The thing about "being beautiful" (which our culture is unhealthfully, disproportionally, demonically obsessed with) is that it's not a matter of how you look, but how you feel. Sure, on the surface that sounds like just another platitude, something that's annoyingly easy to write off. But take a moment to imagine all of the self-work you've done on your appearance over the years.
Did the clothes that were most "stylish" make you feel beautiful, or the ones that most felt like you? Did you feel beautiful when you were battling your body to look different than it was, or embracing and emphasizing what's amazing about it naturally? True body-confidence and self-esteem comes from learning to feel happy with what you have — not thinking you'll be happy when you have something else.
The difference is that when we're trying to be attractive, our efforts are focused on how other people will consume us, experience us, and see us. When we're focused on trying to feel beautiful, on the other hand, we're focused on how we will experience ourselves.
You don't have to be conventionally attractive to be beautiful. They are two different things. You don't have to be a certain size or buy certain things. You don't have to do your hair or make up a certain way. You don't have to wear "flattering" clothes (in fact, the idea that clothes are "flattering" is bull in the first place). You don't have to blow your paycheck trying to keep up with trends that you don't even particularly enjoy.
You do need to learn to live with yourself. You do need to figure out what makes you feel the most like you, and be grateful for the things you can purchase to express your heart and soul and spirit... not make another dry attempt at fitting into a mold you were never made for. At first, this will be scary — you will have to confront the little demons that tell you if you "let yourself go" (aka, let yourself be free), you'll be judged and disliked and some people may not want to date you.
All of those things are true. But you know what? They're never not going to be true to some degree. Being less of yourself doesn't make you more loved or less talked about or less desirable as a date. This is perhaps the most pervasive illusion of all: the idea that looking a certain way shields you from pain or rejection or criticism. It does not. It only does one thing: makes you less of who you are.
So take an amazing selfie and post it somewhere and be proud. Wear a crop top. Wear your favorite sweats. Make weird faces that suit your mood. Bit by bit, day by day, even hour by hour, re-train your brain to love yourself in whatever makes you happy. These may sound like simple, if not shallow, ways to bolster your self-image, but they are everything. This is how the real work gets done. It's whether or not you wake up tomorrow and decide to do your hair the way you like, not the way that "looks best." It's whether or not you decide to let it affect you when someone is being judgmental of your body. It's whether or not you're going to live your life, or the one someone wants you to live instead.
Being "attractive" is not the most incredible feeling in the world. It's probably not even up there among the best. Feeling beautiful — which is to feel as though you know who you are, and what you want, and what you're here to do, and how you want to connect and live and think and feel — is everything. And guess what? You don't need to change one physical thing about yourself to start to work on that. And what you will find is that this isn't an illusion that other people put on you — it's only an idea that your fear has been using to hold you back.
Images: Stefano Gentile / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images; Giphy