As women, are we ever really happy with the way we look?Whether the grievance is skin, hair, weight, or even face shape, it seems we’re always harping on some perceived problem. In fact, a YouBeauty survey of over 15,000 women found that 49 percent were “not happy” when they looked in the mirror, while an additional 24 percent said they felt “neutral” at best.Yet there seems to be a catch-22 that emerges later in life for most women; those photos that made you wince with self-consciousness in your earlier years can suddenly look pretty darn good when you view them in hindsight.QUIZ: How Satisfied Are You with Your Face?In one of her last televised interviews, cinematic icon Bette Davis explained the phenomenon to journalist David Hartman. “I had always loathed my face—I would be haunted by this hideous person,” said the actress of her young days in Hollywood. “And to get to this age, and to look at those shots. No doubt about it—I was the best looking thing that ever lived! Just beautiful,” reminisced the 73 year-old star.But here’s the conundrum: Is it possible to get to that moment of self-actualization, without having to first wait out a lifetime of feeling miserable about a litany of imagined flaws?Beauty brand founder and makeup artist Bobbi Brown—whose successful “Pretty Powerful” campaigns celebrate real women of different ages and ethnicities—says that even she was struck by feelings of ugly duckling in her younger years.STUDY: Others Rarely Notice Our Flaws“When I first started out as a makeup artist, I didn’t exactly feel confident. I was surrounded by models that were very tall, skinny and blonde, and I was short and brunette, so it was a challenge,” Brown tells YouBeauty.“I learned that I was never going to compete, and I shouldn’t have to. I created a brand inspired by the idea that every woman is beautiful. It’s about being who you are and appreciating what you have. Instead of focusing on the negative, enhance what you like about yourself, which will make you feel prettier and more confident in the end,” advises Brown.That transformation in confidence may even launch the most exciting chapter of your life yet. It wasn’t until makeup artist-turned-model Cindy Joseph decided to go gray naturally at the age of 49 that a model scout made an entrance. Joseph has since modeled (gray hair in tow) for brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and Anthropologie, and has started her own beauty brand—Boom! By Cindy Joseph.The beauty expert attributes the success to a change in attitude—not packaging.MORE: The Spirit Junkie’s Secret to Loving Your Body“My persona changed when I let go of my self-consciousness and started loving myself. I took care of my health and wellbeing, and I started living according to what pleasured me,” explains Joseph. “When you see photos of yourself you like, try and remember how you felt at the time. You may realize it was your joy that had you looking so good. Taking joy in living is truly a woman’s best cosmetic.”Looking for inspiration to conquer those negative-Nancy thoughts? Here’s how real women have done it.

Courtesy of Shelley GoodSteinShelley GoodStein before and after
Shelley GoodStein

Name: Shelley GoodSteinAge: 47What were you hard on yourself about in the past? I always thought my face was too round with chubby cheeks back then, and I was self-conscious of my derriere.What’s your perspective now? When I was in my 20s, I defined my beauty directly by what I saw looking back at me in the mirror. It was a flat, one-dimensional view of myself with no room for interpretation. I was hard on myself, full of self-doubt and insecurity. Now, at age 47, I realize those imperfections that haunted me existed only in my hyper-critical mind. When I look back through those photos from 20 years ago, I think, ‘I look a lot better than I remember.’ The round face I hated, I now see portraying only a youthful beauty. I am actually in love with the idea that I have some curves, and wonder why I was so self-conscious about it for all those years. It’s one of the parts of my body that my husband—who is nine years younger than me—finds incredibly sexy!Time gives us such great perspective. I understand now that I am multi-faceted and I bring much more to the beauty equation than a lifeless reflection on the flat surface of a mirror. The image I project also includes my joys, my accomplishments, my dreams and my confidence.Shelley is the author of “Face This: Real advice from real models, photographers and makeup artists on how to become picture perfect.”

Courtesy of Rhonda M. SmithRhonda M. Smith before and after
Rhonda M. Smith

Name: Rhonda M. SmithAge: 50What were you hard on yourself about in the past? My hair, in terms of length and color. I felt that having long hair and the absence of any gray would help me stay young-looking.What’s your perspective now? I feel completely liberated with short hair, and not worrying about having to color it every few weeks, or having to spend a lot of time doing my hair before going out anywhere, for any occasion. I receive far more compliments on my short hair with my natural hair color than I ever did with the longer, darker hair. It’s about choosing what to do based on what feels most comfortable for me, rather than doing what I felt I needed to do based on people’s expectations when I was younger.COLUMN: Thinking of Chopping it Off? Do It

Courtesy of Nicole Gordon LevineNicole Gordon Levine before and after
Nicole Gordon Levine

Name: Nicole Gordon LevineAge: 42What were you hard on yourself about in the past? I didn’t take good care of my skin, so I would have breakouts from lack of sleep and poor eating habits. I felt naked without lipstick, and I thought I was so pale that I always needed color on my face. I had sparse eyebrows from over-plucking them in the early 90s, and I would wear low hats or pencil them on if I had to run out of the house on short notice.What’s your perspective now? I am now a mother of two beautiful children, and am always reminded that part of their self-esteem relies on how I handle and look at myself. I embrace the color of my skin, and I have a healthier lifestyle—no more staying up until 5 a.m. and eating pizza. I did go blonde at 40 as it was one of my Bucket List items, and now I feel sexier than ever. I am still a work in progress, as I know the outside should not dictate how I feel about myself. Baby steps. One day, my goal is to have the outer persona reflect my loving inner persona. That would be just awesome!MORE: What’s Your Self-Esteem?

Courtesy of Elaine KenneyElaine Kenney before and after
Elaine Kenney

Name: Elaine KenneyAge: 65What were you hard on yourself about in the past? In my 20s, I developed adult acne, which was difficult to deal with. In my 30s, I always felt I had weight issues.What’s your perspective now? It’s funny—when I get together with my college friends, there are always discussions about our wrinkles, neck and arm issues, spider veins and weight. At my current age, I can put these issues into perspective, but it doesn’t mean that the concerns go away entirely. I am very vain! I guess it’s a human trait. But I’m very comfortable with myself as I am today.MORE: Self-Conscious About Turkey Neck?