If you look at the flawless women featured in Cosmo or watch shows like America's Next Top Model, it's not surprising that many women struggle with their self-esteem. How can we "love ourselves for who we are" if we're bombarded with unrealistic images of women in the media? As human beings, we're wired to strive for perfection. We're constantly comparing ourselves to others and yearning for something we don't have. We spend so much time worrying about our appearance and what others think that we forget how lucky we are. The sad truth is that "Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful," according to research by Dove. So let's put down the magazines, turn off the TV and forget about "perfection" for a second -- it's time we start to appreciate our own beauty.
Begin by asking, "What is one thing I like most about myself?" My friend posed this question to a group of our closest girlfriends a few weeks ago. Somehow our conversation had progressed from recalling funny college stories to a discussion about self-image. Like any group of best friends, we often engaged in such intimate conversations; however, this question felt particularly personal. The room fell silent. We began to blush as we scanned the circle, looking for someone else to break the ice. As I sat there, I wondered, why was this topic so difficult for us to discuss? In a comfortable setting, why were we embarrassed to give ourselves praise?
"You can't be modest," my friend said. "Say it with confidence. Own it!" After a pregnant pause, one of my friends began, "I have really defined cheekbones." We all smiled and agreed, happy to have relieved some of the tension in the room. Another person followed, "I have a great nose." By the time we had all spoken, the color in our cheeks returned to normal and our faces were beaming. "That felt good," I thought to myself, recalling how awkward I felt earlier. If I'm not going to appreciate myself, who will?
As I reflected on this activity, I realized how rare it was for women to be exposed to environments that foster self-praise; therefore, it was only natural for us to feel vulnerable in this situation. In the future, we should strive to make open discussions about self-esteem and societal pressures more common. We can always find something to improve about ourselves but if we never stop to appreciate our blessings, we will be perpetually dissatisfied. Although we are naturally competitive beings that constantly look outward and compare ourselves to others, we should also find time to be introspective.
So here's the challenge: next time you gawk at a billboard of Sofía Vergara in Times Square, take a minute to think about one thing that makes you beautiful; jot it down, tell a friend, tell your mom or just say it to yourself. When someone throws you a compliment, don't feign modesty or write it off as a gesture of politeness -- smile and soak it in. The truth is, there will always be someone who is prettier, faster or stronger, but you're pretty damn beautiful the way you are!
Follow Jennifer Langione on Twitter: www.twitter.com/WordsFromJen