Whether it’s human nature or a product of living in our society, it seems that most people–well, women, at least–have plenty of stories about not feeling pretty enough, and there is nothing more triggering for those feelings to come up than to stand in front of the camera.

We may build our self-confidence as we raise families, foster friendships, and grow our skill sets in our line of work, but bring on a camera for a family photo or for making business videos, and we get all awkward and uncomfortable.

I’ve been there, too. I can’t count the days, hours, years that I spent stressing over how I look. And I don’t mean fixing myself up with pretty clothes and makeup: I’m talking about feeling self-conscious that I’m unacceptable in my appearance, squirming inside my skin.

The pressure to be perfect began in my childhood through trends and styles. My mom took great pride in her ability to be fashionable and with the times: she was born in an era of glamorous movie pictures and held herself to a high standard of critique. She adored clothes, and wanted her children to be picture-perfect angels worthy of any family TV show.

My mom’s absorption with being beautiful demanded absolute perfection. And I could see the toll it took on her, in the form of an eating disorder: every day I can remember, she was either dieting, or said she’d start a new diet “tomorrow”.

But growing up as a child of the 60s, I was all about nature and homegrown. I would rather be comfortable than fashionable; I clashed against her obsession with beauty.

Indeed, I have memories of making the long trip to Loehmann’s warehouse, several weeks before school began, to get our new dresses for the season. The script always went something like this:

Me: I hate plaids, mom!

Mom: No you don’t. They’re beautiful and that skirt looks great on you.

Me: I’m not going to wear it.

Mom: Of course you will!

My mom stressed about my physical blemishes–a baby tooth that didn’t line up with my other teeth when I smiled, a downward-curved nose that pointed to my Jewish heritage, a mole that drew her attention. She urged me to have surgery to fix my teeth, to straighten my nose, to remove my moles.

Dutifully, I would go to the doctor’s office, and each time, they’d ask me the same thing: “Are you really incapable of living with this?” And every time, I told them that I could live with my perceived imperfections, but I wasn’t sure that my mom could.

Of course, my doctors supported me; every time, I would return home and report that the doctors thought surgery was a bad idea. I was relieved: I was fine, right? After all, the doctors told me so!

The truth is, I wasn’t fine.

Even though I appeared to have shunned my mom’s preoccupation with how I looked, I had absorbed her negative messages and made them my own.

Without even giving it much thought, I was twisting, contorting, and covering myself so as to hide what I believed were my blemishes. It felt heavy inside me, like smothering anger or sadness.

Of course, my appearance wasn’t the only thing I thought about. I had other goals–I wanted to excel in school, dance in the afternoons, play with a few close friends–but my insecurity about how I looked was enough to seriously detract from my self-confidence.

Luckily, my life led me along a path of healing, like following spiritual bread crumbs. Conversations with feminist friends, admirers who reminded me I wasn’t all that bad, the book Love Your Body by Louise Hay, a summer program in Dance Therapy where I journaled for the first time about my feelings, a solo trip around the world in which I shaved off my hair in Nepal and allowed my bald head to be seen — these events all allowed me to be comfortable with my appearance. Though they appear small, they were essential in helping me overcome the negative self-image that had plagued me for years.

From early on, I remember feeling that I was a seeker–I’ve always been on a path of spiritual development and personal growth. And I’ve always had a book on my shelf called The Possible Human, by Jean Houston, one of the founders of the Human Potential Movement.

I’ve never read The Possible Human. But the title spoke to my desire to grow and expand into what was possible for me.

Yes, what I slowly came to understand is this: in order to grow into what is possible, we need to clear out what is holding us back and keeping us down. I like to think of this as clearing out our mental closets.

Just as you might need to get rid of old ratty sweaters so there’s room for fresh now ones, so too do we need to clear out the mental clutter that no longer serves us, so we can make room for what is possible.

I’ve done this slowly and gradually, collecting favorite practices over time as I’ve tried them out on myself, and later, on my clients. Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

1. Change how you speak to yourself. Make a commitment to be as nice to yourself as you would be to somebody you cherish.

2. Give yourself permission to not be perfect. I find the irregular brown splotches of a puppy to be totally endearing.

Allow your splotches of imperfection to be totally endearing as well. @LindaUgelow (Click to Tweet!)

3. Forgive yourself, others, life. Would you rather spend your precious time here recounting past unpleasantness or moving onto something more life-giving?

4. Give appreciation for all the ways your body functions and provides this incredible experience of being alive.

5. Focus on what you are meant to be doing here with your life. If you aren’t yet sure what that is, allow yourself to experiment with something until a better idea comes to you.

What is your story about your relationship with how you look? What practices or perspectives have you used that have helped you heal or move beyond? Please share them below so we can learn and be uplifted by each other.

Linda Ugelow is a performer/dancer and business mentor. She helps people transform worry and struggle into inspiration and ease in their work and life. A special love is helping shy entrepreneurs find confidence and joy connecting with their audiences on camera or stage. You can access her Love Your On-Camera Presence: 5-day mini course in Healing Your Self Image here or connect with her on her website.



Image courtesy of Alexandra Diaconu.