I’m walking down a busy city street and end up behind her. She’s seemingly perfect. Her soft balayage hair, silky camel trench coat and pointed black leather ankle boots. She walks with an air of both confidence and sophistication, not asking for anything, but not hiding either. As my faded green sneakers tread behind her I feel as if I am sinking into myself. I just recently had my hair done, but suddenly it feels frizzier than normal. My untidy eyebrows begin to itch and my two-year-old, no-name coat weighs me down, outdated.
I walk another block behind her and watch as men and women alike take not so subtle sideways glances at her. Their eyes pass right over me. I’m short, but I feel shorter. I’m skinny, but I feel out of shape. I’m waxed, but I feel prickly. You can probably relate to this feeling.
The thing is, for the longest time I couldn’t. Feelings of self-loathing and self-consciousness never crossed me. I’ve been surrounded by extraordinarily beautiful women my whole life — women who make careers out of their beauty — and being surrounded by this only uplifted me. I felt more beautiful and more confident in their midst.
Recently, though, I’ve become hesitant. I shrug away from the second glances. Rather than tell myself I must be having a good hair day, I wonder if people are looking at me because I didn’t put enough makeup on. I curse every picture taken of me, rather than celebrate them as I use to.
What is going on?
I have two theories:
Theory No. 1
Being surrounded by inner and outer beauty in person is different from staring at it through a flat, non-dimensional phone screen, scrolling and mindlessly double tapping. Our digital realities are a place only for our most perfect selves. Selfies that take half an hour to capture, and three seconds to post, hit us right in the comparative jugular, throttling our reasoning skills and convincing us that everyone looks polished, affluent and happy all the time and you should too.
Theory No. 2
We live in a beauty-obsessed society and have been nurtured to feel like we are “enough” only when we’ve hit the beauty standard for the day. Day in and day out. While I know there’s a countering wave of women who are choosing to grow their armpit hair in retaliation, the truth is, the majority of us fight back against these harsh and unforgiving beauty standards with the very same “medicine” that is making us sick. We can keep plucking, toning, tanning, dyeing and painting until almost every inch of us is modified.
I will not get caught in the trap of guiltlessly blaming everything external for my internal feelings of emptiness and self-consciousness because, honestly, I buy into it. I have Instagram and I love fashion, makeup and beauty. I find art in it all. But sometimes it leaves me feeling hollow.
What I have personally observed is that the trouble begins when I am consistently glued to my streams of intake rather than actually engaging with my life. By this I mean, I’m reading more than I’m writing. I’m listening more than I’m talking. I’m scrolling through galleries of rich forests on Instagram rather than walking through them with my own two feet. This I believe is the crux of the matter. We are creatures of balance; if our intake weighs heavier than our output, we will feel it in our bones.
… the trouble begins when I am consistently glued to my streams of intake rather than actually engaging with my life.
I have a proposition, an experiment, if you will. Next time you’re feeling a little empty and self-conscious, don’t run to a mirror or your phone to fill yourself up. Try this: Be beautiful in your actions. Tell someone else they’re gorgeous. Compliment someone’s smile. Help someone struggling down the stairs with a heavy suitcase or stroller. Write yourself a list of reasons why you’re proud to be who you are. Call your mother and tell her what inspires you about her. Call your father or your brother or your sister and say thank you: thank you for simply existing.
Rather than curating your social feed with beautiful images, curate your life with beautiful, human moments. The effects of these actions will have a much longer lifespan than simply distracting yourself from self-conscious thoughts.
You can’t Snapchat these moments because they are real, they are fleeting and they are of monumental impact. These moments are the foundation of true inner beauty that will shine outward, and you don’t have to worry about matching them to your skin tone.
How do you cultivate your confidence?
Images via Katie Kopan