Ask me to describe myself. One of the adjectives I'd use is "confident." Not confident in a blatant, outright prideful kind of way, but I feel as though I am proud of who I am, what I believe, the people I am blessed with in my life, and sometimes, my looks. It's taken me a long time with that last one. In fact, another word I'd use to describe myself is "insecure."
Sometimes, I look in the mirror and am fine with what I see. But that's only sometimes. Very often, more often than I'd like to admit, I look in the mirror and frown, pointing out every perceived flaw. Every little bit of fat that clings to me, every stretch mark, everything I don't like about myself, and I often forget the things I do like. It used to be crippling. What other's thought of me was an idea that consumed my thoughts.
Over the last few years, I've come to terms with my identity and my looks, and even come to be proud of who I am. I'm healthy, I exercise, I eat (somewhat) well, I'm young, I've had boys express interest in me, and most of all, I am uniquely me, beautifully and wonderfully made, unlike any other. Comparisons can crush you, but I have slowly been trying not to compare myself to what I see in magazines or even just on my beautiful friends. Sometimes, I even step outside and think "Man, I look fine." Not in a stuck up way, but in a confident "Hey I feel sexy" way. I think everyone, man or woman, deserves to feel like they are absolutely beautiful.
But those insecurities still haunt me all the time, every single day. Maybe it's what drove me to post a picture of myself online for complete strangers to rate. It was all rather impulsive if I'm being honest--a quick action spurred by unbridled curiosity. Asking internet strangers to rate me was something I always said I wouldn't do. But it was late at night, and I just really wanted to know what people saw when I walked down the street. Even with my head held high and my favorite outfit fitting me in all the right places, what if they didn't see what I wanted them to see? Or what if they love me? That would be a great ego boost. But what if I really am ugly, and do I really want to know that?
I guess I did.
I posted a picture of myself in which I thought I looked very beautiful. I was wearing an outfit that hugged me in all the right places and showed off my body. My hair was done nicely, I was modeling for the picture, and I had a sweet but not over the top smile. I felt really good about how the picture looked (which made me very nervous because if they hated that picture then I was in trouble!). I asked people to rate me numerically from 1-10, starting with a 1-2 category, then 3-4 and so on and so forth, with 10 standing alone.
I got some pretty interesting results:
I refreshed the poll constantly, and my first vote rocked my confidence quickly.
It was a "5-6"
I wasn't extremely nervous going into the poll. That first vote made my heart stop. Granted, a 5-6 is better than a 1-2, but 5-6 meant one thing:
I was average.
Average is fine. Average is great. But I wanted so badly for people to believe I was beautiful. What if everyone believed this way?
The votes kept coming in, and some were higher, others not so much. One of the first few votes that came in was a perfect 10, so that made me feel a little better. But as the votes streamed through, I observed a couple interesting facts (Off topic: being a psych minor I felt like I was back in my undergrad psych classes analyzing data points!):
Firstly, I noticed girls thought I was less attractive than men did. Men were most likely to rank me a 8 or a 9, while not a single woman rated me above a 6-7. The highest ratings I got were 10's, and fortunately, that got more votes than the lowest rank I got, which was a 3-4. Men were also more likely to vote and more likely to comment below on my appearance. Most of the comments said "She's really pretty" or "She's really cute." This was nice, but the comments also disappointed me. A big part of me wanted people to be giving grandiose compliments, like "Wow, gorgeous/beautiful/so sexy/11 out of 10/most amazing looking girl ever!" Most of them did not say that.
I didn't get many girl comments that were extremely positive. The positive ones said very generic "she's pretty" kind of things. One girl called me "below average," and I read that and froze. Was that true?
The final and most interesting observation in this little experiment of mine was that the results were SO scattered. I wasn't expecting that at all (but then again, I went into this with no idea what to expect in the first place). The consensus was that I am somewhere between a 6 and a 9, which helped me not at all, because a 6 seems so different than a 9. Everyone had a different opinion. One person would comment that I was sexy, and then the next would say I was "meh." People were very quick to take a single look at me, assign a number, and move on, but to me, that number was everything.
People were very quick to take a single look at me, assign a number, and move on, but to me, that number was everything.
As I looked over the results I felt my confidence begin to fail, and in just a minute all the confidence I had been working years to build started to melt away as I felt all my insecurities taunt me. I guess I really was just "average." My mom has been lying. My friends lie to me all the time apparently. I guess the boys that dated me were just pitying me or one in a million to think I'm hot. I am nothing special. I am just me. Plain old me. Ugly me. Because today, to be average is to be ugly.
But then I looked again at the results, gritted my teeth, and thought "Wait a second, these people are complete strangers. They don't know me. They don't know my life. They don't know the battles I've fought, the successes I've worked to achieve. They don't know the little quirks I have, or what I do that makes those around me smile. They don't know how I like my coffee, or where I live, or my love life, or even what my favorite color is. They don't even know my name."
And all that was true. I thought of my friends, and I thought of my family, and I thought of the boys that have liked me, and even the people I hardly knew, that had taken time out of their lives to tell me I'm beautiful, and I thought "Whose opinion was really more valuable? The people on the internet who decided to rate me after seeing one picture? Or the people that have known me my whole life, or at least have MET me, and have said otherwise?" The answer wasn't hard to come to.
Why are we so quick to assign a number to people based on one quick glance and a head to toe scan?
I have met some of the most beautiful people in the world (and I'm talking inside AND out here!). Most of them have been called "ugly" or "average" in their life, and I can hardly believe it. Everyone has beauty, and that's not me being overly optimistic or cliche. I believe it. Sunflowers are beautiful. So are Christmas lights. So is the new snow, and so is a sky filled with clouds. But their beauty is not the same, and neither is ours. I've never met a person I couldn't find something beautiful in.
Everyone has beauty. Sunflowers are beautiful. So are Christmas lights. So is the new snow, and so is a sky filled with clouds. But their beauty is not the same, and neither is ours.
Even if no one ever said I was beautiful, the opinion that counts most in this world is my own, and trust me, I've been a hard sell. There are days, all too often, that I don't believe in the beauty, both inner and outer, that is me. I don't think I can be anything more than "average" (and that's if I'm lucky). But then, I try to remember my unique individuality, focus on the things I like about myself, and remember that I am so loved. Does that always work? No. There are days when nothing can convince me I am worth anything simply because I think I'm not pretty. But that is false. There could never be a more beautiful me, and there could never be a more beautiful you.
If this experiment taught me anything, it is that I am NOT defined by my physical appearance. It is a part of me, yes, and sometimes, it's a part of me that I like. But it is not the only part of me. As Proverbs 31 says, "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears God, she will be praised." That is the woman I want to be. Even if you are not religious or hold different beliefs, I think that verse can apply to anyone. In the end, external, youthful, ideal societal beauty does not last, and it is your actions that you will be remembered by. People may remember you as physically beautiful, but if that's all you are remembered as being, then it's not much. I want to be known as someone who is kind, compassionate, strong, joyful, driven, and brave. I believe that in being those things, I am beautiful. The human race is full of beautiful people. Be one of them.