By: Dr. John Parankimalil
Well, few of you are entirely satisfied with your appearance. Unlike Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water, some of you nearly fall into depression when you see your reflection. ‘I’ve got this dislike about my body,’ laments 16-year-old Sruti. ‘I think I don’t look so good.’ Bobby has a similar grievance about himself: ‘I don’t like my hair, the way it sticks up here in the back.’ To make matters worse, a teenager’s appearance can change so rapidly that, according to one psychologist, young people often “feel like strangers in their own bodies.” Many thus fret about their face, hair, figure, and physique.
Ted Engstrom tells the story of a trusted advisor of President Abraham Lincoln who recommended a candidate for Lincoln’s cabinet. Lincoln declined and when asked why, he said, “I don’t like the man’s face.” “But the poor man is not responsible for his face,” his advisor insisted.
“Every man over forty is responsible for his face,” Lincoln replied, and the prospect was considered no more.
Lincoln, of course, was referring to the man’s expression and disposition rather than his features. A face conveys the thoughts and attitudes nurtured in a mind. We are responsible for how we will “face” each day.
Dr. James P. Comer says, “Body image is part of self-image. It can affect a person’s self confidence and what he does and does not do in life.” Richard M. Sarles, a professor of psychiatry says, “Adolescence is a period of transition in which a major reorganisation of the body takes place… To deal with the awkwardness of a new and changing body, most adolescents rely upon the security of their peer group.” But under the scrutiny of your peers, your bodily features become a source of great anxiety. And when others get more attention than you or when you are chided for your looks, you can easily begin to feel bad about yourself.
One of the reasons why we are never really happy is that we are never satisfied with ourselves. We are forever comparing ourselves with others and envying them. We envy the material goods others have as well as their intelligence, talents, physical appearance and so on.
Then there is the pervasive influence of TV, books, and movies. Attractive men and women stare at you from TV screens and magazine pages, selling a wide variety of beauty products. The communication media would thus have you believe that if you’re not a flawless-skinned beauty or a muscular “hunk,” you might as well crawl into a hole somewhere.
But before concluding that you are an ugly duckling, ask yourself to what extent your physical flaws are real or imagined. Is that facial feature you fret about really so unattractive? Just think: Who is it that promotes the idea that you need a certain look if you are to be popular, successful, or happy? Is it not manufacturers and advertisers who stand to profit by your pursuing fad diets or purchasing expensive beauty aids? Why let them mould your thinking? Certain discernment will help you to view your physical assets objectively and to be dubious of media propaganda. Few people will ever look like supermodels. People who are paid for their looks are at their peak for but a brief moment before they are discarded for a fresh, new face. Also, wonders are often done for their looks with makeup, lighting, and photographic artistry. Some are shocked to see how celebrities look without their beauty-support systems!
Sometimes youth do have legitimate appearance problems: a bad complexion, excess body weight, a misshapen nose, protruding ears, extremely short stature. Of course, a growing youth, your appearance is still changing. Time solves many such problems. John Killinger says, “For most people, the lack of good looks is one of the most painful facts of life, one they learn early and rarely elude for the remainder of their lives.”
Think of the influence of your outward appearance upon others. It is an accepted fact in the publishing trade that the outer cover of a book has a considerable influence upon sales. People are attracted to a book with a colourful picture on the jacket, or with an artistic design on the cover. Though appearances can be deceptive, all the first impressions about you are formed through your appearance. You apply for a job; the employer makes a mental note of your neat and smart appearance and it goes into the scales in your favour. Emerson quotes someone as saying, “To a woman the consciousness of being well dressed gives a sense of tranquillity.” And talking of dress, the wise Shakespeare tells us, “The apparel often proclaims the man.” What you wear speaks clearly about who you are and how you feel about yourself. Your clothing definitely sends out a message, a statement to others about you, the real you.
While giving attention to how you look is important, be careful not to make your appearance the big thing in your life. The world has a strange concept of beauty. For the world, to be beautiful, you had to look a certain way and conform to the set standards of the world. But God’s concept of beauty is different. Your uniqueness makes you beautiful to Him. He deliberately made only one of you. He gave you the skin colour He wanted you to have; He gave you the build of His choice; He gave you a temperament, personality, and physical makeup unlike anyone else.
In the entire universe, God’s concept of beauty is based upon individuality. Our differences in race, temperament, and gifts are our glory, not a point of competition. He doesn’t want a world of Barbie dolls. He wants you, and He wants me. He made each one of us beautiful in our uniqueness.
I want to suggest some easy techniques to enhance your appearance and to bring out the best in you.
Taking care of your body. Your body is your tool and asset. Taking care of your body means recognizing your natural physique and adjusting it so that you are neither too thin or overweight. Taking regular exercise is the best way to keep fit and toned. When you like how you look, you will feel good. When you add that with the proper dress, it will positively affect your esteem and performances.
Personal hygiene. It’s important to smell good too. You wouldn’t want your bad breath or body odor to turn off anyone, would you? Shower regularly, put on clean clothes and socks. If you want to maintain your facial hair, keep it well trimmed. Women should try to avoid too much make up. Yes, you want to impress and look attractive but don’t overdo it.
Wear a smile on your face. It’s been said that a smile is the lighting system of the face, the cooling system of the head and the heating system of the heart. But a smile is also a powerful weapon against toxic attitudes of all kinds. Wear a smile even when you don’t feel like it. The act of smiling not only makes you look better, but it makes you feel better too. When you smile, you have a more positive attitude, you have an increased self-confidence and people feel more comfortable around you. Charles Gordy says, “A smile is an inexpensive way to change your looks”.
Take care of your manners. When you dress well, have sufficient esteem, and conduct yourself appropriately, you enhance your personal appearance. This includes using the correct language when you speak. Your attractive demeanor will draw others to you and you will have better chances of success. A professional image builds credibility and provides you the opportunity to display your knowledge and expertise to gain greater influence.
Maintain your health. People who are healthy always look good; so if you want to look your best, you should start by maintaining good health. Avoid eating foods that have refined carbohydrates. You need to eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in Vitamin A, C, and E. Involve yourself in outdoor activities and sports that will keep your body active and alive. Physical activity is essential for burning excess body fat. Drink plenty of water everyday – at least eight glasses. You must avoid alcohol as it will dehydrate your skin. Also minimize drinking beverages that have high sugar content.
According to a Baluba proverb, “The leopard’s skin is beautiful, but his heart evil.” In the book of Samuel we read, “Man looks at appearance but God looks at the heart.” There is a widespread idea if only a person is sound in character, good at heart, then outward appearance does not matter. This is wrong. Certainly, inner character matters far more than outer appearance, but one is not a substitute for the other. (The writer is the director of
Don Bosco Institute of Management, Guwahati)