photo courtesy of vogue paris

photo courtesy of vogue paris

I was inspired to write this column after recently seeing an ad in a very trendy magazine. The ad began with three words – and question marks – in a very large font: “Fat? Old? Ugly?”

Nice, huh? So helpful and encouraging.

It was an ad for plastic surgery (of course), playing on our worst fears and offering a very expensive (and temporary) solution. If only plastic surgery would solve all of our self-esteem problems, I’d sign up myself.

Sometimes, I am asked to do psychological evaluations of people considering plastic surgery. The (ethical) plastic surgeons I work with refer clients to me when the surgeons think that the client’s expectations are unrealistic. The surgeons are afraid that their clients will be disappointed regardless of how well the plastic surgery turns out.

And, often, they’re right.

Because, more often than not, “fat, old and ugly” is a state of mind, not a state of body. I have often seen clients who feel WORSE after their plastic surgery than they did before. Why? Because their expectations were unrealistic. Fewer wrinkles, a flatter stomach and a tighter butt may be nice, but they don’t change the way we feel about ourselves.

It takes more than that. A change in the outside doesn’t mean a change on the inside.

I work with clients on this kind of self-esteem stuff all the time. Most of us have a lot of family-of-origin negativity to undo. Many of us were told all kinds of strange shit when we were younger; and 99.99% of it wasn’t – and isn’t – true.

Most negative stuff that people told us was really about them: jealous, unhappy, scared parents/siblings/teachers/lovers may have told you all kinds of unkind things about yourself. To me, this is brainwashing: our innate ability and desire to approve of ourselves as babies got corrupted.

Have you ever seen a baby who said, “I just hate my nose.” Or “My hips are too big.” Babies love everything about themselves and YOU were once like that. You started out just adoring yourself – your NATURAL state – and then, over time, other people brainwashed you and messed with your head. But here’s some good news: you can UNDO all those years of brainwashing.

Here are some suggestions:

Ask yourself these reality-check questions:

Who told me I was fat/old/ugly? How old was I? Why did they say that to me?

Who would I be without the opinions of others? Is there a core/essential part of me that is immune to what other people think about me? How can I get in touch with that place more-and-more?

What situations bring up these feelings for me? A pool party? A date? Going to a club/bar/restaurant? Notice your brainwashing triggers and begin to deprogram yourself by starting to…

Look in the mirror at yourself. You may initially cringe or critique what you see. That’s okay, do it and let it pass. Then, you’re ready to do some good, deep work. Look in the mirror and begin to deprogram yourself. Tell yourself things like:

“I am the perfect weight.”

“I am beautiful/handsome at every age.”

“I am willing to love my appearance.”

You may not believe this stuff at first: you’re planting a seed, and a seed takes time to grow into a great-big gorgeous tree. If these phrases really stick in your throat, use the word “willing” in your affirmations: “I may not believe I am handsome today, but I am WILLING to believe it.”

The copy at the end of the plastic surgery ad that gives this column its title read, “Fortunately, today we have medical options to achieve the look and feel you really want.” That may be true, but I would replace that statement with a much better one:

“Fortunately, today you have the ability to deprogram your brain of self-criticism and self-hatred to achieve the peace of mind you really want.”

Our body is always changing (even with plastic surgery); but peace of mind lasts.

Don’t settle for short term goals, go for the long-term ones and begin to experience yourself as beautiful at every age, at every weight, at every moment…regardless of whether other people agree with you or not.