Have you ever had a day when, out of the blue, you felt good about the way you looked? Your hair was just right and your skin was free of blemishes. Looking in the mirror, you couldn’t stop smiling at yourself.
But then you pick up your phone and see the gorgeous (or handsome) faces of Instagram influencers. Or perhaps you walk down the street and see a classic beauty posing for a Tiffany advertisement, or the entrancing faces of Victoria Secret models caught mid-laughter.
At that moment you start to feel like your own beauty is a consolation prize. Sure, you appreciate your own good looks, but a part of you would still give it away in a heartbeat if you could just look like her.
Am I the only one?
I think everyone who tries to accept their looks sometimes feels like this. Regardless of how stereo-typically good-looking you are (or not), or how ethnic you look (or not), the constant exposure to faces in advertisement has this effect.
Faces in the media are different than the faces you see of your family or friends. Your family likely looks a little like you; the comparison is an apple to an apple, not apples to oranges. There are little things you envy in your sister, but even if you got your father’s nose instead of your mother’s like she did, you can still love it because you love your family.
Friends’ faces are different than advertisement media, too. Even our best looking friends don’t make us feel mediocre. This is partly because the faces of our friends are not static images staring back at us, nor are they 10 second captures of the most beautiful angles. Our friends sneeze, wrinkle their noses, and sometimes we have to tell them about the lettuce in their teeth. Faces of friends function in emotional exchanges and we look on their expressions to add subtle meaning to their words. The sight of a friend’s face brings us joy and only from photographs do we start to compare appearances to find the person comes up short on looks.
Contrast this with faces in advertisements. As mentioned, the faces are caught at an interesting or pleasing moment, showing an ideal image. The image is chosen to be memorable, so it’s no wonder you can’t stop thinking about the doe-eyed brunette from the Tiffany’s ad. The ads often take us by surprise, resulting in a lasting memory and mental fixation on a certain type of face. The images of models who are already beautiful are manipulated for symmetry and to conform to beauty standards.
Compound this by the thousands of advertising images you view in any given month, for months on end. The repetition reinforces a uniform idea of what is beautiful, what is memorable, what is desirable and worthy of mention. Typical advertising has the psychological effect of dividing human beings into two categories: have’s and have-not’s. It’s a dichotomy that sends the message: either you look like her, or you’re not even worth looking at.
Victoria’s Secret, for all its efforts for diversity, still offers up mere variations of one type of beauty. Many women have stopped watching their annual show because the images are so unrelatable. And if you want to see the shocking effects of a culture hyper-focusing on one type of beauty, Google no further than the 2013 Miss Korea pageant contestants who all look surgically altered for the same eyes, jawline, and forehead.
Refuse to Think of your Face as a Consolation Prize
It’s no wonder that it takes only a moment to bring you from a place of feeling genuinely beautiful to feeling like your face is a consolation prize. I wish I had a simple solution for this feeling, but I can only offer some suggestions:
“My face is not a consolation prize. I am beautiful in my own right.” Remind yourself.
Drop accounts from your social media feeds that constantly publish images of people who make you feel like your beauty is unworthy. Add accounts that show true diversity and real models.
If you cannot shake the feeling, take a minute to relax and remember that you are not your body, you live in your body. Concentrate on how you want to feel physically and emotionally, not what you want to look like.
Create joy from the inside, out. In real life, that’s what appears most beautiful. It’s your smile that will make others fall in love.
In the moments that you feel beautiful and like what you see in the mirror, know that what you are seeing is the real you: the prize, and the incredible, lovable, worthy human being you are.