The secret to a life well lived is beautiful skin. A whittled waistline. The right pair of shoes. A clean diet (one that will try to convince you it is not based on deprivation). A slim body and a fat wallet. A swimsuit that fits your shape. Flat abs that take less than fifteen minutes a day to maintain. Makeup that feels like it is barely there. And looking better naked.

At least this is what the world tells me as I walk out the door each morning.

My hands detected the worth and weight of beauty magazines at the age of twelve, and I was never the same again.

I flipped through the glossy pages, where pretty girls smiled back at me and home remedies made promises that I don’t think they were ever fully equipped to keep. As I traced the Perfect Lips. Lashes. Long Flowing Hair. I remember thinking to myself, “I never realized I had this much to fix! I never knew I was missing so much.” I never realized I was this broken.

We digest the pages of these magazines and websites as though they are the 300-calorie sandwich that sits and waits for us on page 112.

We are fed this idea that the key to true satisfaction and real happiness is somewhere amidst a fat-shedding workout and a cream that makes cellulite vanish. We stay hungry over the fact that we can chalk life up to being obsessed with outward appearance, to Always Needing to Fix Something. And as a result? We never need to put away the tool belt, fully loaded with eight-minute abs and voluminous mascara.

If we always have some outer glitch to fix—to make our thighs smaller and our love handles just a little more lovely—then we never have to stare inward.

We can abandon a quest for inner piece in order to make a journey toward a clear complexion. We never need to shred emotional baggage when Jillian Michaels and P90X promise us a different, more visible kind of shred.

A great friend of mine spent time building a medical clinic near an all girls’ orphanage in Latin America, and I saw the revelation in his eyes as he told me about the beautiful little girls. Little girls who missed arms and legs and limbs yet found nothing to miss at all. “They were the happiest children I had ever seen, ” he told me. “Because they had not been taught that they were missing something.

We are always convinced that we are missing something. Seven Steps Away From Perfection. Perfect Thighs. Perfect Curves. Perfect Lovers. Perfect Days. What would happen to all those magazines and reality TV shows and billboards if we looked in the mirror and realized we were missing nothing? That it was all there. Sitting abundantly on both our insides and outsides.

What if we could stop in our own reflection? Stand there without an ounce of pressing time itching at our ankles? Or if we could realize the most radiant element on our faces was not half off at Wal-Mart yesterday? To say confidently to our inner selves, “You are not missing things. You are wonderful just the way you are. You are whole.

Whole in a world that tells us we are empty.

Full in a world that tells us we are hungry.

Content in a world that tells us we are unsatisfied.

Here. Right here. All parts intact. In a world that convinces us that we are missing vital parts. Parts that will fulfill us, happiness that sits on a shelf for $4.99, beauty that comes in six shades of red and seven different sizes.

At some point, we decide that we are going to pull away, that we are going to shun our ears from the messages that seek to pierce us and make us feel less than worthy. It is not an easy task. A task that never meets perfection. But little by little we allow ourselves to put down the tool belt, put down the coupons and the washed up images of the “way we used to look” to stop and see the truth: that all we ever needed never cost us $19.99 and our own self worth as a sacrifice.

Hannah Brencher is a writer, speaker, and creator pinning her passion to projects that bring the human touch back into the digital age. After spending a year writing and mailing over 400 love letters to strangers across the world, Hannah launched The World Needs More Love Letters in August 2011—a global organization fueled by volunteer “letter writers,” now in fifty states and forty-seven countries. She’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Oprah, Glamour, the White House Blog, and is currently a global finalist for the TED2013 Global Talent Search (watch the TED Talk). You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

*Photo by jlaceda.