If you’re not feeling your best when it comes to your looks, you can try practicing body positivity, making yourself aware of the “spotlight effect,” and more.
Conventional wisdom suggests that physical attractiveness tends to
These seven strategies can help you unpack and address persistent feelings of ugliness or dissatisfaction with your appearance.
The standards of beauty set by the media are generally achieved through hours of hair and makeup artists and well-tailored clothing — not to mention a filter or airbrush or two.
Consequently, images of celebrities, models, and Instagram influencers sometimes lie closer to carefully constructed fiction than reality.
It’s easy to get caught up in drawing comparisons of yourself with these images. Remember, though, that without the benefit of filters or hours of preparation, many people you see don’t always look the way they appear in photos.
Society conditions people to judge the worth of someone by their appearance. This knowledge might help explain why people worldwide spend so much money on beauty products.
But consider, for just a moment, who this attractiveness serves. You only see yourself when you happen to glance into a mirror, so it certainly doesn’t serve you. It serves the surrounding people.
Here’s the thing, though: Your body belongs to you, and you alone. It doesn’t need to please anyone else.
In a society where people place value on what you look like, you might begin to fixate on what you consider flaws.
When you feel lonely or find yourself unable to fit in, you could end up placing the blame on your appearance.
Maybe you worry that:
- your facial features affect your popularity at school and at work
- the size and shape of your body leads people to treat you differently
- you aren’t attractive enough to find a romantic partner or hold the interest of your current partner
Some people, unfortunately, make quick judgments based on appearance. It’s entirely understandable to feel hurt and resentful when others dismiss or outright ignore you. This rejection can cause lasting pain and leave you doubting your worth, especially when it seems to happen consistently.
Seeing yourself as unattractive, then, might lead you to pursue beauty simply to earn the social acceptance that sometimes comes hand-in-hand with attractiveness.
It’s natural to seek acceptance and attraction, certainly. But it’s also worth recognizing that, while physical appearance can play a part in attraction, other things matter, too.
Not everyone you meet will judge you based on conventional beauty standards. Plenty of people won’t consider your physical appearance at all. They may care far more about other, nonphysical traits.
Body dysmorphic disorder
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) involves a preoccupation with parts of your body you consider ugly. You might spend a lot of time examining and trying to repair these “flaws,” feeling stressed about them, or going to extreme lengths to hide them.
- low self-esteem
- frequent mirror checking
- social anxieties
- compulsive behaviors such as skin picking
BDD is relatively common. In the United States, BDD affects around 1 in 50 people. It is most common for a person to develop this disorder during adolescence.
Certain mental health concerns can factor into your sense of self-esteem and affect the way you perceive yourself, including:
- Depression: Depression can involve a dip in self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. Living with depression can also make self-care difficult, which can, in turn, affect how you feel about yourself.
- Eating disorders: Poor body image can also factor into eating disorders. If you live with an eating disorder, you might believe other aspects of your appearance, in addition to body size or weight, make you ugly.
- Gender dysphoria: Gender dysphoria, or your awareness of a mismatch between your gender and the sex a doctor assigns you at birth, can also involve a self-perception of ugliness. Feeling forced to conform to gender expectations that don’t represent your true self can leave you with a lingering sense of wrongness, as if you don’t belong in your body.
A therapist can offer more insight into potential underlying causes and guidance on helpful next steps when:
- you find it difficult to escape feelings of ugliness
- you have a fixation on certain parts of your body
- feelings of unattractiveness or worthlessness have a negative effect on your life
Humans are imperfect beings, and every last one of us has a few flaws.
Yet, thanks to a phenomenon called “the spotlight effect,” we tend to believe other people notice our physical imperfections, awkward moments, and public mishaps much more frequently than they actually do.
Your personal experiences and perceptions shape your daily life. You’re the main character, the starring player in your reality, so you tend to focus on what matters most to you. That’s OK. But keep in mind: Everyone else in the world operates in much the same way.
The sense of being under a spotlight can highlight those features you consider ugly, making you feel as if they’re illuminated just as brightly for anyone else who sees them.
As a result, you might feel cast down by an awful breakout, a bad hair day, or an unflattering work uniform.
It can help to keep in mind, though, that most of the people you encounter probably aren’t paying you all that much attention. Chances are, they’re more focused on themselves than on your appearance — even when you’re hyper-aware of the way you look.
When you dislike yourself, you might feel even more self-conscious about your appearance — but not necessarily because you’re “ugly.”
Furthermore, when you have doubts about your own worth, people may pick up on that dissatisfaction and unhappiness more readily than they notice your physical appearance.
But this confidence might not take root, no matter how you look, unless you also accept yourself with loving kindness and compassion.
You can nurture and cultivate self-compassion by:
Self-love can offer plenty of benefits, but it doesn’t always come easily. On some days, you might feel insecure in your image.
What is body positivity?
Body positivity is loosely the concept that every body is beautiful. But that can be a little tough to swallow, especially when you don’t feel attractive.
Struggling with body positivity may leave you feeling down and affirmations of self-love might not have much effect if you don’t really believe them.
Body neutrality offers a far more realistic (and beneficial) mindset.
You might not feel like these things are conventionally attractive, but they don’t prevent you from using your body to move, work, play, or simply live.
Body neutrality helps you learn to appreciate what your body can do, not how it looks. It emphasizes one key fact: You don’t have to love your body or physical features to find fulfillment and joy.
Instead, you can simply accept those characteristics as they are and move on.
It’s not uncommon to feel ugly when you just don’t like some aspect of your appearance. Maybe you know you’d like to update your wardrobe or change your hairstyle, but you have no idea how to get started.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a new look, and the internet has made it easy to try out changes inexpensively. Even if you lack a highly tuned fashion sense or flair for hair and skin care, a quick Google search will lead you to countless free tutorials where you can explore possible changes without consulting a stylist.
Simple changes that reflect your natural features can promote body neutrality while also boosting self-confidence and helping you consider yourself in an entirely different light.
You might, for example:
- choose clothing that feels good on your body
- find a hairstyle that suits your facial structure and hair type
- experiment with skin care and beauty products to find ones that work well for your skin type
Some people even find that body modifications, like piercings and tattoos, offer personal expression that inspires self-confidence and self-acceptance.
Just remember: It never hurts to ensure you’re only making changes you truly want yourself — not changing your appearance to align with someone else’s standards.
The idea of “ugliness” reflects the false notion that your body exists to benefit others. In reality, the way you look doesn’t define you. Even romantic attraction depends on much more than appearance alone.
Increasing recognition of body neutrality and related concepts help highlight one key truth: Your body doesn’t have to look a certain way for you to experience love, pleasure, and joy.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.