It has often been said that one’s biggest enemy is actually the Self. Although the phrase rings true in many instances such as in self-development, social life, career advancements and others, the one aspect that takes the greatest beating is often the appearance.
Face it, every time we look in the mirror, it is all too common to wish that we were taller, shorter, had smoother skin, a sharper face, smaller ears, bigger eyes, double eyelids or something or other. These are key reasons behind the multi-billion beauty and cosmetic surgery industries around the world!
Urban Health dives into the psyche of beauty with Veronica Augustin, a Clinical Psychologist and Educationist from UCSI University:
1) Is it true that we are often our own worst critics where appearances are concerned?
Veronica: It is the nature of mankind to strive for perfection. Also, as ‘I’ is one of the most used words by a person, it is highly possible that one’s own sense of importance would make us our worst critics.
2) Is self-criticism a common phenomenon that is safe to be ignored or will it lead to more serious problems such as bulimia or obsession with cosmetic procedures?
Veronica: There is nothing wrong with self-criticism especially when it develops oneself positively. However, it is unhealthy when the criticism is unrealistic, exaggerated or over-generalised, more so when it is not based on facts but misperception. That may lead to eating disorders or unnecessary cosmetic procedures.
3) Is this more common among women or is it the same for both genders?
Veronica: There is possibly more stress for women to look beautiful based on the amount of advertisements and beauty products, especially make-up .
4) Is there a particular group of people who are more likely to suffer from appearance-related self-esteem issues?
Veronica: To a certain extent, it is dependent on the family and societal culture. In certain parts of the world, having long earlobes and necks were perceived as beautiful by the respective tribes.
5) Apart from going under the knife, are there ways to come to terms and be happy with one’s appearance?
Veronica: Definitely. If appropriate stress is given on internal rather than external beauty, children will learn to value and develop morals such as virtue and integrity more rather than superficial physical beauty.
6) What is the role of peer pressure, the media and societal expectations in creating an unhealthy self-image?
Veronica: The mass media plays a major role. Adolescence who are at the impressionable age easily imitate and assume the supermodels, glamorous , ‘successful’ famous people depicted in the movies as the ideal standard instead of appreciating each other s differences.
7) What are the signs that one is obsessed with one’s looks? At what point does it become hazardous?
Veronica: I guess the symptoms would be somewhat similar to addictive disorders i.e. overly self-conscious, constant checking of one’s appearance in a mirror or reflective object that disrupts one’s normal functioning such as work, duties or personal life.
8) Would you agree that anyone who is contemplating cosmetic surgery first undergo counselling to identify the root of their problem/unhappiness?
Veronica: Yes, I do believe this is ideal. The situation is similar to any other personal problem such as divorce, abortion etc. There are cases whereby it is too late to regret the decision made in an instant of emotional turmoil.
9) What advice would you give to people who want to be comfortable in their own skin?
Veronica: Physical beauty is only skin-deep. Listen to age-old wisdom: physical criteria alone never guarantees long-term love and affection from a spouse or partner. True friends or relationships can only be sustained long-term on the basis of internal beauty. This is what will sustain oneself not only personally but professionally till the end of one’s life.