Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Check out Raffles Press’ new column, Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset, and our resident Aunties and Uncles will be glad to help you with your Rafflesian troubles! Submit your confessions to tinyurl.com/rafflesadvicecolumn and we’ll give them our best shot.

No matter how much I avoid thinking about it I can’t stop feeling insecure about the way I look. How do I convince myself that looks don’t matter?

– Mirror

Dear Mirror,

Personally, I feel the way to deal with your problem is not to “avoid thinking about it”, which is what you describe yourself doing. Actively avoiding any problem is not going to make it go away. To solve it, you have to take a breath, grit your teeth, and face it head-on.

It is very common for us to feel insecure about our looks, especially during this day and age when we are bombarded with superhuman standards of physical beauty, which enforce our own self-criticism. However, in your hands, too, lies the power to turn your insecurity around – and it’s not through telling yourself that “looks don’t matter”, but that your looks matter enough.

The truth is, looks will always matter. It has always been an unfortunate biological fact, as people need a way to assess you when they first meet you. But beyond that is the fact that if you were (I assume) born with a healthy body or a healthy mind, that is an incredible blessing. When you feel insecure, don’t channel that into self-pity! There’s nobody who can or should, for that matter, stop you from changing your appearance for the sake of you feeling more at ease with yourself. You could also channel all the negative energy towards exercise and healthy living. Not only will that increase the level of feel-good hormones, it’ll likely be an active step towards improving your physique (if you really want to, or if you’re leading a sedentary lifestyle) instead of languishing in front of a mirror all day.

Recently, a YouTuber called bubzbeauty posted a video of her own journey with self-esteem issues, particularly after the birth of her son. While giving birth itself isn’t something we’d have first-hand experience with, I felt she made one very impactful analogy. She used an apple cutter and a carrot grater to make the point that everyone has a certain unique look, but what you do with yourself is more important, and so having looks that differ from the conventional sense of “beauty” does not mean you’re somehow inferior.

You’re your own greatest critic, but “what you achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” (I didn’t say this, J. K. Rowling did!) Even if you don’t look physically beautiful, if you’re positive, kind and self-confident, this shines through in your bearing and gives you a warmth that even the most beautiful (but inwardly insecure) person will not have. Your true friends, and those who love you, won’t judge you because of your looks. They will be your friends because of your character and personality, and that is something that is unlikely to change according to the whims of age and fashion.

Good luck, and remember: you are enough, you are so enough, it’s unbelievable how enough you are! Even if it may not feel like it, you’re always more important than you think you are, just by virtue of the fact that you’re trying your best day by day.

I am a small, scrawny J2 with little muscle to show to my friends. I never had a need to bulk up (never a sportsperson) or to be stronger than I already am (functional enough to survive the day). But recently I’ve begun to feel insecure about myself, about my lack of shape and fitness. How should I go about kickstarting an exercise regime and keep disciplined to it? I wanna be Big Ben and make loud bell sounds, not Small Sam and sound like a triangle in the band

– Big Ben

Dear Big Ben,

Since you seem genuinely determined to start an exercise regime, I will try to give you some useful tips. However, the Aunts and Uncles here are not professional fitness coaches, and thus if you want to advice on how to target specific areas of your physique or map out a detailed workout schedule, we would suggest for you to approach a PE teacher or seek professional advice elsewhere.

To start off:

1. Calculate your BMI.

  • It is incredibly basic, but a good tool for assessing whether your weight is in the healthy range or not.
  • There are a multitude of BMI websites, one of which can be accessed here.
  • However, do note that a “good” BMI may not be a  reliable indicator of your fitness level (or muscle-to-fat ratio).

2. Pencil out free time in your schedule that you can spare for exercising.

  • A huge sacrifice won’t be necessary.  A good starter would be half an hour per day, every two days.
  • Try not to stick to just the gym or running on the treadmill. Singapore has plenty of beautiful parks and walks, and exercising outside will also give you a dose of Vitamin D from the sunlight.

3. Vary your workout.

  • Alternate between cardio (running, jogging, etc.) and strength (pull-ups, push-ups, etc.) workouts, because that will minimize the chances of you growing bored with exercising, and will also let you develop the different muscles of your body.
  • Also, don’t fret about needing state-of-the-art gym equipment for you strength exercises. Most of them can be done free-of-charge at home, using your own body weight as natural “weights”.

4. Watch your diet.

  • A lot of “skinny” people can be very unhealthy, as their naturally high metabolism rate hides the amount of salt or fat they consume in their diet. But these don’t disappear; they can line the insides of your heart and liver muscles, and will increase in the chance of future diseases. I know it sounds a little dramatic, but it’s true!
  • Cut down on carbohydrates (especially white rice and white bread), and substitute it with more protein (chicken, soy beans, etc.). Carbohydrates are the main reason why you feel so sleepy in class after a big lunch, while protein is a better replacement which will help build your muscles as well.
  • Eat more vegetables. Despite this starting to sound like your mother’s nagging, vegetables have fibers and they are really, really good for you.
  • Don’t eat too many fruits. It is commonly thought that eating more fruits is healthy for you. While that is true to a certain extent, substituting fruits for every meal actually leads to an increase in sugar intake, as fruits have their own natural sugar as well.

5. Use technology.

  • There are many apps and YouTubers that are dedicated to fitness as well.
  • One particular app is MyFitnessPal, a food diary app that allows you to clock in your meals and count your calories.
  • However, your Aunts and Uncles want to caution you about calorie counting. It is never completely accurate and may lead you to develop paranoid and guilty feelings whenever you exceed your calorie count. The best way is just to gradually adjust to your diet and make decisions that feel right, instead of lacing yourself into a straitjacket from the very first day.
  • A good YouTuber to follow is blogilates; she’s preppy and encouraging (as much as she can be from a computer screen), and also made a video about physical image which I think you should watch.

Now that I’m done with the straightforward tips, I just have some advice for you.

It is good that you are aware of your “lack of shape and fitness”. However, try not to let it stem from a place of insecurity. If your main motivation is to achieve a mental image of “looking good”, what happens if that takes longer than you expected? Or what if you don’t end up looking like all those muscular sportspeople?

Exercise and a good diet are for improving your body, not just the image you want to project. If you try to think of it that way, then perhaps you will have more patience and internal motivation to carry on, as achieving your ideal fitness level may take some time. Ultimately, everyone has a slightly different body type. You may not end up with a bulky, “Big Ben” sort of physique, but it is our shared opinion that as long as you’re fit and healthy, then everything is as it should be.

People say good looks don’t matter, but why are we so easily swayed by appearances? We find it easier to trust better-looking people rather than shady or less aesthetically pleasing people, regardless of their intentions. Why are we so superficial?

– Lame

Dear Lame,

You have pinpointed – very perceptively, if I may add – a very relevant and persistent social issue (and one that has dragged on too long!).

Firstly, anyone who says, “good looks don’t matter” is lying, either to him/herself or whomever they’re telling it to. Humans physically can’t see beyond the surface, so we tend to rely inordinately on what can be surmised at first sight. The character and values of a person will need time to sieve out, while in the mean time good looks tend to receive a more positive reception than the less aesthetically pleasing.

Why is that, though? Actually, the way we go about analyzing appearances has a lot to do with survival. Being good looking can say a lot about you. There are first hand assumptions it could communicate to people: that you take care of your appearance and personal hygiene, and are thus a healthy, sane human being. It can also give some clues to your personality. Certain features, like wide eyes or slanting eyebrows, can even give the person a “look” of innocence or kindness, which helps one sub-consciously catalogue a stranger despite not knowing anything about that person. Also, to bring it down to the basest level – as we start looking for a mate, a “better-looking” person gives off the signal of being a genetically more advantageous selection, rather than someone who is not physically attractive to you. On some level, our fixation with physical looks has been all about the survival of the fittest.

However, we have by now grown past being like the animals in the wild. The benefits of having conventionally good looks will disappear over time if one’s character is proven to be untrustworthy. For me, intellect and morals hold more strength than simple good looks, as there are thousands of good-looking people, but a much smaller number of human beings with genuine characters. You seem to hold a slightly more pessimistic view (with your ending question), but I do believe that most of us are able to distinguish between a merely attractive appearance and intentions that are good and true. If one cannot, then perhaps it is the person him/herself that is shallow, not society’s concept of physical beauty.

Ultimately, being born good-looking is the result of a random combination of genes. It is completely out of your control whether you look good according to society’s standards of attractiveness. In fact, different societies have valued different perceptions of beauty throughout time, as evidenced by this lovely BuzzFeed video (you can search for the men’s version as well), so what is “beautiful” is actually a rather arbitrary concept out of your control. What lies in your control, though, is loving yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. If you maintain your health and look great according to your own standards, your natural confidence will inherently increase and give people a much more positive vibe compared to someone who looks beautiful, but is distant and/or insecure. Your true friends and those who love you should be willing to look past what you are on the outside.

Thank you, and I hope this adequately addresses your questions!

Sincerely,
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you have any queries or concerns related to the Aunt Agony/Uncle Upset column or its confessions, please direct them to press.raffles@gmail.com, with the title ‘Questions about Aunt Agony’.

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