I Hated My Appearance for 10+ Years. Here Are the Six Steps I Used to Love Myself Again
Have you ever looked in the mirror and immediately squeezed your eyes shut because of how much you freakin’ hate the look of your own reflection?
If your confidence and self-love journey is anything like mine, your answer is a big, “Hell yes.”
The truth is, I’ve battled a variety of self-doubts and limiting beliefs throughout my entire life. The limiting belief that stuck with me the longest?
“I’m so ugly.”
My Journey with Self-Doubt and Self-Hate
I can remember looking in the mirror at a very young age and thinking things like, “I look soooo gross” and “Ew. You’re disgusting.” By the time I was 14, I had an eating disorder. Every morning, I’d throw up my breakfast once I got to school. Then I’d skip lunch and tell my parents I wasn’t hungry for dinner. In four months, I went from wearing a size 12 pant to a size double zero.
And you know what? Getting skinnier seemed to “solve” some of my self-esteem problems. After all, my slender appearance was more socially acceptable. More boys wanted to date me. More girls wanted to be friends with me.
But in my experience, even if you “fix” one aspect of your appearance (for me, my weight), you just immediately start obsessing over other “flaws.” So even at my lowest weight, I still cringed at photos or videos of myself. I hated that my eyes are two different sizes. That my smile is not symmetrical. That one of my ears is folded and the other one sticks out. That my skin breaks out. That my hair isn’t the “right” color.
The voices in my head would shout out every single “flaw” they noticed any time I walked by a mirror. It got so bad, I refused to go anywhere without a full face of eyeshadow, blush, two different kinds of foundation, mascara, eyeliner – everything – from age 14 to twenty-something.
The Turning Point in My Relationship with my Looks
This isn’t to say that I never had good days. My relationship with my appearance got a little better when I moved abroad and lived in India and Guatemala. There, it isn’t as normal or “expected” to wear a ton of makeup. In fact, when I first arrived in India and did my usual “beauty routine,” people would literally stop and ask me, “Why are you wearing so much makeup?!?” Plus, it’s super freakin’ hot in India, so all that makeup would just sweat off anyway.
After about five years of living in a place where makeup and thinness are not the gold standard, I finally started to let those things go. I was able to start focusing on my body less. And surprise, surprise. It felt super liberating!
I dedicated that extra time and energy to healing my depression (read more here), furthering my job and career goals and discovering what passions truly set my soul on fire.
But then I came back to the US.
And everything fell apart again.
You May Look “Confident” or “Beautiful”…But Still Not Feel It
On the outside, it looked like I had it all. I started my business as a mind-body specialist, and quickly became a well-known life coach in NYC. My practice grew quickly, and I was invited to give talks at high profile seminars at places like Columbia University. I got tons of really high-profile clients. And, suddenly, I couldn’t stop obsessing over my appearance yet again.
One of the hardest things about hating how you look is how that hate, self-doubt and self-loathing corrupts every aspect of your self-worth. You don’t just feel “disgusting” to look at. You feel like you don’t deserve the relationship you want. The career you dream about. The friendships that will enrich your life.
At my lowest point, I even found myself feeling like I needed to put on tons of makeup for my male clients. Otherwise, I’d be so ugly and have so little worth to offer, they’d never want to work with me.
How messed up is that?!?
How I Controlled My Anxiety and Increased My Confidence
So how did I go from hating my looks – and even hating myself and feeling unworthy of anything good in the world – to being a self-assured confidence coach?
Well, a few different techniques helped me increase my confidence and actually start liking myself again. And if my story of self-doubt and self-hate is hitting a little too close to home, these tips can help you undergo the same transformation:
1. Realize that your anxiety and self-doubt isn’t just about beauty or physical appearance.
Have you ever cringed at a photograph of yourself and thought, “I’m a horrible person for even worrying about something as superficial as how I look. I just need to get over it already!”?
The truth is, though, your physical appearance is not just some surface level thing. It’s actually tied to your deeper sense of self-worth and worthiness as a person.
As soon as I realized this, I knew that I needed to change how I viewed myself on a physical level. Otherwise, I’d absolutely never be able to do all of the awesome things I wanted to do in and for the world. Not to mention I’d never be able to break free of the appearance-related anxiety attacks that were taking over my life.
This new source of motivation gave me the push I needed to take the action-filled steps I list below…
2. Practice thinking that being unattractive is safe – and start to believe it!
Even before getting to know my own beauty, I found it helpful to focus on the safeness of being unattractive. If a new client was visiting (especially a male one), I’d feel the urge to put on makeup, acknowledge that urge, and not put on makeup or do anything special for my appearance. Then, I’d spend some time reflecting: “Damn girl, did you see how awesome that session went? How much progress the client made? And look – you just got a new client. Who says you need makeup to be an epic life coach!?!”
I also constantly challenged myself by stepping into the world in ways where I didn’t look great. When I could feel my anxiety rising, I’d consciously tell myself, “I am safe, I am safe.” I would ground myself by focusing on feeling my lower sacral chakra, which is associated with safety and being able to embrace your authentic self.
“But Caitlin!” you might be thinking. “I’m terrified of being unattractive. What if it ruins my whole life?!?” And I’d tell you exactly what I constantly told myself: Maybe you aren’t the most attractive person in the world. But guess what? That doesn’t affect your worthiness. At. All. So enjoy your girl’s night out without wearing your fanciest clothes and highest heels. Go to work without your usual extensive makeup. You do not have to be insanely attractive to enjoy and kick ass at life!
3. Change your standard of comparison.
When I reflected on my own feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness, I realized that I was constantly comparing myself to the gorgeous women I saw in magazines and on TV. So what did I do? Turn to handy-dandy Google, of course! I googled statistics and images about the “average woman” and I started comparing myself to them instead of the photoshopped celebrities I saw in magazines or on TV.
Of course, comparison itself is problematic (and I will get to that in the next step). However, at this stage of my journey to be more confident and beat my anxiety without medication, changing my standard of comparison made a big difference. It let me challenge my limiting belief that I was the ugliest person in the whole wide world. And that was an important baby step in the right direction.
4. Move out of comparison.
Once I was able to start chipping away at the deep-set belief about my own ugliness, I decided to stop comparing myself. To anyone. I realized that my own confidence issues had nothing to do with anyone else. These issues originated in and were fueled by me!
So how did I start embracing my own kind of beauty? I’d look in the mirror and do what I call a “Goddess scan.” I would look at just one part of my body, for instance my nose, and say, “This is the nose of a goddess.” Then I’d list characteristics of that body part that I loved and were goddess-like, whether it was a freckle or the slope of my nose or whatever. And I’d do this for. Every. Single. Part. Of my whole body.
I know that this exercise might sound a little silly, and you may feel awkward staring at yourself in the mirror and talking about how your “thunder thighs” are actually the perfect size to power you through an epic 8-mile hike. But this practice seriously helped me embrace the uniqueness of my body. Combined with not comparing myself to others, this exercise even made me feel, well, beautiful.
5. Study up on human anatomy.
If you’re still struggling to find gratitude and love for your body, another step that can help is learning about everything your body does to just to keep you alive. Just take a minute and think right now. About how your heart is pumping blood for you. How your bones are holding you up. How your lungs are taking in this air and changing it out and making carbon dioxide.
When you learn about the miracles and the bodily processes taking place inside you every day, you also feel incredibly, incredibly, incredibly beautiful.
Because your body is AMAZING.
To remind yourself of that fact every day, regularly do things that make you stay in touch with your body. Do full-body breath work. Try a jade egg practice (more information here). Hell, even have an orgasm! Whatever practices you do, just remember that your body is an amazing thing – and you deserve to feel proud of and love for everything it can do.
6. Create an inner confidence coach!
The last trick I used when I was going somewhere and feeling “blah” was bringing my inner confidence coach. For me, that coach was Oprah. After all, she’s an incredibly beautiful person…but she’s not your standard beauty either. Anytime I found myself feeling insecure, gross or ugly or comparing my looks to other women’s, I’d “tune into” whatever Oprah was telling me. Usually, it’d be a little pep talk like, “Damn girl, you are so beautiful! You’re literally glowing today! Look at those eyes! That hair!” The list would go on and on.
Now it’s your turn to try. Make a mental list of five badass women or men you look up to. They could be anyone from Beyonce to Bill Gates. Now, pick one of them to be the “angel on your shoulder” who gives you sweet, sassy or classy pep-talks whenever you need them. You’ll be amazed at the difference a solid source of support can make – even if that support is imaginary.
And if you feel like you need even more support to find your inner shine and overcome your anxiety, that’s why I’m here! I just released a NEW six-week course called Radiant Confidence that is all about challenging the limiting beliefs you’ve been told (or been telling yourself) about confidence. Together, we’ll not only discover the “radiant realities” that exist around confidence but also give you the tools you need to live your most empowered and joyful life. Learn more about Radiant Confidence and sign up for the course here.
The Bottom Line About Beating Anxiety Without Medication and Loving The Way You Look
If you’ve ever struggled with self-doubt and self-hate, you know that learning how to love yourself again can feel about as impossible as finding the perfect outfit for a first date. But after a lot of time and work, these six steps truly helped me see and accept my own beauty, as well as expand my definition of “beautiful” in the first place. And now, I can really feel safe and worthy in all the areas of my life!
The best part? You can experience the same transformative journey – and the power is in your hands. Men and women have so many internalized ideas about beauty. Men have to be tall and strong and virile. Women have to be slim and dainty but still have those Kardashian curves. And it’s not our fault that we think this way. It’s just a result of the magazines and social media and general culture that we’re surrounded by.
But once you start setting a daily practice to cultivate new beliefs about beauty, you can fall in love with your body and your appearance. And suddenly, looking in the mirror won’t be so bad…because you’ll be able to truly see what an awesome, powerful, capable person is staring back at you.
What’s one way you increase your confidence or control your anxiety on a “bleh” day? Tell me in the comments!