There are a lot of discussions out there about Social Anxiety (no wonder I have a whole website dedicated to it!), but there are still so many undiscovered angles, especially because it impacts people in so many different ways. I’m now more aware of the fact that Social Anxiety is contextual. It can manifest itself in various forms, depending on your personal history or personality type. I’ve written extensively about how Social Anxiety has affected me in the past, and the strategies I’ve used to break free from it, but I never truly explored some of the nuances that can come into play subconsciously.
So let’s talk about the concept of beauty, how it impacts us negatively (from both ways), and awakens social anxiety.
There’s no other way to say it, but we humans place a lot of emphasis on beauty. Regardless of how subjective it is. We love looking at attractive people, which is why there’s a whole industry (multiple ones in fact) dedicated to putting “beautiful” people in front of us. Then we do many strange things to keep up with these young and beautiful models/celebrities/influencers. We wax our bodies, pull our faces, slather different creams on each body part, and pay for cosmetic surgery. All to have an impact on how we view ourselves. And how we want others to view us.
I do believe we’ve recently turned a corner and have become more enlightened as to what true beauty really is. Many companies are now (finally) adding more sizes in their stores. They’re creating campaigns around more natural and inclusive looks. And they’re more reluctant to use photo altering tools to promote themselves artificially.
Thank goodness they’ve realized that the majority of people don’t look like Charlize Theron.
Even with all the progress on this front, such as empowering women to not wear makeup (or men to have a six-pack), and discarding societal rules to look a certain way, we all still default to a standard of beauty. We all want to look and FEEL beautiful like the movie stars. We think we’ll finally be confident if we are. So then, is it not true that we can get Social Anxiety when we feel like we’re not meeting our own expectations of being beautiful?
Let me elaborate on that.
As we grow up and become part of society, we’re bombarded by millions of different messages. Messages that tell us whether or not we’re “beautiful”. From our parents telling us (or not) to our friends suggesting it (or not), and eventually, to the opposite sex (or same sex for that matter, depending on who you’re attracted to), we generally have an idea of how people perceive us. And being human, that shapes how we see ourselves and what we choose to put emphasis on.
For example, someone that has acne might get a lot of stares or questions about it, so they’ll do everything to cover it up. Someone that’s consistently told they should model will probably find themselves in the “popular” group. Then again, someone that’s fat-shamed their whole life might have serious eating and mental health problems.
The perception you have of yourself has been shaped after years of experiences and run-ins with all types of people. And it’s not static.
We all have ups and downs when it comes to how we feel about our looks. Some days are better than others, but overall, we’re aware of where we land within the beauty range. Again, even if it’s subjective and fallible.
I know how delicate this topic is, and of course, some people might disagree with what I’ve just said. What I want to convey is how beauty can have an impact on social anxiety. While social anxiety is all about feeling negatively judged, it also has to do with how we see ourselves. And the expectations we have. Personally, once I got out of my pre-teen years, the boys were suddenly interested in me. I was deemed “beautiful”. I got a lot of signals, both verbal and non-verbal, from the opposite sex, telling me the same.
You’d think that would have boosted my confidence, but instead, it gave me more social anxiety.
I felt as if I was only seen through this one lens and that it was the only one that mattered. Let’s be honest, boys didn’t care about the books I read. The problem was that I carried that perception with me years later. I felt like people couldn’t see past the first layer. That they thought I couldn’t put two words together. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I found myself at a loss of words with everybody. I didn’t feel worthy of anything else and started doubting that anyone even cared to look past it. My social anxiety exploded.
And with that, imposter syndrome also made an appearance. I believed I got every job based on my looks instead of my skills. I also felt as if I was a trophy in all the relationships I found myself in. It was agonizing. I had no confidence in myself whatsoever, and that’s probably the most interesting part of it all because we expect people who are deemed “beautiful” to walk around with high self-esteem. Unfortunately, the words we associate ourselves with end up being our reality.
I wanted people to see me as an intellectual. But the more I tried to sound like one, the more I failed.
You probably know the stereotype of the “dumb blonde”. Totally overdone for decades, scarring women that have blonde hair to this day. I like to believe we’ve moved past the blonde jokes, but the trauma felt by those exposed to them at their highest peak runs deep. That’s society literally screaming that you’re never going to be smart because of something so superficial and subjective.
There are plenty of other examples like this that have affected people throughout the years, allowing social anxiety to brew slowly. Maybe you’ve never received messages about your looks, or maybe you’ve gotten negative ones. Those will also have a strong impact on how you think and see yourself as well. Especially if you were raised in an environment that didn’t fully understand the repercussions of society’s pressure on you or didn’t encourage you to love yourself no matter what.
Beauty impacts us all differently, but at the end of the day, we’re all shaped by the thoughts that come with it and the stories we create around it.
If you’re running into this challenge, of not being able to overlook the whole concept of beauty and what your expectations are of yourself in relation to it, I want to give you three things to think about. I wish I knew these things when I was younger, in order to spare myself unnecessary pain and suffering. I allowed too many people to have a say in how I see myself, spurring extremely low confidence for many years. I’m still recovering from those days. That’s how much of an impact it had on my social anxiety.
So, whatever side you find yourself on, remember the following 3 points:
1. Don’t let the wind sway you
While you might feel self-conscious about certain aspects of your looks because of something that happened in the past, someone looking at you will have no clue what you’re worried about. If you find yourself on a date for example, and social anxiety reels its head because you’re not confident about how you look, remember that you might be the most beautiful thing this person in front of you has ever seen. You cannot base how you feel about yourself according to someone else’s standards (see point number 2).
You’re going to run into so many people, with so many opinions and thoughts, that you cannot let them determine how you see yourself from one day to the next. It’s unhealthy to have so many ups and downs. I know that as an INFJ, I take everything to heart, so one word from someone can have a tremendous impact on my mental health and how I think of myself. That’s why I have to work overtime to have a steady and consistent mindset when it comes to my own concept of beauty and how I want to portray it. Regardless of what someone will say tomorrow.
2. Only you get to define what beauty means to you
My husband and I cannot agree on one single celebrity, either man or woman when it comes to looks. We always joke that we have no clue what we see in each other because we clearly both have really bad taste. This always reminds me of how subjective beauty is and how we all see the world through a different lens. Beauty is truly a matter of opinion, so don’t let others define what beauty means to YOU. Let the world see one thing, as long as you see what you want to see.
The only opinion that matters is YOURS, especially when it comes to how you feel about yourself. This will keep social anxiety at bay because you’ll have the confidence to back you up when it’s your turn to speak. It won’t matter if your skin broke out the day of a presentation, or if people see the scars you carry, because beauty is not related to a lack of those things. You get to define what beauty is and walk around proudly with that definition. I wish my younger self knew this. I wouldn’t have wasted so much time comparing myself to others.
3. There will always be the “Nay” and the “Yay” camp
Whatever you end up changing, you’re going to run into both the “nay” and the “yay” camps. The most recent example that comes to mind is Adele’s weight transformation. All it took was for her to post one Instagram picture of her weight loss and the world went ablaze. Everyone had an opinion on it. Good and bad. This goes to show that no matter what you end up doing, you’re going to get it from both sides. This is why point #2 is so crucial. If you’re confident in your strut, then you won’t mind how many people are in each camp. I just want you to remember this point because it holds true for everything in life as well. The only person you need to please is yourself. Go ahead, be Adele, and be proud of it.
This brings me to the following questions:
- How does your view of beauty affect your social anxiety?
- Do you put extra emphasis on looking a certain way?
- What happens if you miss the mark?
- Maybe you believe that once you drop x pounds, learn how to highlight your face, or have the right tan color, you’ll be more confident?
These are really important questions to ask yourself. They’ll get you to think differently about social anxiety. When it pops up in a situation, look inward to find the root cause of the sensation. And if it just so happens that it has something to do with perceived beauty, then think about these 3 points and breathe. Changing your expectations of beauty is a continuous work in progress. Some days you’ll feel like shit about yourself, and some days you’ll feel on top of the world. As long as you work on elevating yourself above the ups and downs, you’ll minimize them.
Eventually, you’re going to walk away feeling confident and beautiful no matter what. And with that, you’ll also chip away at your social anxiety.