by Rachel Waxman, Ph.D.
As I walked down the street one day, I was horrified to notice a slogan posted prominently on the window of a cosmetic surgeon’s office. “Feeling good begins in the mirror,” the sign proudly announced. So, for the record, I would just like to point out: No. It doesn’t.
I understand that cosmetic surgery may be a business like any other and that one of the primary goals of business is to get customers. Still, in our society where teenagers often feel like they should do whatever it takes – healthy or unhealthy – to be thin, in our world where people often seem unable to stop making themselves miserable by comparing themselves to peers and movie stars, and where said movie stars are often equally discontented with themselves despite everything that makeup, lighting, exercise and surgery can do… well, I thought that the message “You should be unhappy until you force yourself into some arbitrary form of external beauty” was in poor taste.
And frankly, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense either. Someone whose happiness is based on their physical appearance is someone who can never be happy. Our bodies are constantly changing and aging, changes which have nothing to do with our internal qualities, interpersonal relationships, accomplishments or dreams. Even if we went through top-of-the-line surgeries and spent a fortune on clothing to make sure that we looked as “beautiful” as possible for the current fashion, this wouldn’t make us feel truly content. After all, the fashions might change at any second. Even if we painted ourselves a repulsive shade of green, on the other hand, there would be no reason to feel any worse about ourselves, the future, or the world. Why? Because in reality, how we feel about ourselves has never been based on how we look in a mirror. All people have the option to accept themselves for who they are. Somebody without that internal peace doesn’t really believe anything positive that a mirror might tell them, while somebody who makes a habit of self-acceptance doesn’t need a little piece of glass in order to know happiness.
The Declaration of Independence states that we are all possessed of the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Perhaps the owners of certain industries pursue happiness by trying to make potential customers feel lousy until they change their appearance. But you have the liberty to ignore them and to pursue your happiness somewhere that it can actually be found – inside your true self, by living according to your values and your needs. Feeling good begins at home.