I believe we can be anyone

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best to make you like everybody else is to fight the hardest battle you can fight--but never stop fighting! E.E. Cummings

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

11 Ways to Feel Beautiful: Part 1

I don't think I'm the only woman who doesn't feel beautiful from time to time.  It seems to be quite a regular thing for women.  In a world where we are bombarded with strict and often unrealistic images of "beauty ideals", it's sometimes difficult to see our own beauty.  But it is something that is important for women to find.

I recently read an article in Oprah magazine (January 2010) about this subject.  The tips I have found in this article are useful.  I have personally applied some of these myself over the last few years.  I have also shared these and my own insights and experiences with other women.  And what's great is, not one of these suggestions involves applying more makeup!

1.  Stand (and sit) tall!  "Your brain is constantly checking in with the rest of your body to find out how you're feeling," says Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist at Stanford University.  "When your posture is erect, the message it gets is:  I feel good about myself."  One study, published last year in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that subjects who sat up straight in their chairs instead of slouching were more confident about statements they wrote.  Keeping you shoulders back and chest open also makes you look taller, slimmer and radiantly self-assured. 

Things I have personally done over the years that help my posture are strengthening exercises (for the rhomboid muscles specifically), stretching (the pectoral muscles upper, mid and lower) and yoga.  Generally, for most people, their rhomboid muscles are weak and their pectoral muscles are strong.  When we sit at a desk, for example, we tend to round out our shoulders which shorten the pecs.  This then lengthens and weakens the rhomboid muscles.  It's important to stretch out the pecs as much as possible and strengthen the rhomboids to create balance.

I have also made a conscious effort to be aware of my posture.  When I work with trusted and recommended people like massage therapists, chiropractors, personal trainers, etc., they help to give me another understanding of where my posture is at and what I need to work on.  Also, when a person is active physically, it helps them to get in touch with their bodies.  Activity beats inactivity any day!

2.  Be an Observer, not a Judge.  Don't issue good/bad/pretty/ugly judgments when you look in the mirror.  "If you have a scar, you can decide to see it as a flaw or simply as a memory of an injury" says Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida and director of the Laboratory for the Study of Eating Appearance and Health.  Try to take in your physical attributes the way you would those of a child or beloved friend - with appreciation and acceptance, not criticism.

Perception is everything, especially how you see yourself.  I'm not perfect but no one else is either, even those who "appear" to be.  Perhaps we are perfect just the way we are with our "imperfections".  It's all in the mind.  Choose to start seeing yourself differently and focus on the positive.

3.  Find something to admire in yourself.  "Studies using eye-tracking technology have shown that people who are unhappy with their appearance zero in on their perceived flaws when they look in the mirror," says Nancy Etcoff, PhD, director of the Program in Aesthetics and Well Being at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Turn your gaze on the feature you like (we know you have at least one).  "When your eyes take in something that pleases you, your brain's reward system is activated, lifting your whole mood," says Etcoff.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (they say).  Whoever "they" are, and it's true.  What one person finds attractive or beautiful, another may not.  We're all different and we are all beautiful in our own unique way nonetheless.  Embrace yourself and your beauty.  What is one physical feature you love about yourself?  Start from there and you will find more and more to love.

"It is not beauty that endears, it's love that makes us see beauty."  Tolstoy

4.  Put on a happy face.  "We all find smiling faces more attractive than nonsmiling ones," says Paul Ekman, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, who has studied facial expression for several decades.  A smile not only lifts the muscles around the eyes and lips for a more youthful appearance, but also generates a feel-good ripple effect:  your brain gets an instant mood boost from the muscle contractions and that boost is maintained as people smile back at you.

Have you ever noticed that when someone smiles, they look totally different?  Sometimes I will watch people.  Someone will look kinda "mean" or "grumpy" to me and then they smile and they aren't so scary anymore.  I'm amazed by that.  Take the time to make someone smile.  Compliment them on something and you will be amazed. 

"It takes 17 muscles to smile and 47 muscles to frown.  Conserve energy."

5.  Breathe deeply.  Shallow breathing manifests itself as tension in your face, throat, even shoulders.  On the other hand, when you take deep, slow breaths, you look and feel more at ease in your body.

In this busy and complicated world we now live in, I constantly need to remind myself to breathe.  It's funny how often I catch myself breathing shallow.  Take moments throughout your day to sit quietly and breathe.  Take an inhale lasting 5 seconds deep into your belly.  Hold for 5 seconds and then exhale counting for 5 seconds.  Hold for 5 seconds.  This process only takes 20 seconds so you can do this as many times throughout the day as you like.  Yes, really.  It does wonders.

Stay tuned for Part 2!  Enjoy!