How many of us these days feel this almost constant pressure to always look good? Yes, there are times our job or social occasion require we spruce up, but what if we feel the constant pressure to always look our best? Could this be a sign of a more troubling problem; a deficiency we have been trying to ignore that has dominated our lives and left us miserable. Understand why and perhaps we can free ourselves of a toxic pressure and be much happier for it.
It sounds absurd, don’t you think, we can be wealthy and have beyond model-gorgeous looks and still feel like an inadequate slob; we’re just never good looking enough. It’s true, it happens more often than we’d like to admit. No matter how many compliments we get we just feel like crap, inadequate – hollow inside. We spend our days hating ourselves.
But why do we get caught up believing and feeling like this about ourselves in such a negative, destructive, way?
How can others believe we have it all, are doing great, and we just don’t accept it?
There can be many reasons.
Certainly, the media has a significant role to play thanks to their constant barrage of doctored images of perfection splashed across screens, magazines, and advertising. Who can live up to these impossible ideals of pure fantasy? Though we want to be like them, don’t we? Unfortunately, this form of advertising works and pressures us daily.
We could claim it is a normal to look our best to attract our ideal mate. Yet, so many of us can be in a great relationship and feel we don’t measure up, feel worthless and/or inadequate and want to still change some physical part or parts of ourselves.
Perhaps some of us have a form of ‘illness’, a type of body dysmorphia where our image of ourselves just doesn’t reflect reality. We notice this in many who suffer Anorexia Nervosa, for instance, a terrible condition where people starve themselves to death.
We can easily come up with all manner of reasonable explanations for why we become obsessed with bodily perfection. But what if the main reason is actually founded on something simple: a lack of deep, meaningful, supportive, human connection – close friendship?
Consider the following example.
Several years ago, when I was channel surfing in the days when I actually watched a bit of TV, I stumbled upon a show about a professional nanny who offered practical household advice to troubled families. The centre of this particular family’s struggles focused on a nine-year-old girl, slim, and obsessed with beauty magazines, wanting to wear make-up, and dress in sexually explicit clothes. Her mother was beside herself; the young girl was already talking about having plastic surgery, at nine years old! This was clearly a miserable young lady. Telling her not to obsess with such nonsense just wasn’t working.
Then we learnt the story.
The girl was the younger of a few siblings – I can’t recall how many, but it was less than three. Mum and Dad worked long hours and lived very busy lives. The parents were worried their baby girl would harm herself; that is how sad their pride and joy had become. They were prepared to take desperate measures, even go on international television to do it – share their problems with a judgemental world.
When the nanny arrived, she kindly introduced herself to the family and began by watching, listening, and letting the house routine just roll along. Then she made some telling observations, and a vital recommendation that fixed the problem in weeks.
When her daughter came into the kitchen as mum was preparing the food the nanny noted the mum barely paid her daughter any attention – there was too much to do. Soon her daughter would go back up to her room.
The solution now was clear.
The nanny recommended that whenever her daughter came to her mum to chat that the mum was to stop, turn, listen, and give full attention to her daughter – no matter how busy mum was. She recommended mum spend more time specifically one-on one with her daughter – quality time, listening, talking, playing – mum-time.
Soon the magazines and the focus on looks passed, without mum making any such suggestions at all. Her daughter didn’t need them anymore – the problem had been solved.
Why the sudden transformation?
In short: connection – friendship.
Break down friendship into 10 components – listed in The Friendship Key – and among them we recognise our need to feel valued, noticed, and heard.
How do we make someone feel valued? We make and give them our time – full attention.
How do we make someone feel noticed? We look at them, acknowledge them – we give them our attention.
How do we help someone to feel heard? We face them, focus on them, and try to understand their point of view – their joys and troubles.
By meeting someone else’s friendship needs we automatically tell them they are worthwhile and ok as they are; they don’t need to change themselves to be our friend and feel safe and secure in our company. They certainly don’t need to focus on changing their looks to get our attentions.
How many of us these days are unhappy with our looks, appearance, and behaviours because, like this young girl, deep down inside we are alone, vulnerable, and missing a connection we know in our heart we need?
As you may have notices, we live in an ever-increasingly disconnected world. Other priorities now dominate our lives – friendship and connection, even at home, is not our priority. This distorted focus is having huge personal and social consequences. It is especially impacting on our youth, but also on so many more of us obsessed with trying to seek perfection, physical or otherwise – to try to be ‘better’ so others will want to be around us. Yes, it is made worse by a media that feeds off our deficiency – our unfulfilled need. It is also made worse still by our other obsession, celebrity.
Consider the celebrities we admire. The ideal and hope of being attractive in the form of celebrity has become a magnet for the lonely and disaffected. The attractive seem to be noticed – they seem to get everyone’s attention on TV shows and definitely on social media. They seem heard – we listen to them in adds or on talk shows. And they certainly seem to be valued, important, – they make a mint. They seem to meet so many of our friendship needs – to have it all. But do they?
Understanding friendship tells us otherwise.
To be a celebrity is actually to be an outlier, lonely, and just as socially disconnected as the rest of us, if not more so. Why? Who can you trust as a wealthy celebrity? Do these people want to know me as me or to use me; to help them be noticed and wealthy too? Are these true friends or just leaches – celebrity is a magnet for people wanting to leach off the fame of others for their personal gain.
Looking attractive – physically perfect – becomes a seductive trap in a society missing the most basic of close friendships – disconnected. So too the allure of celebrity. Understanding the Ten Desires of Friendship teaches us focusing on looks or celebrity barely satisfy any of the fundamentals of friendship at all – they are hollow and socially toxic.
So, if you are looking at yourself and hating what you see remember, the problem isn’t about you.
The problem is our lack of connection, of putting friendship last in our priorities and thinking the main issue is our looks – that there is something physical to fix that will make the emotional pain go away. There isn’t.
Friends don’t become great, satisfied, friends by looking immaculate but by how they make others around them feel valued, supported, respected, heard, appreciated, cared for – how well we meet the Ten Desires of Friendship in others so they will want to be our friends. No amount of fame, celebrity, model looks, wealth, or followers on social media will fix this. Often these roles and qualities will actually make us feel worse.
It is a troubled world indeed. Perhaps we would all feel more worthwhile, loved, accepted, and cared for if we spent more time focusing on satisfying our friendships rather than time trying to rake in more cash or perfecting the image in our mirror.
Do you make friendship your priority?
How much time in your day is focused on your looks?