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You Are Not Your Appearance

How To Stop Defining Your Self-Worth By The Way You Look

Growing into ourselves is a journey.

It can be painful, tricky, misleading, and complicated. It’s only natural to look to others to determine our place in the world. Many of us have grown used to defining our worth through our job title, the amount of likes we receive, grades, age, etc. And oftentimes we find ourselves looking to our appearance and comparing it to that of other people in order to place ourselves.

Self-worth is how we view ourselves and the value that we believe we have. How we measure our worth is the important part.

If we look to outside forces to measure our worth, we are completely missing the point. It isn’t about how productive we are, how many books we’ve read (or haven’t read) this month. Self-worth comes from within. We are what we believe we are. This is easier said than done of course, especially when things are looking up in our lives. When we get a good grade on an exam that we studied hard for, we often look to that grade as “proof” that we are intelligent. Although this victory is benefitting us in the moment, this outlook on our work defining our intelligence or our worth can quickly take a negative turn. If we get a bad grade on an exam that we studied hard for, we will do the same by looking to that grade as “proof” that we are, in this case, unintelligent. This is why having a good grip on what is our worth and what is not is so important. A good question to start with is to ask yourself, is this feeling from a temporary outside force or is this my truth?

This topic can be specifically hard on those of us who have complicated relationships with our bodies. It can be a true battle to avoid using our appearance as “proof” of a personal failure. This unattainable, and completely inaccurate scale is ultimately damaging to our self-worth and our mental health.

We are what we believe we are.

— C.S. Lewis

To help with this, I’ve listed a few ways that help me find my true self-worth. Along with these tips, I created a small practice that can help to ground you while being mindful that the way we look does not determine how valuable we are.

3 Ways to help find your self-worth

  1. Create affirmations

I can’t stress enough how important our inner dialogue is. The way that we speak to ourselves and even the tone we do it in affects our self-worth. By replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, you can help to re-program your the way you speak to yourself, ultimately helping to ground you and build your self-esteem.

Affirmations are essentially short positive statements that you can either create yourself or simply find online. There are even a handful of helpful affirmation apps that can be downloaded onto your device. The key is to repeat these statements consistently, if you don’t necessarily agree with them now, no worries at all! Fake it until you make it! If after time you feel that an affirmation is negatively affecting you, it’s okay to stop using it. Try finding a more reasonable and attainable one to replace it. You can repeat these every morning before work or school, or even use your phone to record yourself reciting your affirmations to listen on the go. Whatever works best for you is the right way!

If you are having a hard time finding affirmations, here are a few of my own to help you begin:

  • I have time

  • I am valuable

  • I deserve love

  • I will be kind to myself and my body

  • I am proud of myself

2. Meditation

It’s safe to say that most of us have heard of the positive lasting affects from meditating, but knowing what to do and doing it is the hard part. Meditation is a great practice for those of us who find ourselves stuck in our heads often (a scary place to be if we don’t talk kindly in there). The practice of meditation helps to create a more aware, clear, and focused mind. It helps us to stay in the present and calm. With a clear mind we are able of making healthier judgments and really see the big picture. This perspective is important when we feel down on ourselves. Instead of judging our situation through a foggy window, meditation allows us to wipe that clean and see the truth in the moment and the truth within ourselves. Different forms of meditation can be helpful to different people so I recommend to do light research to see what fits best for you.

A good place to start is by using guided meditation. You can do this by searching that on YouTube or on a podcast app. Another option is to download apps like my favorite, Headspace which provides 10 free guided meditation sessions that I found really helpful and recommend if you aren’t sure where to begin. Another option is to use your affirmations created earlier to guide you during meditation. The purpose here is to create a stronger mind, and this takes time so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Headspace meditation app

Headspace meditation app

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the act of bringing your attention to the present. This practice goes along with the two previous tips, affirmations and meditation. Mindfulness does not have to exist exclusively during meditation or yoga. We can go through every-day life being present, and although this can be hard to believe for those of us who experience anxiety, it is a great tool to practice even if difficult at first. My feelings of anxiety about the past and future have settled down since I began to practice mindfulness and I hope it can help you too. Although mindfulness will come naturally with the help of the first two tools, you can begin getting a feel of it by doing the following practice:

Imagine a clear blue sky. This represents your clear and true mind. Imagine clouds, wispy, puffy, whatever they may look like. These are your passing thoughts, they might trick you into believing that they are your true mind, but they are only passing by. When a negative thought pops into your head, try to imagine them slowly passing like the clouds in the sky. Acknowledge them, maybe even thank them if you want to, and let them pass on by.

How to find self-worth without depending on your appearance

Here is a short practice that I use as a reminder to respect my body while also listing characteristics about myself that deserve some acknowledgement. I hope this practice can help you to not only combat negative feelings about your appearance, but how to find value in it too!

1. Write a list

Begin by writing down what you like about your character. Are you intuitive, witty, kind? Write down compliments you’ve received in the past and try to focus on the internal aspects of yourself that you find confidence in. If your list is small, don’t fret. Just because you haven’t thought of any does not mean that they don’t exist.

2. Let’s get introspective

Okay, whether your list is a page long or you have just a couple words jotted down, let’s unpack each one. For example, being “generous” is not a behavior that we are necessarily born with, we work toward maintaining that characteristic. Take this time to honor that work, whether it seems to come natural to you or requires constant effort. This quality is a true personal accomplishment, and that deserves your attention and praise! Go through your list with compassion and grace, and try to avoid arguing with yourself over the validity of each attribute. You wrote them down because you believed them. 

3. Writing a thank you letter to your body

This might feel a little weird, but I promise it’s important! Start by envisioning each part of your body and ask, “what does this do for me?” Producing a physical copy of how your body cares for you whether you’re caring for it or not can feel grounding. Here’s an example. I’ve always had a hard relationship with my arms, I found them to be too big for my frame and tried my best to camouflage, shrink, and avoid thinking about them. As I’ve grown into myself more, and moved through my life with the only body I’ll ever have, I now find that my body has always loved me, arms included. They are strong, my arms allow me cook, work out, and give hugs to the ones I love. Some good aspects to start with are your eyes, and feet. Acknowledge and  give thanks to these parts of yourself for the value that they naturally provide you with. Do this as many times as you want, the more parts of yourself your give gratitude to, the better you will feel.  

It is important to note here that to be kind to your body does not have to mean being in love with your body. “Self love” culture is everywhere and it often tells us that we have two options: the first is to hate the way we look, and the other is to be infatuated with it. It is completely okay to feel a sense of neutrality toward your appearance. Remember, the goal here is to respect your body.

Feeling beautiful has nothing to do with what you look like.

Emma Watson

As you finish up, maybe taking a trip to the mirror with your thank you letters in hand is the next step. If you don’t feel up to it, no worries! But know that you are capable of doing so. If you decide to take the trip, go through your list and give attention to each part of yourself listed. Remember that your body is where you live, where you learn and make memories. It’s okay to not like every part of the way you look, and it’s okay to still want to hide yourself at times too. But the next time you find yourself feeling personally responsible for what you see as a physical failure about your appearance, know that those knobby knees, crooked teeth, and arms love you and are happy to be a part of who you are.


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