How do you advise someone to mentally cope with/ move past being unattractive, hating permanent features of the way you look?

peter atsal ‏@AtsalPeter: how do you advise someone to mentally cope with/ move past being unattractive, hating permanent features of the way you look?


When I was 16 it would hurt me to walk past a mirror. Physically hurt me, I’d almost fall backwards if I suddenly realized a mirror was too close. I had wild, tangly hair when all the “cool kids” had straight blonde hair. I had big dorky glasses. I had acne and cysts all over my face. Big purple blotches. Once a month I’d go to the dermatologist where she would drain all the pus out of the cysts, leaving them even more purple and patches of blood and damage all over my face.

I had braces with rubber bands criss-crossing all over my mouth. I had no idea how to dress in any situation. One person once asked me “why are you always wearing corduroy pants” in the middle of July. I was clumsy in gym class. And, to top it off, I had the distinct impression my head was bigger than everyone else’s. When I rode my bike down the block occasionally the other kids would scream out the window, “Hey Moose!” and I’d hear their laughing as I sped up as quickly as I could to escape.

I would take my glasses off and back away from the mirror until I thought, in the blur that I saw, that I looked halfway decent. I’d usually end up about twenty feet away.

One time in chemistry class I heard two girls talking, “how can his acne be that bad?” And look at me while I pretended to look away. Another person told me, “you need to smile more. That’s the best you can do.” One time I called a friend of mine and asked, “am I just never going to get a girlfriend?” We were in tenth grade. He said, “maybe in college or after college you can.” At that age even a week seemed like an eternity. I couldn’t wait for college.

One time I spent an hour in front of the mirror trying to get out the knots in my hair. Then I sat down to eat breakfast. One of my parents came in and looked at me and yelled, “you’re disgusting!” Then I went to school.

Even now, when I make an appearance on, say, CNBC, there are more comments afterwards about how I look than about anything I had to say. I never really understand it. When I went on online dating services I wouldn’t put my picture. Fortunately Claudia responded and asked why I didn’t put my picture and I had a ready excuse that sounded impressive, “because I go on TV a lot and didn’t want anyone to recognize me.” Good thing she believed and maybe was impressed by that bullshit.

And it is true that better looking people get higher salaries, better opportunities, more opportunities for sex, etc. That’s just the way the world works.

But just because you look in a mirror, doesn’t mean the mirror is showing you the correct image. A large part of that image is how you interpret what you see. It turns out almost everyone hates looking in the mirror. It turns out that personality and confidence and optimism add a lot to one’s looks. It turns out that being a good person adds a lot to your attractiveness, particularly as you grow older. Experience also engraves itself in your features and moves past the mishapenness of youth.

And, by the way, you never look as bad as you think you do.

Here’s what you do the next time you wallow in your own self-hate. (Ugh, I’m going to do it again:)

I’ll change it a little: The Simple Daily Practice:

– Do one thing to improve yourself physically today. A little exercise. A walk. Sleep well. Eat well. Change one thing. Don’t snack on junk food.

– Be around positive people. Don’t be around people who are going to judge your looks.

– Build your idea muscle. People are attracted other people with lots of ideas. The people with lots ofideas will save the world. Those are attractivepeople to be aroumd.

– Be grateful forwhat you do have. Surrender to what you can’t control and know that it’s for the best. That in the long run other things will compensate if you get good at not trying to change what you can’t control.

Believe me, this works. Again and again.