What Does It Mean to Feel Beautiful?

Photo of young adult with brilliant smile laughing and looking off to one side, holding backpack straps out, standing on walking trailUnfortunately, all too often, I speak to people who struggle with their self-image. For the purpose of being entirely transparent, I sometimes do, too.

Here are things that sometimes surface in my conversations with others:

  • Constant negative comparisons to others
  • Believing others are more “put together” or polished
  • Worry about fitting in or belonging
  • Concern about being “enough” (pretty enough, smart enough, good enough)
  • Wondering how others make being “beautiful” look so easy
  • If-then beliefs, such as, “If I lose weight, then I’ll be beautiful”

I saw a clip of the Today Show recently where they offered two women makeovers during an “Ambush Makeover” segment. One of the women was incredibly excited (it was her 50th birthday), and she was thrilled with the results of her “reveal.” The other woman expressed trepidation and stated she was more nervous than excited. The show’s staff assured her they’d take care of her.

Upon seeing herself in the mirror afterward, and after the hosts exclaimed how gorgeous she looked, that woman calmly said “I like it” and then “My mom will like it” in a measured way, as though that was purportedly the correct response. Though she smiled broadly, it didn’t appear she was as ecstatic as the hosts. I got the feeling she might be eager to wash off the façade, that perhaps she never believed she needed a makeover in the first place. It was slightly awkward to watch because it drove home the notion one “should” want to present as aesthetically pleasing to others, even when one is perfectly content with being exactly as they are.

Often, what we truly perceive as beautiful is not what is traditionally externally pleasing to the eye. We recognize people in our lives as beautiful when being around them makes us feel good. We see them beneath their surface. The same can hold true for us.

One of the people with whom I work in therapy, when asked when she felt beautiful, replied “never,” her eyes welling with tears. As we continued our exploration of this subject, I asked her how she defined the word “beautiful.” She referenced someone from her past whom she described as kind, warm, smiling, welcoming, and friendly. That became a reference point for us, and she was then able to discern she had, in fact, felt beautiful at times.

Often, what we truly perceive as beautiful is not what is traditionally externally pleasing to the eye. We recognize people in our lives as beautiful when being around them makes us feel good. We see them beneath their surface. The same can hold true for us.

Here are some examples of things you can do to improve your relationship with yourself and feel more “beautiful”—according to your definition:

  • Find a feature you like. Look in the mirror and find a single thing you do like about your body. Maybe it’s a cute freckle on your nose, or the way your smile is a little crooked, the length of your fingers, or the thickness of your hair. Is there a feature that makes you unique? Perhaps that’s something that enables you to feel beautiful.
  • Focus on what your body is able to do, on the ways in which it demonstrates its power. Is your body able to breathe, move, speak, hug, smile, or hold someone’s hand? Is your mind capable of thinking? Can you look at someone and really see them?
  • Deliver the kinds of positive messages to yourself that you would offer to others. If asked, what words would you use to describe a loved one’s physical appearance? Would you berate, bully, and be unkind? Or would you be caring, encouraging, and compassionate?
  • Find a new way to appreciate your body and connect with it. Try yoga, dance, or tai chi, a means of moving that requires focus and develops trust within yourself.
  • Develop a mantra, post it, and practice it. Examples: “I have incredible beauty within,” “I am enough,” “I am special,” “I have inherent value,” or, “I bring beauty to the world.” Think of a statement that rings true to you and rehearse it on a regular basis.
  • Do what you love. As you engage in the things that bring you joy, you can’t help but deliver that feeling beyond you. That is beauty.

Think about what the word “beautiful” means specifically to you, and the moments in which you feel that way most deeply. How do you project your beauty into the world?

“What I want to be, girls, is beautiful. Beautiful means ‘full of beauty.’ Beautiful is not about how you look on the outside. Beautiful is about what you’re made of. Beautiful people spend time discovering what their idea of beauty on this earth is. They know themselves well enough to know what they love, and they love themselves enough to fill up with a little of their particular kind of beauty each day.” —Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Amelia

    January 31st, 2017 at 8:10 AM

    If I feel that I look beautiful then that is the only thing that matters. I have stopped really giving a rip about what anyone else thinks a long time ago.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    January 31st, 2017 at 5:49 PM

    That’s great Amelia!

  • Jodi

    January 31st, 2017 at 10:08 AM

    I have never once been told that I was beautiful or even been made to feel that I am. I know it sounds sad and I think that this is probably why I never think that I am because I haven’t ever heard these words from another person. It shouldn’t mean that much to hear it from someone else if I am able to think that I am but how do I ever feel that way when I haven’t ever had someone to make me feel that?

  • Laurie Leinwand

    January 31st, 2017 at 5:43 PM

    Jodi, people often mirror back to us how we feel about ourselves. It’s possible that if you choose to feel beautiful, that then that beauty will be reflected back at you. However, that would simply be a bonus to the sense of beauty generated from within yourself, independent of what others think.

  • Tamara

    January 31st, 2017 at 1:58 PM

    We buy into all of this makeover stuff and these ‘reality’ stars and how we think that we should look, like an airbrushed version of ourselves.
    It’s hard to feel good about what we see in the mirror when we are constantly being shown every way possible that that’s not good enough.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    January 31st, 2017 at 5:48 PM

    Tamara, we don’t have to buy into those airbrushed images. We know that they’re a function of hours in hair and makeup or editing. We can be more accepting of ourselves exactly as we are. We get to decide.

  • Tamara

    February 2nd, 2017 at 9:23 AM

    Oh I know that I don’t have to buy into it, but I am certainly as guilty as the next person of doing just that. I wish that I could see past all of that but when this is the “perfect” ideal, then you sort of lose focus on the things that are already beautiful about yourself.

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