In the last blog linked here, we looked at the societal ideas that exist around our bodies and the pressure that they put on us. In this blog, we will be continuing that discussion about how cultural ideas shape how we see ourselves.
Culture and society place a high value on how we look, and more importantly- whether we meet the cultural standards of appearance. Individuals who meet these standards are rewarded with praise and acceptance and people who don’t are pressured to change how they look to conform to these ideals. Honestly, though, the majority of us don’t meet these standards. These messages are often intertwined with ideas about health to make the message louder and clearer. We assume that people who are lean are healthier, fitter, more active, have more energy, take care of themselves and that people who are broader don’t do any of these things.
It seems pretty unfair to tie in so many assumptions with our appearance.
Comments about appearance are so common that we assume that they are good and that they are always received with the best intentions. However, this isn’t necessarily true. So many of us are insecure about our appearance and do not like the way we look. Comments about appearance (even the well-meaning ones) only make it easier to slip into a spiral where we shame ourselves, hurt ourselves, and feel that we are wrong somehow. This affects our mental health and can really affect someone’s ability to cope.
None of us can read minds and therefore do not know how our words affect other people. However, compliments about appearance tend to bring in self-doubt as I mentioned earlier. In this situation, I wonder if it would be more helpful to take a step back and consider that other people have different worldviews than our own. Maybe, it would be helpful to look at qualities that you appreciate in a person rather than a compliment about how they look. “You look so fresh and lively” rather than “you have lost so much weight” maybe? And if you do want to compliment them on their appearance, maybe check with how they feel about it as well? “Are you okay with compliments about your appearance?”
We definitely have a responsibility to ourselves to work on our insecurities and develop a sense of self-compassion towards ourselves. However, this is easier said than done. Moving towards self-compassion and self-acceptance doesn’t happen overnight. For many of us, it is a process that takes years and possibly a lifetime. We all have our insecurities. And we are all trying to do better for ourselves. In this process, let’s try to be kinder to the people around us, knowing that everyone is going through struggles of their own. Let us try to be mindful of our language and the words we use. We are not perfect and we may hurt people through what we say. It’s perfectly okay to apologize and choose to do better the next time.