Self-Confidence Verses Shame in the Beauty Politic

by Jodi R. Galin, Ph.D.

Where is the line between self-confidence with good, healthy self-care on the one hand and pre-occupation, body image dissatisfaction, and body loathing on the other?  Debra Spar took on this question in her New York Times article titled Aging and My Beauty Dilemma, she tackled this dilemma for herself in the context of her posse – wealthy, liberal, feminist-leaning women leaders over 50 in NYC.

I found one particular sentence in Spar’s article particularly worth examining, “Because not only are we nipping, suctioning and using hormones but we’re also feeling embarrassed about it, and lying.”  Wow.  This may be the hallmark of the dilemma.  Aging women are confronted with the loss of youth which includes, but is not limited to, wrinkles, drooping faces (and other body parts), increased belly fat, and greying hair.  Secrets, embarrassed, lying… to me this may be the clue to helping to decide where the line is between good self-care and a preoccupation with negative body image.

My thoughts on this body image dilemma go beyond Spar’s target audience of “women of a certain age.”  These thoughts are for many people who are confronted with their own body image dissatisfaction in our American culture.  I propose that when personally trying to figure out for yourself where your own line is between good self-care/attending to your own self-confidence and an unhealthy approach to dealing with body image dissatisfaction consider the following:

  1. Are you considering any “beauty treatments” that you want to keep a secret? Are you embarrassed about the money you may spend on these products/services/treatments?  How about the risks that you could be undertaking with a treatment?  Are you ashamed about feeling the “need” to alter something in your body?  Could you discuss your shame about your body with someone (close support person and/or psychological/healthcare provider) prior to pursuing a way to change your body?
  2. Is the part of your body that you are wanting to change a dominant part of your identity? Or do you have a multidimensional view of your identity?  If your body is the dominant piece of your identity, I strongly encourage you to work with a psychotherapist or nutritional therapist to expand your view of self.
  3. What is the group norm in your posse? We all need a sense of belonging and community.  Are you emotionally comfortable in the cohort of people in your world?  Could you bring up this topic?  Are there people in your circles that could help you feel confident in your decisions?
  4. What about how you present your physical self to the world helps you feel empowered? How do you carry your body, your posture?  How do you use your voice?  Do you convey the image you want with your sense of style?

We all could greatly benefit from increased dialogue on this topic.  Please consider taking these ideas and discussing them within your own posse so that we can help everyone reduce secrets and shame.