The other day I watched this video that's been going around on Facebook. It was created by the company that produces Dove soap for women. In the video, a forensic artist named Gil Zamora sketched the faces of several women without looking at them. The women sat down on the other side of a curtain from the artist and were asked to describe their faces in detail: eyes, forehead, nose, chin, etc.
Later, there were some other people who were introduced to these women and told to pay close attention to how they looked. These people were asked to describe the women who had described themselves to Zamora. The artist did not see any of the people he drew, nor did he see any of the people who described the women.
When the experiment was finished, each woman had two drawings of herself: one drawn according to how she described herself, and the other drawn according to the description of someone she had just met. For each set of pictures, it was obvious that they were of the same person, but the difference in the two drawings was striking.
Without exception, the drawing of the woman done according to her own description showed her in her worst light. One seemed fatter than she really was. Another's face was hard-edged and angry-looking. One woman had messier hair. Another looked sadder and more introverted.
At the end of the experiment, the women whose faces were drawn were shown both drawings, and it was clear that they were not only surprised at how much prettier the other person thought they were, but every one of them was also chagrined to realize how hard they had been on themselves. All of them seemed a little disappointed in themselves, and more than one seemed moved to tears.
The women agreed that it is important to see ourselves in our best light, because our feelings about ourselves have an impact on what friends we choose, how we interview for a job, how we treat our children. Having a positive feeling about ourselves is critical to our happiness and wellbeing.
At the end of this powerful film, there was one simple statement: You are more beautiful than you think.
Our self-image is a mental picture of ourselves that we carry around with us all the time. It resides in our subconscious, and it is incredibly resistant to change. Our self-image comes not only from looking at ourselves in the mirror, but also from data that we get about ourselves from others, such as an IQ test score or our report cards at school. We also tend to internalize comments that other people make about us, especially if they are adults that we love or adults who have authority over us, but also if they are peers who are seen as somehow better than we are. (For example, for many young girls, the opinion of the popular kids who may not like us is much more important than the opinion of nice kids who like us, but who are not very "cool.")
Young children, in particular, are apt to accept and internalize the opinions of adults in authority because they have no criteria for interpreting or evaluating the statements. In other words, they don't have the wherewithal to say to themselves, "Mom doesn't really mean that. She's just had a big argument with Dad and she's upset." They don't know enough to day, "Dad's drunk, and he's just lashing out because he's angry about something that happened at work."
Girls, in particular, are bombarded with a lot of idealized images in magazines, on TV, and in films, and they are accordingly more judgmental about their appearance. Later in life, women with negative self-images tend to have less satisfying sex lives. Mothers who recognize some of their own traits in their children often unconsciously communicate their dislike of that particular trait, thereby passing on to their children a negative self-image.
Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, discovered that when he performed plastic surgery on people who had suffered facial damage in accidents or people who had been born with a facial deformity, the patients with a negative self-image often insisted that the surgery had not changed their looks, even when they saw photographs of themselves before and after surgery. He studied how the subconscious mind works and developed ways to work with patients to improve their self-esteem before surgery, so that they might be able to accept and appreciate the way they looked after surgery. His experiences were written in his book, Psycho Cybernetics.
What can we do to improve our own self-image? For one thing, we can come to an understanding about why some adults made negative comments about us. Maybe Mom was drunk, or very upset about something. Maybe she didn't like her own hair, so she criticized yours. Maybe her own mother criticized her. We can realize that we are not obligated to accept these ideas about ourselves just because someone we loved or someone in authority said them. We can forgive these people for the negative images that they gave us, recognizing that many of those messages were unconsciously given.
We can surround ourselves with people who uplift and support us. We are not chained to the friends who make snide remarks about our clothes or hair. We don't have to spend time with people we know talk about us behind our backs, even if they happen to be members of the family!
We can accept that we have flaws and imperfections, and we can make an effort to look for things that we like about ourselves. With an especially supportive friend or circle of friends, we can do an exercise where we express positive things that we admire about each other.
We can refuse to accept guilt trips, knowing that much of the time when a person blames others, they are either incapable of accepting responsibility or they are really angry with themselves. We can realize that most people are easier on us than we are on ourselves.
When we criticize ourselves, we can stop and ask ourselves if we would use the same terms (fat, stupid, lazy) to describe one of our friends. If we wouldn't use these words to describe others, why are we using them to describe ourselves?
Last, but not least, we can learn to identify with ourselves as Soul, and we can seek to understand why we might have chosen the body we are in. What lessons can we learn from life in our current body? Realizing that the body is not who we really are, but only a suit of clothes that we have put on in order to live and move and have our being here in the physical world this time around does wonders for our overall sense of self-esteem.
After all, God does not make junk. :-)