How Words Shape Self-Image

Opinion

By Charlotte Luke

“I look so bad in that picture.”

“I wish my eyelashes were as long as yours.”

“I shouldn’t have this ice cream.”

I hear people, particularly women, disparage their appearances constantly, or compare themselves unfavorably to others. In fact, I cannot remember the last time someone admitted to me that they looked good in a photograph, while nearly everyone I encounter swears they have no photogenic qualities.

I’ve heard friends complain about the length of their faces, the shape of their fingernails, the speed of their metabolism—virtually every aspect of their faces and bodies, inside and out. Interestingly, I often get the sense that people self-deprecate in order to fit in, as if they are afraid that confidence will be perceived as arrogance. In this case, self-deprecation becomes a “funny” competition among friends:

Who is the ugliest?

Who is the fattest?

Who has the worst skin coloring?

But when people point out so-called flaws in themselves, I can’t help but think they begin to believe their appearances are truly flawed, so they use concealer, Photoshop and weight loss programs in order to feel good.

I use “they” as opposed to “we” because about a year ago, I decided to stop playing the self-deprecation game. Before I consciously made this change, I wore powder to cover up acne scars, I dreaded school picture day, I used special shampoo to combat my frizzy hair; when friends commented on themselves, I jumped in with, “No, at least you look better than me.” But to be honest, my habit of pointing out flaws grew tiresome; I wanted to feel good in the person I naturally am, so I learned to hold my tongue when I saw photos of myself or looked in the mirror with my friends.

The effect was not immediate, but I found that when I stopped vocalizing my negative remarks, I stopped seeing as many “flaws” in my appearance. I feel comfortable going without makeup, I feel comfortable telling others I like photographs of my face and body, and for the most part I’ve stopped comparing myself to others in ways that degrade myself.

I just wish it weren’t so uncommon to find people who also understand that our words can become our true perceptions of ourselves, even if we claim to celebrate our appearances.

Because you look good in that picture.

Because your eyelashes are beautiful.

Because you can have this ice cream.

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