This piece originally appeared in a recent edition of CosmoBiz Salon, a print publication I write each month for. I thought I'd share it here, too.
I had this idea for an article. It would be easy. I just needed to ask women an age-old question: “What makes you feel beautiful?”
Such a simple concept. What I found, though, is that many women struggled to answer what seems like a benign enough question.
I then asked myself what makes me feel beautiful and I sat here looking at my laptop screen without an answer. My mind instantly moved to things about myself that don’t make me feel beautiful: the freckles on my face, the pesky lines around my mouth, and the fact that the back of my thighs are a wee bit more squishy than I would like. I was disappointed and surprised to feel this way about myself.
One of the women I spoke to answered the question I posed to her by saying, “I honestly can say I've never really felt beautiful. Pretty, yes. Beautiful, not so much. I can do my hair and makeup and still feel just okay about myself. Low self esteem and no confidence really sucks. I'm pretty good at pretending though.”
She was not alone in her response.
Mirriam-Webster defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit .”
I pondered the question some more. I have worked in the beauty industry for many years. I am surrounded by beautiful people, beautiful packaging, beautiful surroundings and beautiful products that work magic. And I can’t help but be haunted by the ugly reality of how women speak to themselves. Their inner dialogue often became their outer words when I was applying their makeup:
- “I look so old. I wish I looked younger.”
- “I hate my skin.”
- “Can you make my face slimmer?”
- “I wish I could get plastic surgery.”
- “If only my nose weren’t so big.”
- “I used to be beautiful -- years ago.”
The most rewarding part of my job over the years was for women to look in the mirror after getting their makeup done and smiling. Knowing that some strategically applied highlighter or a quick wash of color can completely help women see themselves in a new light -- when they were already beautiful to begin with -- is humbling. Sadly, that feeling of “I look beautiful!” tends to be fleeting.
The hardest part, truthfully, is knowing that women can be so hard on themselves. Instead of looking in the mirror and feeling beautiful, we sometimes look and only see what we view as our flaws. We say “I wish I look like I did when I was 22” instead of “I am 40 years old and my husband still can’t keep his hands off me.”
Why is that? I wanted to look deeper and I decided to interview an expert. Peggy Derivan, MS, founder of Discoveries Counseling, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and National Certified Counselor (NCC) in western New York. She tells me that this happens to be one of the most important topics in her practice.
Derivan describes a common scenario with teen girls and women: ”Even when they are told by others that they are, in fact, beautiful, they often don't believe it about themselves. Being beautiful and feeling beautiful are two different experiences. Feeling beautiful is actually connected to feelings of self-worth.”
This absolutely makes sense. This is what I used to see in my makeup chair day in and day out -- women who often didn’t think they deserved a compliment or to hear, “You have stunning cheekbones” or “Your blue eyes really pop!”
Let’s work on this. Every single woman is beautiful in her own way and, more importantly, deserves to feel beautiful.
On an encouraging note, I had several women who answered my question right away. This confidence was truly refreshing -- and I found it to be empowering. So what makes women from all across the USA feel beautiful? Here are some of the responses:
Amy: “You would be surprised the difference lipstick or a colored lip gloss, eye liner and mascara will do for you face. No expert make up application techniques needed and takes less than 5 minutes. I feel like I stand a little taller when I wear lipstick.”
Becky: “Getting my eyebrows done and taking time to "do" my hair--blow dry, straighten, products. Makeup wise, eye liner makes a big difference for me.”
Christina: “A cute pair of heels and a smile -- and maybe a great mascara and lip gloss.”
Stephanie: “A tan! I know that shouldn't be the answer, but it feels so good!”
Chantel: “Throw away ALL your ratty underwear. I kid you not! I am not talking about going out and spending a fortune at some fancy lingerie shop--just something not faded or with worn out elastic. Your confidence and attitude can go A LOT higher when you are wearing something pretty under your clothes.”
Jennifer: “For me, what makes me feel the most beautiful has nothing to do with clothes, hair or makeup. It's me coming downstairs and having one of my girls say I look nice. Or my husband grabbing my hand out of the blue or really laughing at something I say. Or even just that quick second head look from him when I've taken an extra minute with my appearance. There are so many things.... If I had to pick something I would say getting my nails done. I love getting a really good mani/pedi. Pretty flip flops and painted toes is just an awesome feeling for me “
How can we get more women to feel beautiful? Derivan says, “Our culture has miles to go when helping women believe they are worthy, important, and deserving of such a designation as beautiful. When I work with ladies and they begin to value their worth, they also start to see their beauty. It's funny - we might think that knowing our beauty would help with our worth, but it really works the other way around.”
Small steps, folks. We can get there. You are beautiful. Each of you.