I was an ugly duckling growing up. Or so I believed. I compared myself to other girls and always fell short. This continued into my adulthood. Someone always had prettier hair, another woman had  the perfect breasts or the long legs that I didn’t have. Then there are Charlize Therons, Angelina Jolies and Megan Foxes of the world that added salt to my wound. It felt like torture.

After college, I got curious about how these women I deemed more beautiful than myself think, feel and live.  I ran social experiments where I would strike up a conversation with a beautiful woman and ask questions about her experience of her beauty. How did she feel when she looked in the mirror in the morning? What are her feelings when she is in a bar full of other stunning women? Did she feel confident in her relationships? Was she drawing her value from her looks? Was she nice or a “mean girl”?

I was surprised that some of these stunning women didn’t or couldn’t enjoy (or appreciate) their own beauty. I am personally very familiar with the struggle we all go through on a daily basis to believe that we are beautiful just as we are. No ifs, no buts. Not in comparison to, not in spite of… So, I explored some of the reasons why and I took a deeper look at a societal wound that has been bleeding for decades now. This isn’t just women’s problem, it affects men as well.

When I say feeling beautiful, I mean inside and out. When I say beautiful, I mean knowing the beauty of your soul. When I say beautiful, I mean worthy without a reason. It encompasses self-love and self-worth. I found that when we don’t feel beautiful, one or more of these things are going on inside us.

We don’t feel beautiful because…

1. We opened our eyes into a society under the spell of unrealistic (and cookie-cutter) standards of beauty and we are struggling to find our place in that picture.

2. When we look in the mirror, we see our rejected self. We see the reflection of hurtful words written all over our faces. We miss the dimple, bright smile or the soulful eyes that we see in the mirror.

3. Beauty is power and we are not comfortable with power. We have been victims of people misusing their power. And we have not really practiced having authentic personal power yet.

4. Our ability to feel a lot and feel deeply is labeled as a weakness in modern society and we are busy trying to change ourselves to be acceptable.

5. We still feel like the unpopular ugly duckling that we thought we here in high school.

6. It feels unsafe to shine among other women. We don’t want to be subject to jealousy and cattiness.

7. When we were young and vulnerable to outside influences, someone (well-meaning or otherwise) criticized our hair, called us fat or embarrassed us in class by mocking our taste in clothes.

8. We think of all the ways we betray ourselves, give way more than we receive or tolerate mistreatment because we don’t think that we deserve something better.

9. We have not yet discovered who we are deep inside, now have we learned to accept and love ourselves as a whole person (the good, the bad, the ugly, the smelly and the sexy).

10. We are waiting to be perfect to start appreciating, celebrating and freely sharing who we are. We were told we were not OK in some way and we believed it.

…and the list goes on and on and leaves us with the effects of these factors in our day-to-day lives. When we don’t feel beautiful, we miss the opportunity to be present to life. Our self-love container shrinks to the size of a bottle cap. As a result, our capacity to give and to receive is diminished. We are short with our children and our partners, we spend too much money on shoes and sabotage our own success and happiness. Everybody loses.

The idea of beauty being tied to worth for women can be translated to one’s financial status determining their worth for men. It would be safe to assume that there are many men who might feel like less of a man because they don’t drive a brand new BMW.  So we have more commonalities and more common interest in healing than we might realize.

So what do we do?

If you are a man reading this, please understand that I am not saying that it is your job to heal us. However, if you can help us with your presence, your integrity, your ability to reflect back what you love and appreciate about us, with your help we can transform this societal wound inside us. Then we can be the better partners, friends, sisters and mothers that you desire. You are a big part of the change that needs to happen in the consciousness of humanity regarding societal rules and expectations around beauty and self-worth.

If you are a woman reading this, you may identify with only one or all of the reasons I have listed above and could add a few of your own to the bunch. Know that you are not alone and that millions of women on this planet struggle with this at some point in their lives, at varying degrees.  We, as women, all share equal responsibility to help each other heal this. We can support each other by recognizing and verbalizing the beauty we see in each other and by practicing collaboration instead of buying into competition. We help heal this wound by loving ourselves just enough to continue our inner exploration in order to find our authentic self so our sense of beauty and worth becomes unshakeable.

We are all in this together.