Appearance assumptions are opinions masquerading as facts. Since we assume our thoughts are true, we rarely question beliefs about appearance, which is why they are called “assumptions.”
These assumptions are personalized, yet most of them are products of a particular culture. This means many women are walking around with the same irrational beliefs lurking in the back of their minds.
Appearance assumptions are a big problem for women, especially moms. Here are some examples:
Women with flat bellies are happier than women with fat bellies.
The first thing people notice is my belly, and they assume I’m pregnant.
Curly hair is uglier than straight hair.
Thin is better than fat.
If I could look as I wish, my life would be better.
These were some of my appearance assumptions. Not all were postpartum, some stemmed from my teenage years. They weren’t always this explicit; the thoughts often ran in a semi-conscious loop in response to doubt or frustration.
If awareness peeked through, I would tell myself to stop thinking such negative dribble.
I would stop.
And then the thoughts would start circling again.
Finally, I wrote them down and gave them a hard, critical look.
Your appearance assumptions won’t be the same as mine. Still, I’m willing to bet they are culturally induced.
Appearance assumptions are sneaky. They are rigid and unreasonable, but since they spring from our own minds, we accept their truth.
Always Ask Why
Why should a flat belly correlate with happiness?
Why should I assume people are staring at my belly? Even if they are, what good is worrying about that?
Why should straight hair be preferable?
Why is thin better than fat?
Why is happiness predicated on looking exactly as I wish?
Once I started to really think about the answers to those questions and to put them in a cultural context, I realized I didn’t need to believe everything my mind spat out at me.
Anytime we let ourselves fixate on an appearance assumption, we should ask, “Why?”
Perhaps, after examining the assumption, we’ll realize it doesn’t make sense.
Or, maybe we’ll decide the assumption is partly true. In that case, we should ask, “How is it working for me?”
For example, maybe I can’t convince myself curly hair is as good as straight hair, but I can convince myself that worrying about my hair isn’t adding to my quality of life. If I can convince myself the appearance assumption isn’t working, maybe eventually I can refute the groundwork for the entire assumption.
(For the record, I like curly hair. It took me years to accept my thick, frizzy hair, but I overcame that appearance assumption…after many hundreds of dollars spent trying to unsuccessfully eradicate the curl.)
Let’s take another example, this one related to postpartum bodies. I’ll refute “The first thing people notice is my belly, and they assume I’m pregnant.”
First, I need to examine the evidence. What evidence do I have that the very first thing people notice is my belly? Well, not much. No one actually comments on my belly. Right after I had my daughter, someone asked me if I were pregnant, which was mortifying. However, one person asking about my belly is not enough evidence to assume that all people wonder if I’m pregnant. Also, the first thing I notice about women isn’t their bellies, so why should I assume that is the first thing other people notice about me?
However, I can’t actually prove people aren’t staring at my belly. Sometimes I really feel like they are. I’m still not convinced by my counter-evidence against my appearance assumption. What now?
I move on to the second question: “How is it working for me?”
It’s not. My assumptions may or may not be true. Maybe everyone is staring at my belly. Maybe they think I’m pregnant. However, holding this belief does me no good. It makes me self-conscious. It limits my interactions, and it focuses my thoughts on my belly instead of on other people. I can’t think of any way that this appearance assumption works for me.
Indeed, this is one of the harder assumptions to refute simply because I have some external evidence that people do notice my belly (that woman), but this small piece of evidence isn’t enough to warrant holding on to an unproductive and destructive belief.
Conversely, refuting the assumption “women with flat bellies are happier than women with fat bellies” is much easier because I have no data to support it. How the heck do I know what creates happiness for other women? I’m pretty sure many other things land much higher on the happiness spreadsheet than “flat belly.”
You can’t refute your appearance assumptions until you know they exist. Therefore, take the time to pry open your thoughts and pinpoint the underlying belief. Next, look for evidence for and against this belief. And last, ask yourself “How is this belief working for me?”
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If you can’t complete it in one sitting, I recommend writing in Word and then copying and pasting.
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