Face it: there are no magical solutions to feeling and looking attractive. You may be tempted by the promises made by the latest over-the-counter beauty potion. The current array of cosmetic procedures might appeal to your desire to fix what you've been told needs fixing. Why not try a little of this or a little of that, right? Well, instead, you might consider using these seven psychological tips that actually change the way you see yourself. I am not promising you a quick fix or miraculous cure. No nips and tucks here, except to our attitudes. What I do guarantee is that these cognitive tips won't hurt your pocket or your body. They work from the inside out and they just may last a lifetime.
1) Beauty is not just a physical experience, but a psychological one as well. We tend to think of beauty as a skin-deep issue -- all about how we physically appear. But research tells us that what we deem attractive or unattractive is much more complicated: part objectivity, part subjectivity. Understanding beauty this way helps explain why a Michelle Pfeiffer or Uma Thurman have been known to draw more attention to their flaws than their assets. It helps make sense of beautiful women who say they never felt pretty. Similarly, there are women who may not be considered classic beauties yet exude confidence about their looks. Serena Williams, for example, doesn't cover up her unconventionally muscular physique and, in fact, by flaunting it comes across as more appealing. What makes women feel attractive is much more than meets the eye and being cognizant of that point of view might be more helpful than the latest potion!
2) Some aspects of beauty are universally attainable. We tend to enjoy how we look when we take time to care for ourselves -- exercise, eat right and sleep well. Simple, sound advice you have heard many times before. But this is how it really works. By taking care of ourselves, we tend to feel stronger, stand taller and smile more. We engage in more positive interactions with others. It takes effort to stick to healthy regimens, like working out regularly, caring daily for our skin, eating healthier foods and limiting our alcohol consumption. But research tells us that the results are experienced both internally and externally. Try walking into a room with proud strong steps, a smile on your face and eyes that communicate confidence. You would be surprised how far these universally attainable assets go toward enhancing your appeal to others. Remember, every one at any age has the capacity to smile and engage with others. 3) Self image is fluid and timeless. Self image is not an actual still-life picture of oneself, but rather an internal, ongoing, fluid experience. It is defined by how we see ourselves from within, throughout our lives. It is flexible and malleable. And if we understand that self image evolves over time, then we can take measures to continually enhance it internally. Fixing ourselves externally is a battle bound for failure. Success comes when we understand that boosting our self image results not only from caring for ourselves, but from making changes in the way we think about beauty.
4) Beauty is in the "I" of the beholder. Mirrors reflect an image that tells us superficially what we look like. Gaze at yourself and go beyond, past your reflection, and perceive who you are as a person. What you see is only the image of yourself that informs the world of your physical self. Who you are is more than what they see. Become your own internal "eye." You have the ability to change the internal lens through which you perceive not only yourself, but others as well. The result? Women will be less self critical and less critical of each other.
5) Chronological age does not have to define you. A particular number has little to do with how old you feel and look. You can define what it means to be attractive at 40, 50 and onward. Find real women in your life that you see as attractive and let them serve as your role models in place of the airbrushed and photoshopped women you see in magazines. Remember, some women in their twenties with smooth skin and shapely bodies say they feel ugly, while women at midlife and beyond tell us they feel beautiful. You can define beauty at any age.
6) Put your beauty in your identity, not your identity in your beauty. Your identity is made up of many aspects of yourself. Your appearance is just one. A self-definition supported by a broader base than just good looks leads to less reactivity when they change. Bad hair days, a few pimples or new wrinkles are less likely to get you down. No doubt our appearance matters. But it's a good idea to keep beauty in balance with your work, your creativity, your accomplishments, your relationships and more. Cybill Shepard and Linda Evans -- two beauty icons now in midlife -- recently told Oprah that they only began to feel truly attractive as their identities shifted away from their appearance. If you let beauty define you, you leave out so many other ways to feel good about yourself. 7) Rob beauty of its power over you. Take back the power you may have handed to others to define what it means to be beautiful. Our culture conveys who and what is beautiful through the media. Magazines, television and Internet ads persuade us to believe that beauty is equated with youth and perfection. Surely, youth is beautiful. Don't we all see babies as perfect? But to many of us, our grandmothers can be perfectly beautiful too. And we all know that some of the loveliest women in the world are not flawless. It is their confidence and ability to enjoy life that makes us see the beauty they feel. When the power of beauty returns to your own hands, you will become more attractive to yourself and others.
Bottom line: Looking and feeling great is a psychological process as well as a physical one. Master the first and the second will come with much more joy. When it comes to your face and your body, be smart, be thoughtful and you'll be more beautiful. Let me know what you think.
© 2010 Vivian Diller Ph.D., author of "Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change."
Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. Dr. Diller was a professional dancer before she became a professional model, represented by Wilhelmina, appearing in Glamour, Seventeen, national print ads, and TV commercials. After completing her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, she went on to do postdoctoral training in psychoanalysis at NYU.