I am a single girl in my mid-20s who would like to get married. My problem is that I can’t seem to stop focusing on how I appear to others. I don’t know why I am so fixated on this. How do I know how people really see me, and how can I stop caring so much about this?
A: Thanks for your question. I think it’s fair to say that in today’s society the emphasis on attraction is unparalleled. We’ve been socialized to believe that our physical appearance directly correlates to our self-worth and happiness. It’s no wonder that many people spend exorbitant amounts of money and time to improve their appearance. This can include anything from buying clothing, grooming products, and even undergoing medical procedures.
So what happens to the people who aren’t blessed with a model’s face or figure? Does that mean that they will never have a chance at real happiness? Are they supposed to resign themselves to the fact that they will never be more than second-class citizens? I think that in healthy religious communities this problem is not as striking, but unfortunately, there are many other communities existing today that place a tremendous value on looks.
When it comes to dating, this problem is even further emphasized. Is it not true that the prettier girls seem to get more dates? So, where does this lead those, like you, that are insecure about their appearance?
We know that the qualities of attraction are not solely based on one’s physical appearance; personality and character traits significantly influence that. I have spoken with countless people who have dated truly attractive men or women, and yet that attraction proved to be shallow once the person’s character was revealed. Although it’s used as a cliché, we really do find that beauty on the inside can light up and radiate one’s outside.
It can also be helpful to know that in truth, we don’t need to be found attractive by everyone. We only need to find one person who finds us attractive. I think it’s rare for someone to be unable to attract anyone. In fact, even the best looking individuals in society won’t attract every single person. There’s a story I heard (which I confirmed with the psychologist in question) of a young woman who went to a psychologist and complained that she was too unattractive to ever get married. As an intervention, he had her visit a local park where a large number of frum married women would regularly go with their children. He asked her to look around at the different mothers and decide if she was less attractive than all of them. He then asked her if she could spot even one mother in the crowd whom she deemed less attractive than herself. The goal of this task was getting her to realize that being attractive is just one of many components (not the ultimate) in finding a mate. This became evident by looking at the ladies in the park, some more and some less attractive, but all married. Looks are not necessarily an obstacle in getting married. While a bit harsh in my opinion, this intervention seemed to have registered with this woman who later went on to get married.
Ask yourself some questions. What else in your life impacts your identity? What other qualities or strengths do you have that are important to you and make you unique? What kind of relationship can one have if it’s primarily based on looks? Imagine that you married someone who saw only your external appearance. What would happen if your appearance suddenly changed? What would happen as you age? We need to remember that we are all much more than a physical body, and that is the message we both need to feel and give over to others.
Additionally, I want to point out a possible trait from which you may be suffering. It does sound from your question that these thoughts are repetitive and bothersome and occupy a lot of time in your head. Obsessiveness can be challenging regardless of the issue. We can be obsessive about our money, the type of job we have, our spouse, our children, and in fact every aspect of our lives. And we know from studying obsessive thinking, that there is no way to silence that voice with an answer that is definitive. What we are taught to do is acknowledge the obsession and label it as such, without trying to figure out “the answer.” When the question “am I pretty enough’ is triggered it might be helpful to respond internally with “there is no way for me to know for sure, but I do not want to worry about this all day. I will continue with what I was doing and accept that I may never know the answer.” Or you might find it helpful to set aside “worry time” where you will pick a specific time of the day where you can worry freely; when triggered you will redirect your thoughts to what you are doing and address it during that set time. I hope you find this helpful and go on to meet your bashert!