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Do You Hate The Way You Look?

In March of 2006, I received the following letter from someone who consulted with me for a skin condition:

Dear Dr. Kim,

I wondered if you would have any advice because I'm having a very hard time emotionally. I'm having a problem with low self esteem and self confidence, mainly because of my (health condition).

I don't have any friends or acquaintances (in my local area), and I've had a huge problem with loneliness over the past year.

I feel too embarrassed to meet other young people because of the (health condition), and I feel my emotional state has taken a large toll on me. It seems like a catch 22 situation.

I would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions you have on this.

Best wishes,

Because I have received letters like Jessica's over the years from people of both genders, all ages, and a variety of ethnic backgrounds, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the thoughts that I included in my reply to Jessica.

If you've been reading our site for a while, you may know that I came to do the work that I do now because of my own health challenges as a 19-year old.

Due to a variety of stressors that I faced at that time, I developed a skin condition called vitiligo. Over a period of 3-4 years, I lost approximately 25 percent of my skin color in patches on my face and body.

This condition affected every part of my life. I thought that no one would hire me as a chiropractor because of the way that I looked. I was depressed because I couldn't play tennis, baseball, and basketball for hours at a time like I used to without getting sun burned. I was sure that no one would ever want to marry me.

For about two years, I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror. I showered, brushed my teeth, and washed my face in the bathroom with the lights off. Such was the extent to which I had come to loathe my scars.

I'd like to tell you that there was one magical moment when it all turned around for me. The truth is that it took many years to overcome my low self esteem and addiction to self pity.

There were a number of thoughts and events that encouraged me to see my physical appearance differently.

At one point, I realized that the person who made the most of my physical appearance was me. When I made it a big issue in my own mind, it seemed to become more of an issue to those around me. When I went about my life without obsessing over my appearance, it clearly became less of an issue to people I interacted with.

Sure, there were a few people here and there who clearly indicated that they didn't want anything to do with me because of my unique physical appearance, but for the most part, almost everyone I met and interacted with didn't even bring it up. Some even made me feel like they didn't notice it at all.

Another important epiphany occurred when a friend asked me to consider how I would want my own future child to go about his or her life if they faced the same circumstances that I faced. In recognizing that I would not want low self esteem over physical appearance to hinder my own child's life in any way, I was inspired to begin the practice of living my own life in a way that resembled how I wished my own child's life would turn out.

It took me until I was about the age of 26 or 27 to feel relatively free of the self pity that I allowed to plague me since I developed vitiligo.

And since that time, I've come to realize repeatedly that my experiences with vitiligo and low self esteem over my physical appearance are among the greatest gifts that I have ever received.

Because of my experiences, I can truly relate to clients who have a health challenge that involves anxiety about their physical appearance. If I didn't have the experience of not being able to turn the lights on in the bathroom, I believe that I would have less capacity to understand and help some of these people. To focus solely on dietary choices when a person can't even look into a mirror without a visceral reaction is not likely to lead to a positive, long term outcome.

My vitiligo also gives me the ability to quickly identify people who place more importance on a person's character than on a person's looks. When my wife knew that she wanted to marry me when she was 25-years old, I knew that I had found someone who recognized my spirit. I didn't need a handsome face, fancy clothes, a stuffed wallet, a flashy sports car, or a 5,000 square foot home to have her want to marry me.

Without my vitiligo, I doubt that I would have gotten interested in leading the healthy lifestyle that my family does now.

I could share many more blessings that have come about because of the skin condition that caused years of sadness, but hopefully, my point is clear.

If you suffer with anxiety about your physical appearance, I hope that you will take some time to consider the many ways in which your current and past suffering can lead to a bright and meaningful life. As Shakespeare wrote, "...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

It's difficult to change the way that you feel about yourself in just a few days. But I hope that you are inspired to think about your appearance and life in a way that you would want your own child to think about his or her own situation.

If you have any thoughts on this topic that might be helpful to others, please post your thoughts in the comments section that follows. Thank you.


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Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Kim,
Thank you for sharing your experience and how you over came it. I've had several physical things to over come.

A prominent nose is inherited by most members of my family. Even though I had the smallest of the noses in my family, a surgeon who needed to fix a deviated septum because it was depriving me of sufficient oxygen and causing sinus infections, tried to convince me to let him take off the bulbous tip of my nose and give me an Elizabeth Taylor nose.

Since insurance would not pay for cosmetic surgery, he would do it for only $100 since he was going to be operating on that area anyway. On the day of surgery as he prepared to start the operation he asked me what my decision was.

Much to his disappointment, I told him that I had decided against the surgery. That I had inherited that nose from my dad and that might be the only thing I got from him.

What I had realized was that people did not love me because of the shape of my nose. Having nose surgery would not make anyone love me any more or less. My Dad was greatly loved and considered very handsome in spite of his large nose.

The other problem I have had to face was my body image. I had been taught that the female body was something to be ashamed of. So, in marriage I did not feel beautiful and desirable. Instead I felt flawed and shameful. Especially since I am over weight.

Several years ago I went on a vegetarian diet and lost 62 pounds. I looked fabulous in my clothes and I had admirers surrounding me. However, I never let them get close to me, close enought to get to a permanent relationship, because underneath my clothes the weight loss had left wrinkled, baggy skin. I had visions of the wedding night with my new husband horrified at the sight of my body.

So, I felt I was in a no-win situation. If I was a healthy weight I looked great in my clothes, but a rack of wrinkles when exposed. If I am overweight, I look less desirable in my clothes and probably repulsive without my clothes. So, I kept everyone at bay with my walls of protection.

And in discouragement, gained all the weight back.

My body still is not the model of perfection, but I have arrived at a place in my life where I think that accepting myself and my body is essential to having a happy relationship in marriage. And, I believe that if someone loves me he will still love me on the wedding night when I am exposed with a less than perfect body, and one that is aging and has wrinkles or too much fat.

I've realized that self acceptance and confidence are much more attractive than any perfect body. I am told on a regular basis by people that I am beautiful. And that is not because of meeting any standards of beauty.

A grateful reader.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 3:32:25 AM
Grandma from Detroit said...

As a child, my peers called me
"Buckwheat" the wild haired kid in the "Our Gang" comedy series. I had a skin rash that was terrible. My faith in Jesus Christ grew and I was strenghtened because no one is worthless in His sight. My grand daughter is seriously overweight at 11 years old. I will send her your blog.

There are many mean people out there who will make a sensitive person hurt; however, each individual has to feel his/her own self-worth. That is the hard part.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 6:00:19 AM
Anonymous said...

Dr. Kim,
I have enjoyed your writings and also appreciate the others' comments. I struggle with two physical issues. I am about 50 lbs. overweight and my teeth are rotten. I hate to smile and I worry when I talk to people or sing (I love to sing in choirs), that people will be offended at how I look. As a mother of 14 children I can't afford dental care for me; I make my husband angry when I take any of the children to the dentist. My weight problem is mainly due to feeling that it won't make any difference in my life whether I'm fat or not. I'm always trying new ways to lose weight, normal ways as opposed to crazy ways. But it isn't very long until I become indifferent and give it up. Psychologically I feel that most people think I'm a blooming idiot for having so many children. I don't regret any of them, they are wonderful people and I believe I would've committed suicide if I didn't have them to care for. I, too, hate my image in the mirror. But I think I hate my lack of determination and resolve to fix my problem even more. I wish I could find the answer to caring about myself long enough to believe I'm worth it.

Completely discouraged in CO.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 2:01:55 PM
Jo Anne said...

Dear Dr. Kim,

Your website is OFF THE CHAIN! (African-American slang for,"Very good!") Keep up the good work!

Jo Anne
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 5:16:04 PM
Anonymous said...

To: completely discouraged in CO

I'm certainly no expert on relationships, but I suspect that your husband is not the nurturing type. He's mad if you take the kids to the dentist and he's willing to let your teeth rot out of your head. That's not love. If you were single, you may qualify for some free dental. If you don't care about yourself enough, do it for the kids. There are dental training facilities around if you are close to one. There are always alternatives to everything, figure it out.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 9:30:19 PM
louisa said...

Its a brilliant web site and I send you all of my love Ill be in recovery from anorexia for the rest of my life thats ok,I accept that.People love me for who I am and thats what counts.Its very important to let them do it,everyone deserves to be loved,and I dont want it to take over my life as it has done for so long.Ive had 9 years of domestic violence and walked away from it 2 years ago weighing 82lbs,that is strength.It comes to us all I believe when we most need it,I wish you all power and strength to overcome lifes problems and may angels hold your hands blessings and love .
Wednesday, March 22, 2006 11:39:18 AM
Tonya said...

Dear Dr. Kim: thank you for your weekly health advisories, I read each one with great interest. Today I decided to read your blog and was amazed to find a segment on vitilgo. I've meant to write you and ask about this as it is something that is now affecting my entire upper back. I'm going to review your archives to see if there is advice on it, perhaps how to either treat or slow it. Thank you for the positive message on image, my mother has made me feel so self conscious about the vitiligo that I changed how I dress. I'll strive for acceptance as you advised, and remain hopeful there's something that can be done to arrest it. In the meantime, as I'm sure it's true for all of us, it was a comfort to see I'm not alone. I know there are serious health conditions and people suffer from a broad range of ailments, and that I must count my blessings of overall good health. I'm going to put on some 50+ sunblock and mow my yard today, and continue to do the things I enjoy. Kind regards and God bless you and your family!
Sunday, April 09, 2006 10:55:45 AM
Ben Kim said...

Hi Tonya...thank you for your kind thoughts.

Regarding your situation, you may want to visit a dermatologist to confirm that you have vitiligo. Sometimes, depigmentation that appears only on the trunk can be a fungal infection called tinea corporis. My advice for vitilgo is different than it is for tinea corporis.

Also, it is better to use our contact page to ask for help to specific questions. You can find our contact page here:


Ben Kim
Sunday, April 09, 2006 11:02:14 AM
Anonymous said...

To all the fine people that wrote comments to Dr. Kim's "Do You Hate The Way You Look". For many years, I hated myself because I suffer with bad skin. Sometimes my face was so red, I wouldn't wear anything red. I am now 56 and I've some to find out that God sees me as beautiful. He created me, and loves me just the way that I am. Culture defines beauty. We are all beautiful and loved.
Blessings to you all.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006 8:08:58 AM
Anonymous said...

Dear completely discouraged in CO
To have 14 children is amazing - you are amazing too to have cared for them. In simple terms, weight can be lost under correct management, ie. weightwatchers - you need the right sort of encouragement - you can show your children that it can be done - do not give up - you know we all have something we wish we could change, everything will seem less of a burden once you take that first step. Good luck and God bless
Wednesday, May 10, 2006 1:16:50 AM

Dr. Kim,

A friend told me about your website, so I wandered in tonight. When I saw the topic, "Do you hate the way you look?", I immediately went to it. I have developed cystic acne in my mid 40s. I was told it was due to candida overgrowth, but have been treating that and sticking to a very strict diet for 9 months and am still having symptoms, one of which is acne. I hate to look in the mirror or wash my face and feel those horrid nodules. I didn't have this as a teen and now I can't get rid of it now matter how I eat or what I put on my face. I have told myself some of the same things you said in your letter, but somehow hearing someone else say it is very different. You're right that one can't change their thinking patterns in one day, but I am going to print your article so I can read it again. I still pray for it to be gone and will continue to eat the way I'm supposed to, but more importantly is to consider the good things that could come from it. It is true that I have much more compassion on people who are ill than I used to have. Anyway...

I guess in our society looks are so important and we are slapped every day with commercials on how to grow your hair, get rid of wrinkles, get skinnier, get rid of your glasses, change your hair color, have perfect skin and on and on. We are so brainwashed. Thank you for some balance to all that. Maybe you should do an infomercial!!!

Thank you for sharing your story with so many people. I know I am thinking twice about hating the mirror. Maybe there is something I can learn from all of this that I have been missing.


I've found this article comforting. For a long time I have been very stressed about certain aspects of my appearance due to a health condition. I feel like if it gets worse - and it's always threatening to - my life will be over, so to speak. It's a constant terrifying spectre in my life. I think it's very important for me to see it as less dramatic and to realise my value no matter what I look like.

This may sound unrelated to your problems, but for me I can say this (I read this somewhere and it is priceless): If there is something you LOVE to do (hobby or whatever)and it feeds your soul, just find a way to do it. Just DO it. - Henriette.

Dr. Kim,
Thank you for your article on Feeling good about yourself. When I was a child, I was born with a birth defect that could've been corrected, but due to the ignorance of my parents, they thought it was too dangerous for me to have the operation, too expensive for me to have the corrective shoes, and when I finally got the shoes, my mother thought it was too emotionally stressful for me to wear to school because all the children would tease me because the shoes looked like army boots and for a girl that wasn't cool. Now at 53 years old, I still have emotional problems about my foot. I see people who can't walk at all and I feel blessed, but then I look at other women who are able to wear heels and I feel cheated. I hardly ever wear dresses so I can hide my feet and on the days when I do, it's because I muster up enough confidence to wear it. Once I'm out in the public, people stare and my confidence falls under the ground. I'm overweight so it doesnt help the situation, but the good news is that at 53, most people tell me I look like I'm 35 years old. I feel blessed to look young and like one of the other writers, I wish I could just find a way to get pass this, and move on with whatever years I have left on this earth. For certain when I get 70 or 80 it really want matter. My husband isnt as supportive as he could be and thus one of the reasons why I believe I am overweight. Most men dont take the time to understand how some things affect women. They really need to listen to us and try to find ways to make us feel good about ourselves which will help to inspire us to feel better about ourselves. So what if I'm big, it's good to hear, I look good when I take the time to put on make up, or do my hair, or buy a new outfit. I asked him once to be my coach and start me on a walk/running program, he told me I run too slow for him. At that point I knew he wasn't listening because it wasn't about him, it was about me. I just want to get over my insecurities and be happy with the me I am. I want to develop a self worth and feel about myself the way I would if I feel in love with a man. I want to fall in love with myself. It's so hard to do because I'm always extending myself to others. If any of you readers out there have some advice, I truly would appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time to read and listen to my woes.

HI there lovely,

I just wanted to say... self love is what the answer was for me. I don't want to say that I know what will work for everyone- but I really think a lot of women lack the love for themselves in order to develop the compassion and patience that they deserve to have with themselves. If you can spend some time alone and really get to know the person you are and beneith that your absolute perfection exactly as you were created. You can try doing affirmations in the mirror. At first you may not believe what you are saying especially if you have never heard yourself mutter such amazing words about yourself in your entire life- so be patient and do it everyday until your perception begins to change. There are many things you can do to love yourself but this is one of the faster methods i have found. It may take time because you are going against a lifetime of conditioning. Those thoughts you have in your head that repeat- they get absorbed on a level that truly affects you and everything that you feel about yourself and in every situation you are in. So it's about reconditioning yourself and believing empowering things about yourself.

It works believe me!!! After you start to believe what you are saying while you look in the mirror everyday- all these positive thoughts will start to sink in and you will begin to really shine. Your true beautiful energy starts to emerge and without even trying you become more and more beautiful everyday. You soul will shine through and light up the room wherever you go!

It's just about retraining the mind to work for you rather than against you. It takes practice, but you can do it. People are so accustomed to just sinking into the default pattern that has been placed there for you by other influences and negative thoughts. Once you can retrain your mind to work for you rather than just repeat old patterns you will begin to really vibrate higher and release what doesn't serve you- and self love will emerge.


Dear lovely,
thank you for sharing your life story with us out there. I have a condition that affects my digestion and therefore I felt bloated and big all the time. Even when I wasn't overweight. -Now, after 50 years of living I have found out it is a wheat-intolerance that causes my body to react as it does. I used to say I hate my tummy, until a few years ago when I actually made peace with it, literally. I started to shift my thinking to, how would I feel if someone told me 'I hate you because you're not perfect.' So, it gradually changed my view of my own self. And the saying of 'love your neighbour AS YOURSELF'started to become true. - How can I truly love someone else if I don't love myself first? I love you just the way you are, so, turn it into 'I love myself just the way I am.' So, after I had made peace with my own self, things started to fall into place. I realized that I had to remove wheat out of my diet and I feel so different. I don't look different, but the way I feel within myself makes me a lot less conscious of what I think how others see me. I was wondering, since your husband won't go running with you, can you find some like minded women in you neighbourhood to do that with you? Another thing that might help you is doing voluntary work, if you can make room for it. I was a volunteer for therapeutic riding for a while and it was just amazing. I started to see those children just as what they are. Children. -I hope that your husband will be able to see you as what you are, you. By the way, have you forgiven your mother for her decision of how she did what she thought was best for you? I hope you can make room for this, if you haven't done so already. I certainly wish I'd done some things differently how I raised my children. I do hope I could help you a bit with this. You certainly are doing a great job in your life and that's so nice to see. There would be a hundred million things one could say, but I leave it at this. Love, Liz.

I have had a very difficult life, a lot of bad decisions and have suffered the consequences. I am also overweight. I spent countless of hours reliving a past that cannot be changed and lamented about my size. I took a fall that sent me to the emergency room and found out that my B/P was 225/131. Thr doctors said it was stroke level. All of a sudden I realized that what I was complaining of before wasnt anything compared to living.

I have a testimony to young people about how they can turn around their lives, in spite of bad decisions. I have lost 8 lbs, my B/P is down and I exercise everyday.

Appreciate what you have, love your self for who you are. Dr. Kim is right, people only see you as you see yourself. Take care!

Dr. Kim, you have such a positive outlook in life and I believe it is contagious...thank you for sharing your own experiences. I truly wonder at what your cure is on vitiligo. My dear daughter in law Sarah has vitiligo on her legs....this is confirmed by her her dermatologist. Please help us...thank you and God bless.

When I was a teenager, I experienced severe pimples on my face literally popping up one on top of the other. Of course that was the time when I was getting attracted to girls but I was very much worried if girls can be attracted to me because nothing on my face is without pimple.

Fortunately at that early age, I was already reading books on self development or self improvements of that sort. Several passages that struck me most and which changed my outlook about my self can be summarized to something like: "Physical appearance is an important feature of a human being. But what is most important is the character and personality that ooze out from that physical feature which makes a being a human."

From then on my stress and depression died down, and my pimples started to heal. Of course it left lots of deep scars on my face up to now, but it does'nt bother me any bit.

I wanted to thank Dr. Ben Kim for sharing his knowledge. I have never found a website like this that holds as much substance as you provide us. Thank you for sharing your story and helping me with a giant step in my self acceptance.

Thank you for sharing this story, it certainly puts things into perspective a bit for those who get down on themselves for their appearance. I don't blame modern media, or young people nowadays (I'm 23) but I do believe because of the accessibility and immediacy of the world we live in, technology-wise, there is an added pressure due to a number of reasons, including the heavy influence of advertising and marketing.

I suppose you just have to pick the things and people you want to be influenced by, those closer to your own values.

And then, to finish with a hugely trite saying, I guess all you can do is be yourself.

Or just say, fuck it...and do what you have to do...