Monday, January 18, 2016


The importance of a positive self-image

Jeff is the hospital photographer, and a friend of mine. He was recently tasked with sending a photo of me to accompany a health column. He had taken several of me in the past and asked me which one I wanted to use. When I pointed to one that was taken recently that I felt was “not too bad” he asked me if I wanted to put it through a photo software program that erased facial imperfections and was a little more flattering. I thought that would be fun. I watched, fascinated, as my face transformed before my eyes; my cheeks and nose were slimmed down, blemishes and wrinkles around my eyes were erased, and my thick, unruly eyebrows were nicely shaped. I looked 20 years younger and many pounds slimmer.

As I stared at that new improved version of my face, I started thinking: As much as I would love to look like that photo, it really wasn’t me. It sure was difficult, but I had to tell Jeff to reverse the improvements and just submit the original photo, imperfections and all.

Perfection is overrated. A little imperfection is what makes us unique. Cosmetic surgery and weight loss programs are multi-billion dollar industries. They are catering to people who want to achieve perfection. I’m not talking about weight loss programs that improve our health or plastic surgery that corrects deformities. I have been involved in weight loss programs for many years. While I have certainly not achieved my perfect goal weight, I have improved my overall health. I refer here to the “Joan Rivers Syndrome” in which the relentless pursuit of perfection results in unnecessary and potential harm.

Kristen Houghton writes for the Huffington Post about this subject in an article entitled, “Happiness is Loving Your Body, Imperfections and All.” She reminds us that Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and da Vinci created masterpieces with flaws. They would paint women with a rounded stomach, or a slightly skewed nose to show character and real life. In that same vein, my wise daughter always said, “Mom, you just have to be happy in the skin you’re in.”

I asked my colleague Rosemarie Neilson, a therapist at the Backus Center for Mental Health to weigh in on the issue of positive self-image and provide some insight that we can all learn from.

Rosemarie explained through Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development just how we acquire our positive or negative self-image. This theory identifies eight stages which a healthy developing child should pass through from infancy through late adulthood. In each stage, the person confronts and hopefully masters new challenges. Erikson details as each stage of development is successfully completed the child emerges into early adulthood with a positive self-image built on “trust, autonomy, initiative and a feeling of competency.”

Rosemarie emphasizes the important role that parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings and all care takers have in the healthy development of the growing child. If these people expose the child to “warmth, regularity, and dependable affection” the child’s view of the world will be one of trust. Mistrust develops when feelings of frustration, suspicion and withdrawal lead to a lack of confidence, thus low self-image.

After talking to Rosemarie about this, I guess I have been fairly successful in negotiating through those stages, and am confident enough to be able to show my physical flaws even when faced with a technological way to hide them.

When I thought about it, erasing those laugh lines around my eyes would be an injustice. Those wrinkles were a testament to the 60-plus years of laughing I have done in my lifetime, so far.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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