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Beauty is only skin deep. Beauty is as beauty does. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Most of us have heard these old adages a time or two, along with, perhaps, a few cautions against vanity. If you’ve ever voiced your feelings about your own unattractiveness, you might have caught some bonus sayings:

  • “You’re beautiful in your own way.”
  • “It’s who you are on the inside that counts.”

These reassurances, however well-intentioned, offer little comfort when you believe you fall short of what society deems beautiful.

And no single saying can deny the cold, hard truth: Beauty is a prized commodity. It can start wars — just ask Helen of Troy — or open doors.

For those who have it, conventional attractiveness tends to pave a smoother passage through life. This injustice can easily wear away at self-confidence and self-worth if you categorize yourself as one of the “un-beautiful.”

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 only 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 tend to 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 of the people you see look far more ordinary than you might imagine.

Society tends to suggest everyone, but women in particular, should work to become attractive. Just think of all the photos of celebrities venturing out in everyday clothes, captioned with lightly veiled insults. Perhaps a whiff of judgment has even crossed your mind when encountering someone shopping or taking a walk with messy hair, no makeup, and mismatched clothes.

Reading interviews where beautiful celebrities admit to feeling ugly and wanting to change things about themselves might make you a little angry. You can’t find a single flaw in their appearance, so what do they have to feel ugly about?

But these disclosures highlight something important: No matter how attractive you are or what standards of perfection you attain, pressure still remains to become something more. In short, someone will always find fault with your appearance — but that’s on them, not you.

In a society where people tend to place more value on what you look like than anything else, you might begin to fixate on what you consider the flaws holding you back.

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 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

Many people do, 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 own worth, especially when it seems to happen consistently.

Seeing yourself as ugly, then, might lead you to pursue beauty simply to earn the social acceptance that so regularly 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 because you don’t meet conventional beauty standards. Plenty of people won’t consider you ugly at all. What’s more, they may care far more about other, less physical traits.

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.

You can learn more about managing the spotlight effect here.

When you dislike yourself, you might feel even more convinced of your own ugliness — but not necessarily because you’re actually “ugly.”

Rather, feelings of self-hatred might get in the way of the loving self-care that leaves you feeling good about yourself.

Mental and emotional misery can play a large part in how you perceive yourself, physically and emotionally. If you don’t care about showering, changing your clothes, or styling your hair, you might notice a drop in your confidence and a corresponding spike in self-disdain.

What’s more, when you fail to recognize your own worth, people may pick up on that dissatisfaction and unhappiness more readily than they notice your physical appearance.

Dozens of romantic comedies and TV shows with makeover storylines might send the message that changing your appearance will yield the social acceptance and self-confidence you yearn for.

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.

It can, in fact, resemble other types of love: You love your partner, or your child, but on occasion, you get so frustrated you can’t look at them another second without losing your temper.

Similarly, on some days you might feel fine about who you are as a person but know you can’t face the image in your mirror a moment longer.

Body neutrality offers a far more realistic (and beneficial) mindset.

In a nutshell, body neutrality represents a change in topic. You can’t always change your body or other aspects of your appearance: eye shape, cellulite, bald spots, acne, and rosacea.

You might translate these features as markers of ugliness, 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.

Our guide to body neutrality can help you make the shift.

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 make sure you’re only making changes you truly want yourself — not changing your appearance to align with someone else’s standards.

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.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder 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.
  • Eating disorders. Body dysmorphia 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 you were assigned 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’re occupied with a fixation on certain parts of your body
  • feelings of unattractiveness or worthlessness have a negative effect on your life

Our guide can help you find a therapist.

The very 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.