapped, and she has zits? That people will walk away thinking to themselves "She ain't all that! She's rather ordinary in person." Nobody is holding you up to a ridiculous standard, so you're free to impress the hell out of them with all your great features...play 'em up!

Indulging in yourself and being a little vain can help too. Changing your attitude about money and budget (without being reckless) will make this easier. Pampering yourself is fun and rewarding. Especially when the special treatment goes beyond the problem area, but also towards not having those negative thoughts and worries in your mind (because they no longer apply) ever again.

Let's say you spend $5,000 on laser (as somebody suggested above)...that'll buy you almost a whole body of hair removal I'm thinking. Spread that cost out over the next 40 years and it's $125 per year.

Now look at all the financial miserableness you've saved yourself from by not doing it—$10 a month! Could that $10 make you happier spent elsewhere, or not at all?

My point is, there are some things you can amortize, and some things you can't. When you say something is expensive in of itself, sure, you can spread that cost out and see if it's realistic. But if it's attached to an obstacle or path leading to a quality of your life (like happiness or self-esteem), the cost becomes more negotiable (your financial situation and budget weighing in here) and the value becomes priceless.

Don't worry about something being too expensive for your happiness in life, it's an unrealistic measure of worth that doesn't crossover to the abstract things we actually strive for...peace, love, fun, and all that. Worry about how you're going to get/save/borrow the money instead—that's effort better spent!

And also realize that everybody has their 'things', whether it's acne, hair, baldness, fatness, saggy boobs, manboobs, large nose, small penis, big ass, chemical imbalance, cellulite, bad posture, crooked teeth, scars, man...it goes on and on. Change what you can, like yourself for loathing the rest.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:29 AM on September 20, 2007

Here is a recent thread on waxing/shaving hairy arms.

For the hairs on your face, pluck them. As mentioned above, lots of women get random hairs on their face and just pluck them out whenever they start to grow in. You can also get sideburns, mustaches or any other facial hair waxed.

If there is too much hair on your face to wax/pluck, electrolysis might not be as expensive as it is a relatively small area.

As far as the acne, you say you've tried everything, but if you haven't already, I would also recommend seeing a dermatologist. There are lots of treatments for acne and it could be that something as simple as birth control pills could make a big difference.

Also, I agree with all of the suggestions above on what to do to improve your self-esteem. Good luck to you.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:41 AM on September 20, 2007

If you have never tried the regime at www.acne.org I would really suggest you give it a shot. It did a better job than anything I ever got from the dermatologist and is a fraction of the cost.

Also, I'll nth for just getting the electrolysis. Just think how amazing it will be once the hair is gone forever and you are no longer worrying about it on a daily basis.
posted by whoaali at 10:42 AM on September 20, 2007

Spend some time volunteering in a hospital burn unit. We always compare ourselves to the people ahead of us in the fortunate line, rather than those behind us.

I find this to be just as dangerous as the "grass is greener" disease. Don't pity people because they make you feel better about yourself - pretty soon you'll find yourself rooting for them to fail - and it will show. Compare yourself only to who you were yesterday. Constantly grow and constantly evolve and you will gradually feel so good about yourself your limitations will be mere footnotes to someone who is a joy to be around. Looks aren't the only thing that attract they are just the most noticeable. One of the most beautiful girls I've known had to basically shave her face because she was so hairy - but she was so incredibly vivacious and full of wonder and joy I didn't care if she had a full beard.
posted by any major dude at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2007

The FDA approved at-home laser hair removal in December 2006. (It's not out yet.)

Positive thinking and affirmations are nice or whatever, but having the problem fixed is exactly that. I had extremely oily skin with lots of breakouts and then I took Accutane. Not trying to constantly exert control over my skin anymore is so freeing. I cannot overstate how little thinking positively or "putting things in perspective" had to do with anything when I was facing a problem that had a solution.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:48 PM on September 20, 2007

As a beauty I am not a star
There are others more handsome by far
But my face, I don't mind it
For I am behind it
It's the people out front that I jar
posted by nax at 7:08 PM on September 20, 2007

There's a lot of good advice here, that should be considered and tried out. But I'm worried that the bigger problem here is that you've gotten fatalistic about your appearance problems. You believe you look terrible, and you believe there's no changing that.

It's likely that your appearance is much better than you think that it is. Very likely. Please keep that in mind when you feel miserable about it. Don't sabotage yourself, either -- do your best to maintain and improve your appearance. Wear nice clothing, don't torment your skin, eat well, get outside, etc. Be extremely kind and gentle to yourself, and while attending to your acne or hairiness, think of yourself as you would think of a loved one you are trying to comfort or nurture.

But don't allow yourself to sink into inertia about how unchangable your problems are. Don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed, or allow yourself to resign yourself to your fate.

The money expenditure for the hair removal would be worth it, doubtlessly. I'm more concerned about the acne, though. Hairiness can be charming and is more than acceptable. I'm pretty hairy, and I know many a hairy girl... it's not really been an huge issue in their lives. But acne is a possibly disfiguring condition, and can become infected, hurt and ache, and can really lower your quality of life -- even discounting the toll it takes on your self-esteem. Don't allow it to take over your life like this, because there is definitely SOMETHING out there that will improve it.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:54 AM on September 21, 2007

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