Our lessons often pop up when we least expect them, and this is exactly what happened to me one August day in 2005. I had spent the day facilitating a workshop in Vancouver with two colleagues, Lee and Doreen. At the end of the first day, the three of us went out to supper to discuss workshop events and plan for the following day. Naturally the conversation moved to our personal lives. Because I'm single, Doreen asked how I was doing in the relationship department. I revealed that I had recently enlisted the services of a matchmaking company.
"The thing is, I don't like writing my own profile," I admitted. "The sample profiles I saw all started with, 'I am attractive, I am beautiful'... and I was advised to follow this approach because men often use appearance as a key factor in selecting dates. But saying 'I'm beautiful' is too in-your-face for me."
"It's not that I think I am ugly," I clarified. "I just don't look at myself as beautiful. I'm really uncomfortable writing, 'I am a beautiful woman.'"
Doreen looked directly at me, eyes fixed on mine, and declared, "Margaret, you have to claim your beauty!" I began to squirm. And then I did what I generally do when I don't like where the conversation is going - I changed the subject.
Over the next three days, my mind kept drifting back to Doreen's assertive statement: "Margaret, you have to claim your beauty." She was right, of course. Why was I so reluctant to stand up and acknowledge my own beauty? Why did the very idea of it make me uncomfortable?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most women feel the same way. More often than not, women are far more comfortable acknowledging inner beauty (intelligence, talents, graciousness, generosity, etc.) than their physical appearance. Somewhere along the way, we learned that it's wrong to "judge people by their appearance," and we've carried that lesson one step too far - denying our physical beauty. We're even reluctant to acknowledge another woman's beauty. Somehow, this seems inherently wrong.
On the last day of the workshop, I was given the task of keeping time and marking points while Doreen and Lee each led a group. I listened and stayed fully present, shifting my attention from one group to the other, and then suddenly I noticed her. There she was - across the room, looking absolutely radiant.
It was several seconds before I realized the woman who looked so gorgeous was me. Yes, me. I had glimpsed myself in the mirrored panel of a piece of furniture halfway between the two groups. And I saw myself as beautiful.
I couldn't wait to share that discovery with Doreen. When I told her, she was delighted with my news. She hugged me and held me tightly. I said my goodbyes to her and Lee, and I was beaming as I left for my dinner engagement.
I arrived at the restaurant to greet a friend who I hadn't seen in months. Her first comment was, "You look absolutely wonderful!" Twice more through dinner, she said, "I can't believe how terrific you look." I beamed even more.
During my ferry ride home that evening, I sat in silence and marveled at the pleasure running through my veins. That night, I fell into a deep, contented sleep that I hadn't experienced for years. When I awoke with the sunshine streaming into my room, I knew the world was good. I jumped up, showered, sang and danced while blow-drying my hair.
Later that morning, Patricia showed up for an appointment. She walked in and started talking. Halfway through her first sentence, she stopped, looked closely at me and asked, "Did you get a haircut?" I replied, "No."
She continued talking as we walked to my kitchen. When we got there, she asked, "Did you lose weight?" I replied, "No."
She kept talking but suddenly stopped and looked at me more intently. Then she said, "Well, whatever you're doing, don't stop. You look absolutely terrific." Patricia's comments decorated my life like cherries on top of a sundae. A smile crossed my face - you know, one of those smiles that go from ear to ear and almost hurt... the kind of smile you give when you're in love.
I'd like to say that euphoric feeling has lasted even to this day, but I have to acknowledge that it has faded, just like being in love can fade. Why? Maybe it's because each time we look in the mirror, we check for flaws. We ask: Is there anything caught between my teeth? Is my hair in place? Is there any lipstick left on my lips? Are my teeth white enough? Are there stray hairs above my lip? The human mission, it would seem, is to seek flaws and flush out imperfections. Of course, if that's what we're looking for, that's what we see. That's why we have to keep our attention on our beauty, the magic that naturally radiates from each and every one of us.
From that day forward, I vowed to see much more than my imperfections. Now when I look in the mirror, I wink at myself and say, "Margaret, you are beautiful."
Not only does this help me appreciate my own radiance, but it also helps me appreciate the beauty of other women as well. Five years ago I would have felt uncomfortable telling a woman, "You're beautiful!" But now it just flows out of me, a genuine and heartfelt expression of appreciation. Isn't that beautiful?
5 Ways to Claim Your Beauty:
1. When you receive a compliment, graciously accept it and "take it in."
Don't resist it, don't argue with it, deflect it or bounce it back to the person who gave it. Take a deep breath and savour it. Smile and say thank you!
Loretta LaRoche, a humorist and stress management expert, points out that many of our conversations are based on negative talk. For example, each person tries to "out do" the other in expressing their overwhelm. "I am so busy," one might say. The other replies, "You think that was bad. Well, I had to...." Resist this temptation. Instead, celebrate each other with compliments. It feels so much better.
2. Create a brag book, an archive of compliments.
In her book Make a Name for Yourself, brand strategist Robin Fisher Roffer recommends creating a brag book. This binder or notebook contains a collection of the wonderful compliments people give you. Rereading these acknowledgments can give you a boost of confidence when you're faced with a difficult task.
One way to start this process is to contact 20 people and ask them to share three things they see in you. This takes courage, but I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised by what comes back.
I've been collecting and compiling compliments for months, and it really does make a difference. Instead of sweeping compliments under the rug in my rush through life, it forces me to honour what people see in me. My inner critic no longer rules the day. This book also encourages me to give compliments more often.
3. When you look in the mirror, break the habit of checking for flaws. Instead, wink! Say something complimentary. Then blow yourself a kiss and say, "I am beautiful!"
While this may seem silly or self indulgent at first, it will lighten your spirits and remind you to focus on your beauty. Try it - it works!
4. Let the mirror tell you to just "be" beautiful.
Our lives are so filled with "doing" that we rarely take time to enjoy "being" by acknowledging our own beauty. So the next time you get ready for the day, tape a note or write directly on your mirror: "I am beautiful." Because you are.
If this is difficult for you, I encourage you to spend 20-30 minutes with the mirror, looking for only your positive attributes. It might be as simple as recognizing the graceful curve of your neck, the shape of your eyes, or the way you tilt your head when you're interested in something. This exercise is a quick way to create a huge change in the way you see yourself.
5. Be bold enough to acknowledge another woman's beauty.
We see ourselves so often that we tend to lose perspective. Go ahead, empower another woman by telling her how attractive she looks. It will give you both a lift.