How To Stop The “I’m Ugly” Talk — For Good

SoYouFeelUgly_IntroSlideIllustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.

Jennifer Tress is a speaker and the author of the newly released memoir
You’re Not Pretty Enough. She is also the founder of a project by the same name that aims to build higher self-esteem by providing a forum to discuss beauty norms and their impact on individuals. Here, she details her journey of leaving negative self-talk behind.

"Fatty!" "God, you’re ugly!" Those are the things I used to say to myself when I was feeling vulnerable and sad. I wasn’t ready to be introspective and ask, “What’s really going on behind that statement?” I wasn’t ready to deal with the answer.
unnamed1Illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
It was easier in high school with my girlfriends. One of us would throw out a seemingly random “I’m so fat” statement — because we knew full well we’d validate each other. “Are you kidding me? I’d die for your body/butt/hair/lips/eyes/boobs,” another would reply, and then we’d continue that thread for a while before moving on. I graduated with 70 or so people, so there weren’t enough of us to form many elite, popular cliques. We also didn't have the Internet yet.
In college, I enjoyed a long respite from that negative self-talk. I — along with most of my friends — was doing well in my studies, having a great time, and in a long-term, stable relationship. All together, I suppose that created an artificial sense of security and wholeness. That was short-lived, because real life came a knockin’ and said, “Oh, hi, we haven’t met yet. I’m going to kick your ass from time to time.”
SoYouFeelUgly-02Illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
One of those times was when I was 26. I was divorced from my college boyfriend and feeling sad, insecure, and very vulnerable indeed. That’s when the “talk” reappeared, but it was harsher than before. If something didn’t go right at work, I didn’t blame it on being “a fatty.” No, this time I was a stupid, fat b*tch. If a guy didn’t want me, it was because I was f*cking ugly.
I remember feeling shame for going back to that particular well of thought because A) it wasn’t true; and B) intellectually, I knew that looks shouldn’t matter greatly (or should at least be on balance with several other aspects of one’s self, such as kindness and goal achievement). But, during that time, if I felt bad about something emotionally, I’d home in on something physical to take the blame.
SoYouFeelUgly-03Illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
I longed to feel (as some do) that looks didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I longed to dust that “ugly” dirt off my shoulders and spin around in a crowded street, shouting, “Look out world, here I come!” while Kelly Clarkson sung me into whatever amazing thing came next in my day. (Okay, I still long for that, but that’s not the point.)
The point is that most of us feel “ugly” sometimes — usually in the morning, or when we’re tired or stressed. For some, it’s a fleeting thing: a little gnat to swat away via a variety of methods, like some well-applied concealer, exercise, or jamming out to a favorite song. But, for others it can trigger a looping internal message that starts off being about looks (I’m so unattractive), and then morphs into something more hurtful (therefore, I’m unlovable).
It’s not a fun place to be.
So, how do we get out of there? Including some of the activities I mentioned above, here are some tips:
Remind yourself of the things you do like about your appearance: “I have lovely eyes” or “I have a great rack!”
Live in appreciation of the other aspects that make you you. Instead of looking in the mirror and judging your physical self, take the time to remind yourself that you are smart, or funny, or passionate. Maybe all three.
SoYouFeelUgly-04Illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
Own your potential. Everyone has a gift to share, whether it be in your work or in how you interact with loved ones. Recognize that talent and give it your all, no matter how “small” the gift.
Forgive yourself. Sometimes, when we make mistakes, we dwell on the negative. Learn from them, then move forward.
Finally, if others come to you with their own negative self-talk and you’re at a loss on how to counsel them, ask: “How would you like me to respond?” That question forces the person to ask themselves “What’s really going on here?” and then take an active role in asking for the type of support they need.
For me, coming out of that space meant answering that question: What’s going on behind that statement? Once I got to work on processing events in my past and the choices I’ve made, and got back to things and people that made me feel good, that sense of wholeness fell right into place. Though it’s rare, I still have those “not pretty enough” moments. When I do, I just look in the mirror, spend a few minutes putting my lips on and styling my hair, and say: “You are a badass motherf*cker. Now go hit this day.”

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