How Important Are Looks?
YOU say you don’t like the way you look? Well, few of us—if any—are entirely satisfied with our appearance. Unlike Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water, some of us nearly fall into depression when we see our reflection.
‘I’ve got this dislike about my body,’ laments 16-year-old Maria. ‘I think I don’t look so good.’ Thirteen-year-old Bob has a similar grievance: ‘I don’t like my hair, the way it sticks up here in the back.’ To make matters worse, a teenager’s appearance can change so rapidly that, according to one psychologist, youths often “feel like strangers in their own bodies.” Many thus fret about their face, hair, figure, and physique.
Of course, God himself has an appreciation for beauty. Says Ecclesiastes 3:11: “Everything [God] has made pretty in its time.” And how you look can indeed have a profound effect upon the way others view and treat you. Adds Dr. James P. Comer: “Body image is part of self-image. It can affect a person’s self-confidence and what he does and does not do in life.” A healthy concern about your appearance thus makes good sense. However, when you become so self-conscious that you withdraw from others or feel bad about yourself, then such concern is no longer healthy.
Who Says You’re Unattractive?
Interestingly, distress over personal appearance is not always due to real physical defects. A slender girl sits in class wishing she was heavier, while on the next aisle, a buxom girl laments how “fat” she is. From where does such dissatisfaction come? What makes well-formed youths think they are unattractive?
Says professor of psychiatry Richard M. Sarles: “Adolescence is a period of transition in which a major reorganization of the body takes place. . . . To deal with the awkwardness of a new and changing body, most adolescents rely upon the security of their peer group.” But under the scrutiny of your peers, how tall, short, fat, or thin you are—not to mention the shape of your nose or ears—can become a source of great anxiety. And when others get more attention than you or when you are chided about your looks, you can easily begin to feel bad about yourself.
Then there is the pervasive influence of TV, books, and movies. Attractive men and women stare at us from TV screens and magazine pages, selling everything from perfume to chain saws. The communications media would thus have you believe that if you’re not a flawless-skinned beauty or a muscular “hunk,” you might as well crawl into a hole somewhere—or at least forget about ever being popular or happy.
Don’t Be ‘Squeezed Into Their Mold’!
But before concluding that you are an ugly duckling, ask yourself to what extent your physical flaws are real—or imagined. Is that facial feature you fret (or are teased) about really so unattractive? Or have others pressured you into thinking it is? The Bible advises: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.”—Romans 12:2, Phillips.
Think: Who is it that promotes the idea that you need a certain look if you are to be popular, successful, or happy? Is it not manufacturers and advertisers who stand to profit by your pursuing fad diets or purchasing expensive beauty aids? Why let them mold your thinking? And if peers are critical of your looks, are they doing so to be helpful—or simply to put you down? If the latter is true, who needs “friends” like that, anyway?
The Bible further advises you to “incline your heart to discernment.” (Proverbs 2:2) Discernment will help you to view your physical assets objectively and to be dubious of media propaganda. Few people will ever look like supermodels. And “beauty is a bubble.” (Proverbs 31:30, Byington) People who are paid for their looks are at their peak for but a brief moment before they are discarded for a fresh, new face. Also, wonders are often done for their looks with makeup, lighting, and photographic artistry. (Some are shocked to see how celebrities look without their beauty-support systems!)
There is thus no reason to feel depressed because you do not look like a TV or magazine model. Nor are your peers the final judges of how tall, short, or slim you must be to look attractive. If you are comfortable with how you look, give your peers little heed. Ironically, the very thing you dislike about your looks may well be the source of someone else’s envy.
Look Your Best!
Sometimes youths do have legitimate appearance problems: a bad complexion, excess body weight, a misshapen nose, protruding ears, extremely short stature. Of course, as a growing youth, your appearance is still changing. Acne, fluctuations in weight, and lightning fast (or agonizingly slow) growth are the bane of the teen years. Time solves many such problems.
Others it does not. And many youths must live with the fact that their looks are, well, plain. Said writer John Killinger: “For most people, the lack of good looks is one of the most painful facts of life, one they learn early and rarely elude for the remainder of their lives.” You can, however, make the most of your looks!
Surgery is an expensive and perhaps risky way of correcting physical imperfections.a Simple hygiene, though, is inexpensive and can do a lot to enhance your attractiveness. Your hair may not have the luster of that of a movie actor or actress, but it can be clean; so can your face, hands, and fingernails. White teeth and clean, pink gums will make any smile more charming. Do you have a problem with overweight? A regimen of diet and exercise (perhaps under a doctor’s care) may do much to bring your weight under control.
With parental approval, you might also try experimenting with clothing and hairstyles that accentuate your physical assets and downplay your flaws. For example, according to writer Sharon Faelten, a large nose can be de-emphasized by a girl’s wearing “a full hairstyle or upswept crown.” Sharp, angular features can likewise be softened by wearing “a wavy or curly hairstyle,” and judicious use of makeup can downplay a girl’s facial flaws. Male or female, you can also accomplish much with your choice of apparel. Choose colors that enhance your complexion and styles that flatter. Pay attention to a garment’s lines: Vertical lines have a slimming effect; horizontal lines, the opposite!
Yes, with effort and imagination, you can present a pleasant appearance—even if you are not naturally endowed with good looks.
A Need for Balance
While giving attention to how you look is important, be careful not to make your appearance the big thing in your life. Have you ever noticed how little the Bible talks about the way people looked? Why aren’t we told what Abraham, Mary, or even Jesus looked like? Obviously, God did not consider it important.
Interestingly, God once rejected for the position of king a young man named Eliab, whose stature was most impressive! Jehovah God explained to the prophet Samuel: “Do not look at his appearance and at the height of his stature . . . For not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:6, 7) What a comfort it is to know that to God, the One who really counts, our looks are not the important thing! “He sees what the heart is.”
Another point to ponder: Are not most of your friends rather average-looking? And would either of your parents be material for the cover of a fashion magazine? Probably not. Indeed, knowing their fine qualities, you seldom even think about their looks! You too have assets as a person that far outweigh any physical deficiencies—real or imagined.
Nevertheless, looks are important to your peers, and you may find yourself under pressure to conform to their styles of dress and grooming. How should you respond to that pressure?
a Some medical procedures, such as braces to correct crooked teeth, can have both health and cosmetic benefits.
Questions for Discussion
◻ Why are youths so concerned about their looks? How do you feel about your own looks?
◻ What view of the importance of looks is promoted by the media and your peers? How should you respond to such influence?
◻ What are some ways of dealing with the problem of acne?
◻ How can you make the most of your looks? Why is there a need for balance in this regard?
[Blurb on page 82]
‘I’ve got this dislike about my body . . . I think I don’t look so good’
[Blurb on page 88]
You have assets that far outweigh any physical deficiencies
[Box/Picture on page 84, 85]
Can’t I Do Something About My Acne?’
Acne is a disorder of the skin that causes it to be spotted or even disfigured by pimples, blackheads, red swellings, or cysts. For many youths, it is a serious skin disorder, rather than merely a passing discomfort that lasts only a few months. People of all ages can be afflicted with it, but teenagers suffer the most. According to some experts, about 80 percent develop acne in varying degrees.
Not surprisingly, when 2,000 teenagers were asked to say what they disliked most about themselves, problems with skin far outnumbered every other complaint. Recalls a youth named Sandra, who had a bad case of acne while still in high school: “I had such bad acne, I was always hiding my face from other people. I was shy because I was embarrassed about the way I looked. . . . I looked so bad.”—Co-Ed magazine.
Why does this scourge appear during your teen years—at the very time you want to look your best? Because you are growing up. With the onset of puberty, skin glands increase their activity.
What happens? The World Book Encyclopedia explains in simple terms: Each gland empties into a hair follicle—that is, the little bag surrounding each hair. Normally, the oil would drain out through a pore of the skin, but sometimes a pore gets clogged and the oil cannot get out quickly enough. The clogged pore now forms a blemish called a blackhead because the trapped oil oxidizes, dries, and turns black. A pimple develops when pus forms. Cysts are formed when germs breed in the backed-up oil. It is the cysts that leave permanent scars. Pimples do not scar unless they become infected, which often happens as a result of squeezing or picking—so don’t squeeze or pick!
Interestingly, tension and emotional upsets can activate the skin glands. Some experience the blossoming of a large pimple just before an important event or before and during exams. Jesus’ words are thus practical: “Never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties.”—Matthew 6:34.
Sad to say, no miracle cure exists. There are, however, over-the-counter medications available, such as gels, creams, lotions, washes, soaps, and facial masks, containing benzoyl peroxide (an antibacterial agent) that can help bring acne under control. (Your family doctor can be consulted if stronger measures are needed.) Many find that cleansing their skin thoroughly with a soap or wash containing benzoyl peroxide is helpful. However, avoid oily soaps or oil-based cosmetics.
Some youths have also found that by taking care of their overall health—getting plenty of exercise, being out in the fresh air as much as possible, and getting enough sleep—their acne condition improves. And while the benefits of maintaining a fat-free diet are debated by some, avoiding junk food, as well as eating a balanced diet, obviously makes sense.
In any event, patience is a must. Remember: The problem built up over quite a period of time, so it will not clear up overnight. Sandra, mentioned earlier, says: “I guess it took about a year for my skin to completely clear up, but I could see changes in my skin within six weeks.” By sticking to your treatment over a period of time, you may experience some relief.
Meanwhile, do not let a few blemishes crush your self-esteem or inhibit your talking with others. While you may feel quite self-conscious about your skin, others probably notice it a lot less than you think. So try to keep a positive, happy spirit. And do what you can for your acne right now!
[Picture on page 83]
What you dislike about yourself may be envied by others
[Pictures on page 86]
Youths often fail to appreciate that magazine models have the services of a beauty-support team