Monday, March 16, 2009

How Others See Us

My Goddaughter drew the picture you see above on Saturday when we were visiting. It’s a portrait of me. Although you might not recognise me from her portrait, it is a very good rendition of me when you consider it was done by someone who is only six years old. It is how she sees me - medium sized, with glasses and long hair, eyes, a nose, a mouth, two arms and two legs. It really made me think about how we see ourselves in comparison to how others see us.

To be fair, on Saturday I was kind of frazzled. I was having a bad hair day, I had a pimple on my cheek that was really driving me mad (I don’t think it is fair that you can have pimples and wrinkles at the same time) and I felt anything but attractive. But to my Goddaughter’s six year old eyes, I looked pretty and she told me so. My husband had also complimented me on my appearance earlier in the day. At the time I felt really irritated with my hair and I took pains to explain to him exactly how inaccurate his compliment was. Why did I do that??? It didn’t make me feel any better and it sure made him feel bad.

I’m not the first one to fall into that trap though. How often do you hear women putting themselves down just after they have been complimented? Or heard someone complain about how awful they look just as you are thinking that actually they look really good today? It’s rare indeed that a woman sees herself through rose coloured glasses. Most of the time, she’ll be looking with a magnifying glass and a microscope, not just at her appearance, but at her conduct and life style.

Why are we so critical of ourselves? Certainly the media and society are responsible for promoting unrealistic images of women in the press - from airbrushed models to “perfect” movie stars - but surely we are grown up enough to realise that those things are just not real? Well, on a good day I am, but on a bad one, I’ll be comparing myself to all those images and coming up really short. Actually, one of the best ways I know to start the day off on the wrong foot is to be critical of yourself. We all have flaws, but surprisingly most of them do not even get noticed by other people - until we point them out that is. And pointing them out is something we do with great regularity. Usually our motivation for this is to get reassurance - no, I can’t see that pimple, yes, your hair looks great, no, you are not too fat/thin/tall/short - but all it really does is draw attention to something that most people don’t even see. When I had my hair layered at the front recently I was devastated. It came up shorter than I had expected and although my stylist did a wonderful job of the cut, I didn’t feel it suited me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why had I done it? Why had I not left well enough alone? What was I thinking? Guess how many people noticed I had had my hair cut? None. Nada. Zero. Even now as it is growing out eight weeks later, not one single person I know even realises I had the cut done. I sure wasted a lot of time worrying about something no one even noticed.

Then there are imagined flaws - vague things we beat ourselves up about that are virtually un-noticeable by anyone else. I focus a lot on my nose. Let’s just say it is a distinctive nose and small it isn’t. But no one ever complains about it to me - instead I get compliments about how I look in profile and people often compliment me on my appearance. My nose is part of me, and without it I would not look at all like myself. So why worry about it? Food for thought (for me too!).

It is important to take good care of yourself, to look and be the best you that you can be. It gives a good impression because it shows you care. But being critical of yourself is completely counter-productive. Having a bad hair day? Embrace the joys of the pony tail or treat yourself to a new hat. Got a nasty pimple? That’s what concealer and make up is for. Feeling like you handled a situation badly? Really look at it, in conjunction with your thoughts and feelings at the time. Chances are you did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. If in this instance, you really did mess up, then try to make amends or apologise to anyone who got hurt - whatever is necessary. Do it and get it over with - but don’t spend ages beating yourself up for it.

Unless you are one of the very rare exceptions in this world, very few of whom I have ever met, chances are you are a really nice person. Furthermore, I firmly believe that everyone is beautiful in their own way and we all have beautiful qualities about us. It’s important to know these things about yourself - that you are a good person and beautiful in your own way. When people compliment you, realise that they are passing on a thought that is genuine and heartfelt, not making something up. It’s hard to give compliments; people rarely do it unless they really mean them.

So no matter what kind of a day you are having today, starting from this moment forget about bad hair days, imagined flaws or anything like that. Every moment is new and you are important and special just as you are. The thing that bothers you most about yourself is probably something ninety-five percent of people are not even aware of. Life is way too short to waste worrying about something no one else even notices.

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