Mental health involves being on good terms with both ourselves and others. Part of this is not incurring unwanted disapproval. When we disapprove of ourselves, we call it low self-esteem. When others disapprove of us, we call it rejection.
AVOIDING DISAPPROVAL AND JUDGEMENT
There are two ways in which low self-esteem and rejection happen. The first is moral rejection; and the second is disgust. Both are loosely called judgement.
At even a basic level, we wear clothes that are similar to those around us. This avoids the moral rejection of nudity; and also makes it likely we will avoid incurring others’ distaste. So all of us, at some level, are in the game of avoiding disapproval.
TRYING TO BE ATTRACTIVE
So far I have talked about avoiding disapproval. However, some of us push things further, and seek to gain positive approval from ourselves and others. To do this, we will seek moral acceptance; and also seek to align ourselves with other people’s taste. Broadly speaking, this is trying to be attractive.
LEVELS OF EFFORT
We could tabulate this in levels as follows, from low effort to high effort:
- I don’t want to offend others
- I don’t want to be rejected
- I want a peaceful life
- I want to be accepted
- I want to be attractive
Level one is a minimalist, passive approach. In contrast, level five is at the other extreme, being much more proactive in matching others’ values and taste.
CHOOSING OUR EFFORT LEVEL
How can we decide what line to take? Should we work hard to be attractive, or should we do the minimum to live alongside others?
We can perhaps answer this by looking at our context. What else are we trying to achieve?
QUALITY OF MOTIVATION
Being attractive, as an end in itself, is a trap, because we are becoming a slave to prevailing values and tastes, however much it pains us. People who make a living from being attractive often experience mental pain, because the quest to fit in with an ideal enslaves them.
Equally, using attractiveness to achieve goals can backfire. A beautiful spouse gets old and rejected. A TV presenter stops being able to compete. A politician of the moment becomes outdated.
In terms of mental health, life becomes easier the more we can tolerate rejection. If we can achieve such resilience, then being attractive can become much less relevant.
JUST FOR TODAY
Just for today, I will notice when I am trying too hard to be attractive to others. I will take a balanced approach, certainly not wishing to offend, but equally not wishing to use up too much energy just fitting in.
If I can, I will work on accepting myself just as I am. I can still do things to position myself within society as more acceptable. But I will be aware that my sanity is not dependent on that acceptance, because I am not over-attached to appearances, nor to the tastes and opinions of others.