I recently wrote a post here about the negative impact "Extreme Makeover" shows have on the culture of beauty. I used as an example the TV series called "Bridalplasty," the one on the E channel that was promoted as "The only show where the winner gets cut!" Brides-to-be competed for a plastic surgery procedure and the results were displayed on the last episode. The article I wrote stimulated a vigorous conversation on various websites. Both men and women shared their thoughts about the challenges inherent in defining beauty in our current culture. So, I decided to write this piece to begin another conversation. I want to offer alternative solutions to those implied by "Extreme Makeover" shows, solutions based on what real women tell me really make them feel and look attractive from the inside out.
The tips below were collected from hundreds of interviews I held with women from all walks of life; from women whose beauty was clearly a large part of their identity (models, actors and public figures) to everyday women for whom beauty didn't play a particularly large role in their lives. I asked them all the same question, "What is the one piece of advice you would give about what makes you look and feel your best?" Here are the tips that came up most often.
1. Confidence - The most frequent comment I heard from the women I interviewed was that beauty was about confidence. This was true across all ages and continents. Women whose looks played a large role in their lives—e.g. models, actresses and women in media—associated feeling attractive to times when they felt most self assured. Actresses told me they increased their chances of booking work when they could carry off an air of confidence no matter what they looked like. Models said their success wasn't about being the prettiest, since every model is, but about how poised they appeared. So it seems for most women at any age. Holding your head up high, with self-confidence is probably the number one quality that women say leads to feeling and looking beautiful at any age.
2. Flexibility - Women who can reinvent their 'look' and let go of rigid images of beauty more easily feel attractive as they age. Tension is not an attractive feature and holding on (or holding back) makes you appear tight. Sensuality is all about flexibility, openness and letting go. Letting go of a former self-image doesn't mean neglecting yourself. It's like learning to enjoy walking when you may have jogged in the past or taking yoga in place of spin class. A flexible attitude toward beauty leads to the ability to adjust your fashion sense and is key to enjoying your looks at any age
3. A Radiant Smile - A woman's smile is reported as the single most important physical feature that leads to being viewed as attractive. Women say it conveys their inner beauty. It lets others see what they feel. And at time when they don't feel great, putting on a smile more often leads to feeling better. We all know women who draw positive attention toward themselves because of their great smiles. Think of a baby's smile. Does anything bring more pleasure to the eyes of others than that spontaneous toothless grin? Women talk about using their smiles to bring what they feel inside to their exterior regardless of their age. A generous smile is the best facelift you can have. Even better, it's free and natural.
4. Focus On What You Have, Not On What You Don't - The sum is not always greater than its parts. Sounds counter-intuitive, but when it comes to feeling beautiful it is important to keep this in mind. Women who focus on features they like (rather criticize what they lack) and use them to serve their self-image are more likely to feel attractive. It is well known in the fashion industry that some models are branded for their great legs or long necks. Sometimes only their hands or feet are considered marketable material. They use these assets to feel beautiful. Take a look at yourself and choose one feature you like and embellish it. Delicate wrists? Wear an eye-catching watch. Thick hair? An elegant headband or jeweled clip can draw attention where you want it. Good posture? Stand tall and make everything else about you appear more attractive.
For brides seeking to be beautiful on their wedding day and for women who want to look great everyday, these tips may be worth considering before undergoing a cosmetic intervention or an extreme makeover. These are real, tangible ways to take beauty out of the hands of others and back into our own. Let me know if these tips (or others) work for you. Let's continue the conversation about how to define beauty on our terms.
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. She has written articles on beauty, aging, eating disorders, models, and dancers, and served as a consultant to a major cosmetic company interested in promoting age-related beauty products. Her book, FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change (2010), written with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. "Today" co-host Hoda Kotb called it "a smart book for smart women." For more information, please visit www.VivianDiller.com.