Yes, you are more beautiful than you think you are! How can I make such a stunning statement without meeting you in person? Because you, like many women, have been brainwashed by something beyond your control, a force so strong yet so insidious that you probably aren’t even aware of it. Yet this powerful force is the reason you focus on all your imperfections. You see defects on your face and flaws with your body, and you feel crappy about yourself as you go through your day.
What is this mysterious—yet overwhelming—force? I’ve labeled it girly thoughts—those societal messages women receive about how they look and what makes them appealing. Girly thoughts are born from our need to be loved and accepted. They are nurtured through the fairy tales on which we were all raised, stories that speak to our need to be weaker than we are so we appeal to men, and they are reinforced through the practice of digitally enhancing a woman’s natural beauty to the point that the model doesn’t even look like the actual woman being photographed. The result of this blurring between what is real and attainable and what is not is the huge price we pay for chasing this illusion: we lose access to our personal power, and we berate ourselves for not looking or acting as we feel we should.
During a recent radio interview about my book The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power, a professional model called in and told me that when she wakes up in the morning and looks at her face, she is depressed because she does not look like the slick photographs she sees of herself in magazines. She wondered if this negative self-image was an example of girly thoughts. “Yes,” I answered sadly, “this is how your girly thoughts are affecting you.”
With girly thoughts in charge, it takes enormous energy (and courage, I might add) to make the mark on this world that we would like to make and to meet the challenges that are in front of us. Our girly thoughts teach us to be so very, very critical of ourselves and focus on what is wrong. Without thinking, we are “naturally” drawn to concentrating on our “flaws,” and we feel real anguish that we have them. Whether we find a wrinkle or realize we have gained five pounds, the result is the same: We feel defeated. And this is how we deplete ourselves of our personal power.
By allowing these perceived flaws to consume so much of our energy, and by being so weighted down by our girly thoughts, we sacrifice taking real care of ourselves—a sequence that, ironically, begins with not appreciating our own beauty. The price we pay for this is dramatically seen in the new Dove series, Real Beauty Secrets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk. In it, a police sketch artist draws a woman’s face based on her verbal self-description (without actually seeing the subject). Later, he draws her again, this time based on someone else’s description of her. When the woman (and we) sees the two sketches side by side, there is a dramatic difference in how the same woman looks in the two versions, but the a-ha moment is when the woman realizes she appears prettier, happier, and brighter in the sketch based on a stranger’s description of her. I was moved to tears by the faces of these women as they came to realize that, as one women put it, “I should be more grateful for my natural beauty. It impacts our choices in the friends we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children; it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.” I urge you to spend three minutes watching this moving video, as it is a dramatic illustration of the price we pay for our girly thoughts, which block access to not only our beauty, but also our energy and power.
You’ll need that energy and power to fight back. Actively resisting those subtle negative images and messages that are such a part of the fabric of your life is a struggle. But consider the alternative: do you want to stay stuck and just focus on your flaws?
You can fight back and learn to tune out your girly thoughts by developing and claiming your resilience, which I show you how to do in my book, The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power. Remember, what has been learned one way can be learned another! Position yourself to step into your power, because you are more beautiful than you think you are.
Patricia A. O'Gorman, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice. She is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and amusing presentations that make complex issues accessible and even fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations across the country in preventative and clinical strategic planning. Dr. O'Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and she has held positions ranging from director of a rape crisis center to clinical director of a child welfare agency, and director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). She is a veteran of numerous television appearances, including Good Morning America, Today, and AM Sunday and is the author of eight books including: The Girly Thoughts 10 Day Detox Plan (2014), The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (2013), and Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting (2012) 12 Steps to Self-Parenting.