“You’re not pretty enough.”
Those four words have the potential to destroy even the strongest, most confident and best-looking women, particularly if they’re uttered by a loved one. But they didn’t destroy Jennifer Tress.
Although the Washington, D.C., based consultant who formerly worked for the federal government initially let the all-too familiar emotions of negativity and self-doubt get the better of her when her husband told her he was leaving her for another woman because she wasn’t “pretty enough,” Tress found it within her to turn one of the most defining moments in her life into a platform for positive change—both for herself and for the scores of women out there who worry about their looks and believe that they, too, are not pretty enough.
Today, yourenotprettyenough.com is a movement that more and more women are signing onto. Tress is a strong, beautiful and confident woman, remarried to a “great guy” and a staunch advocate for self-esteem and self-worth, which, she believes, are key to living a happy and healthy life. She has voluntarily spoken at a number of college campuses in the D.C. metro area and this fall, will be embarking on a tour of universities across the country to share her story and to offer tools and tips on how women can figure out the many different qualities they have in order to build a higher level of self-esteem—one that has little or nothing at all to do with physical appearance.
“I believe that ‘pretty’ is often the trigger for negative self-talk,” Tress says. “Looks are often the laziest ways we assess ourselves and others, so we often use that subconsciously as the reason something bad happens or someone is bad.”
Being able to reach a level at which looks really don’t matter so much is the key to being a confident and successful woman. But even though the best of us know this, actually getting there remains a very difficult challenge for most women.
Unfortunately, beauty and body image are constant obsessions for scores of women around the world, and research continues to show that the majority of us are just not happy with the way we look. Only 4 percent of YouBeauty readers, for instance, always feel good about their bodies, and, mirroring that stat, according to the results of “The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited,” a study conducted by Dove in 2011 as part of its Campaign for Real Beauty, only 4 percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. Anxiety over looks begins at a young age, the survey showed, with more than 70 percent of girls aged between 10 and 17 years feeling a tremendous pressure to be beautiful.
As such, “the ‘You're Not Pretty Enough’ sentiment is particularly hurtful because beauty is seen as a highly prized asset that is perpetuated in our culture and in our relationships,” says Tress. “Women—and some men—can internalize that, so a cut against someone's looks can feel like a cut against one's whole self.”
Supermodel or Superwoman? Neither—Just YOU
Every mother tells her daughter that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we all know that there is no one single definition of beauty. And yet experts like Shannon Snapp, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Arizona’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, believe that society—the media in particular—makes it extremely difficult for women to be able to come to terms with those truths, feel good about themselves physically and rise above the tide, because the representation of women in the media is still extremely one-dimensional.
“Many women tend to feel they need to be either the thin, supermodel/actress type, or the Superwoman—someone striving for a level of total perfection in all aspects of her life: career, relationships with family and friends, being a great daughter, friend or partner as well as looking great,” says Snapp. “Our society is set up in such a way that it’s almost impossible, consciously or unconsciously, to notbuy into this, and that’s mainly because from a very young age, we’re all bombarded with images of who is successful and what they look like.”
Unfortunately, the “Barbie standard” is still prevalent in society today, says Heather Quinlan, YouBeauty Self Image Expert, and worse yet, many women continue to buy into it almost unquestioningly. “If you walk by a Victoria’s Secret store, the model you see there isn’t an average woman, but the image is there and it’s a real individual chore to learn to figure out how you want to incorporate those kinds of images into your expectation of yourself and your own standards of beauty,” Quinlan says. “Learning to de-emphasize appearance means judging ourselves in different ways and having broader standards of beauty.”
Beyond Beauty: Self-Worth and Overall Wellness
That’s not an easy thing to do, but Quinlan believes that it is both possible and necessary for women to recognize a model or an actress as beautiful without turning that image onto themselves and believing that because they don’t look like the image, they are not beautiful.
Having the right support from family, friends and peer groups is extremely important, she says, in formulating broader and more objective views of what constitutes beauty, and in fostering both confidence and self-acceptance. Snapp encourages the young women she works with to push back against conventional ideals and any kind of negative beauty talk they hear.
“The brain works in such a way that once those thoughts are repeated, they come like rapid fire—I look fat, I look ugly, etc.—and that cognition becomes very pervasive, so creating a new pathway means training the brain to think in a new way,” she says. She also believes in and encourages the idea of overall wellness and the self as being made up of a wide range of facets that together, result in one worthwhile being.
It's up to the individual to find out what those facets are, and what will make life more meaningful, whether it's a fulfilling hobby, spending time with positive-minded friends, exercising, or simply finding time to take a walk.
“Physical appearance is more stressful and worrying if we are striving toward something we think we should be, whether a body type or a beauty ideal, or even material success,” she says. “But these things are not fulfilling our deepest desires—we have just bought into an idea that people have said is the pathway to success or beauty, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all model and if you don’t fit it, you end up feeling frustrated. This is where wellness comes in."
Tress can certainly vouch for that.
Today, she is in a happy space, doing things “that make me happy based on who I am as an individual.” She likes flowy hair, bright lipsticks and makeup, but, she says, “I can tell you that the time I spend thinking about what I look like is about 30 minutes a day. The rest of the time, I am thinking about or doing stuff I like, and when you’re doing stuff you like, you’re less focused on what you look like.”
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