How Women Who've Always Felt Ugly May Become Hooked On Validation

lovely gal with purple hair in yellow shirt looking for compliments
Self

When you grow up feeling "unattractive" or unwanted by the opposite sex, you tend to wonder what it would be like for people to fawn over you.

You daydream about this, fantasizing over that Cinderella moment, but are quickly brought back to the reality of your peers asking you out as a joke.

I remember when that happened to me. I knew I had to fix something about myself. My frizzy head of hair or belly that stuck out, and all the minuscule physical characteristics were now things I fixated over. 

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This idea of becoming "attractive" can develop into an unhealthy obsession for some.

Validation can feel like a drug; it creates similar pathways to substance abuse. Sure, these two issues are very different, but perhaps it’s like a gateway that opens to other risky and dangerous behaviors.  

As humans, we crave to be liked by others, and at times we need that external validation. It’s a sad but real truth that many of us suppress. Some hide this desire better than others, but at the end of the day, everyone wants to feel beautiful. 

When you grow up being called "fat" or "ugly," the first time someone tells you that you’re pretty is a milestone moment. You record the moment in your mind and replay it over and over and over again. 

The feeling is like none other, and you can’t help but smile ear to ear.

“He called me pretty; for the first time, someone called me pretty, that wasn't my mom or dad!” I remember thinking after this first taste of validation. 

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Not all, but many of us, become obsessed with the pursuit of desirability.

After the first compliment, you can’t help but want more, because that short-lived boost of confidence eventually fades. 

It’s easy to revert to feeling like your child self, shelling off like a hermit crab, and feeling unworthy to even leave the house. Something you never saw as “ugly” before now sticks in your anxious mind forever thanks to the thoughtless criticism of another person. 

Some of us dress up, straighten our hair, do our makeup and pray for someone to notice. Others develop eating disorders, hoping that once we lose this one piece of “flab” we’ll be attractive. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, which can stem from a need for validation.

Just like drugs, eating disorders exhibit a sense of addiction that’s dangerous for our health and wellbeing.

I can remember the first time I was called skinny after thinking that I was chubby for years. It was shocking for me to hear that someone actually thought I looked thin. To be told this felt ground breaking.

But this “compliment” encouraged me to continue with a cycle of starvation, only to binge and then restrict again.

It’s not abnormal or weird to want to be told you're pretty, handsome, attractive; you name it. For goodness sake, I’ve bought into every possible beauty fad and still felt unsatisfied. Waist trainers, cellulite cream, skinny tea, and even a literal machine to suck fat from my body. I straightened my hair till it fell out, and then cut it off when it became thin like straw.

There’s always something more, though.

One flaw fixed leads you to obsess over another. I want people to see no imperfections, and if they do find some, then I’m better off wearing a bag over my head, I used to think. 

I used to secretly love getting hit on by random people, while others complained about this phenomenon. “Yes!” I would think to myself; someone new thinks I’m pretty. You don’t care who it is; you just want to hear it from as many people as you can — getting honked at by a car; that made my day.

It was never about who said it, but rather how many times it was said. 

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There comes a time where the craving of compliments demands a price.

Perhaps you fall in love with a toxic individual due to the desire to feel wanted.

A lack of self-esteem leads to the likelihood of entering unhealthy, and in many cases, emotionally or physically abusive relationships. It’s harder to leave when the little confidence you have is now being chipped away even more by your partner. The effects of all forms of abuse can be detrimental, leading to worsened mental health, or the development of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. 

We yearn for the feeling of being wanted and are often blinded by the person who wants us.

Toxic individuals can charm you with their words of adoration and slowly turn into your worst nightmare. Is that the price we pay for growing up without conforming to society's oppressive standards of beauty?

Nowadays, maybe you lead some boys on for the hell of it and use them as your current source of validation. You may use dating apps as a way to temporarily boost your confidence. I know I'm guilty of this.

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And there comes a time in life where a boy's compliment will mean nothing to you.

It doesn’t satisfy those insecurities because they’ve been repeated to you so many times. At this point it’s time to find beauty on your own, to step away from and rid yourself of past beliefs about what “attractiveness” is. 

If you’re someone who could relate to this in any way, know that I understand you. Our society is built on beauty standards that are simply unrealistic, and boy, do people love to criticize how others look. Why anyone feels a need to knock others down in order to feel better, I cannot comprehend. 

I know you've probably been told that there's more to life than being pretty.

Remember, beauty is subjective. Not everyone will be attracted to you, and that’s okay. 

It's time that we stop basing our worth on the standards of other people.

Yeah, maybe he said you’d look better with your hair straight, but who cares! Find confidence in yourself, and you will never be left unsatisfied. When you begin to make self love a priority, you will attract positivity within all aspects of life. Making that switch from external to internal validation, will give you the power to attract healthier relationships, friendships, and ultimately ensure a better quality of life.

You become more aware when you find value in yourself, allowing you to never accept the bare minimum again.

Being your own advocate, cheerleader and friend is critical for success in all areas of life.

It’s not easy, and can take months or even years, but one day you will walk with your head up, not even batting an eyelash at the person who called you ugly. 

If you are struggling with disordered eating or body image, please know there is hope for recovery. NEDA offers support via phone, text and email and can help you find a professional in your area for further healing.

Taryn Herlich is a Toronto based writer and mental health advocate. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Business Insider, Girls' Life Magazine, and a variety of online blogs.