The passage of time can help!
The importance of appearance
I won’t lie to you. Appearance matters in most, if not all, societies around the world. It can get you places in your personal and professional life. Let’s face it, those who are blessed with the ‘beauty genes’ have advantages over those who drew the unlucky ‘ugly genes’. They may be more likely to find a desired partner or job and, yes, it’s not fair! But rather than wallow in misery about why we don’t look like Bradley Cooper or Jennifer Lawrence (I watched American Hustle recently, hence this reference), we need to think more broadly about who you are as a person. That is, we have a lot more to offer this world than our looks.
My experiences with appearance obsession
As a teenager I was worried about my appearance. A lot. It was mainly due to an unhealthy view of how important appearance was. I think this view was spurred on by witnessing people around me and speaking so openly about looks and placing so much importance on them. Let’s face it, teenagers can be quite shallow and superficial at times! You couldn’t go more than a day in the high school corridor without overhearing whispers about Lucy, the overweight girl; Jack, the guy with bad acne; or Dan, the guy with big muscles. This, coupled with the fact my body was changing in all sorts of ways, made me pretty insecure. It’s no wonder that there has been a rise in obsessions with appearance, cosmetic surgery and the clinical diagnoses associated with preoccupation with actual, or perceived, physical defects (i.e. body dysmorphic disorder)! Things did change as I got older, changed my environment, developed as a (whole) person, and put the importance of appearance in perspective.
Overcoming appearance obsession
As I aged appearance seemed to matter less and less. It’s not because our eyesight gets worse as we age – which it may well do! – but the importance we place on it changes dramatically. At the age of 29, I am still conscious of my appearance, and I do care about it (perhaps, more than others – who knows, guys are too cool to talk about this) but I am reasonably happy in my own skin. That’s not to say I don’t make an effort or want to look good, but I don’t worry half as much about my appearance now.
Why is that?
There are a number of reasons why appearance matters less as we age. For me, it was a combination of surrounding myself with people who were not so superficial, comparing myself with others less, and focusing on my development as a person, not as a physical body. Whilst these may not apply to everyone, I believe there is a general truth – in the case of most people – that appearance matters less to us as we age. Other reasons for this may be to do with settling down with a partner and therefore not being in a state of anxiety over finding a mate or, quite simply, having bigger fish to fry: paying bills, finding job security, cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. etc. The changes that happen as we age push our worries about our appearance into the background. The good news is that worrying about appearance is often transient and you, as always, have the choice of what to focus on in your life.
Behavioural tips to stop worrying about your appearance
· Stop looking in the mirror so much – you look fine!
· Don’t ask others how you look – reassurance is a cycle that never dies.
· Don’t compare yourself to others you see in magazines, tv shows, movies or even walking down the street – remember looks are subjective anyway, and what you perceive to be attractive may not be the same as what another person thinks.
Without sounds cliché, you are unique; no one looks quite like you. More importantly, no one is quite like you, and this – your personality – matters most! Focus on your developing your personal qualities as a person and not as a body and you will be much happier. Whilst this is a hard journey to go through, particularly as an adolescent, you will get there in time.
Dr Sam Jee currently works as a research associate at The University of Manchester and has a background in cognitive psychology and educational research. He has a particular interest in the causes and treatment of anxiety disorders and has worked as an Assistant Psychologist in the private sector and as a support worker for Anxiety UK, a national charity. Sam is also a co-founder, and major contributor, to a popular anxiety blog (www.beatingyouranxiety.com).
Connect with Sam on Twitter: @anxietybeating
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