Does exercise make you feel more confident and attractive? According to research, the answer is Yes.
Exercise And Self-Confidence – The Connection
In 2014, Mayo Clinic released a study that stated, “Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.”1 And the journal Evolution and Human Behavior did an analysis that noted, “this study provides limited empirical evidence that more facially attractive people (N = 100) may be physically healthier than unattractive people.” Makes me wonder if the reverse is true – are healthier people more facially attractive?
In both my education and writing career, I use (and respect) good research, yet I wonder how much culture influences our self-perception of our attractiveness.
I am especially wondering this lately, as I recently went on a walk with one of my best friends. I’ve known her for over 30 years, and she has always been considered attractive. I find her to be still attractive, and have assumed she had the same opinion. She exercises regularly and is very disciplined about her health habits.
Yet (after a 6-mile hike together), she mentioned being frustrated about her weight and “un-attractiveness.” I put it in quotes because I strongly disagree with her, so refuse to give it legitimacy.
According to research, all her exercise and healthy habits should lead to her feeling pretty dang good about herself. Yet that definitely wasn’t the case. If she were in Russia or Greece (or most any other country), she’d be the cultural ideal (think blond hair, blue eyes and Marilyn Monroe curvy).
Yet here in the U.S. we still reward women who are size 0 (how can someone be a null and actually exist) or 4. The average U.S. woman is size 12, so quite clearly reality and cultural expectations are not in sync.
This makes me sad. Women, whether your age is 35 or 55, do you judge yourself unfairly, with an emphasis on looks? How often do you judge yourself based on your health? I have several friends with lifelong issues (MS, Hashimoto’s), yet every day they work really hard to have good health. To me, they are attractive because their faces reflect their determination, spirit and feistiness.
Fake It Till You Make It
Be honest, do you judge yourself by your smiles or by your weight? Why do we accept outdated cultural norms? Why do we compare ourselves to our 25-year-old selves? How can we possibly win against unrealistic opponents such as these?
When I was a grad student in systemic counseling, we learned the expression “Fake it till you make it.” It was advice for our clients, based on cognitive-behavioral theory. I think it’s good advice, and I use it on myself.
Here’s how – My “resting” face is more of a frown than a smile. I don’t have the classic nose, cheeks, eyes or chin that our culture says is beautiful. Yet I don’t want to be 75 and wish I’d appreciated my 50-year-old self. When I was 50 I regretted not appreciating my 25-year-old self, and vowed not to do that to myself anymore.
So I tell myself NOW that I’m good-looking. I work on my posture, which is an easy way to look more confident. And if you look more confident, you feel more confident. “Fake it till you make it” in action.
I pose for lots of photos and I smile in them all. Then I post the best ones online so other people can comment about how much fun I’m having. My brain hears that and the repetition makes it part of my self-concept that I have a fun life. When someone tells me I look great, I say, “I agree (except on genuinely bad photos, such as a recent close-up of my sweaty nose).”
If I tell myself I’m attractive, fun and confident, that’s what I’ll exude. And that’s how I’ll be perceived. So this post is dedicated to my truly beautiful friend, and I hope every woman who reads this thinks I’m talking to her.
Dear ________, you are attractive, fun, and confident. It will make me very happy if you would do me the honor of agreeing.