This is the fifth article in the series Baring It All: Living Authentically From the Inside Out. If you are new to this series, check out our introduction here.
Let’s get this part out of the way first. (CW: slurs, sexism)
Attention whore. Cam slut. Needy. Prettyboy. Airbrushed. Self-absorbed. Shallow. Basic bitch. Fake. Filtered. Daddy issues. Thirsty for likes.
If the word “selfie” brings any other insults to mind, get them out now because we’re not going to be humoring them here.
Now that we’re obviously experts on the concept of the authentic self and have learned how to find our inner voice, it’s time to tackle the next hurdle to being genuine: validation.
Validation: Not Just for Parking Garages
Validation comes in two major flavors: internal and external. I bet you can guess what each of those means. However, for the sake of accessibility (and SEO), let’s briefly define them.
- External Validation is what most people think of when they hear the word “validation.” It refers to the positive acknowledgment and support of one’s feelings, values, traits, or actions by other people. Examples of external validation include getting likes and compliments on a selfie you post on social media or being told that it’s OK to be depressed, even if you don’t know what caused it.
- Internal Validation is harder to achieve, but can last much longer than external. Internal validation is when you are providing acknowledgment and support of yourself, even if others don’t. Examples of internal validation might be looking in the mirror and knowing that you put together an excellent outfit, or looking back through an old journal and feeling proud that you have made amazing strides in your mental health.
And let’s be clear; it’s perfectly natural, and a sign of good social attachments, to want some level of external validation. Humans crave attention and acceptance, and it’s unreasonable to ask most people to be entirely autonomous when it comes to self-worth. The problem is when you go to the other extreme and can only feel valued when it comes directly from others. This article is not about forcing you to “not care what others think,” but rather about helping you learn how to balance your validation needs.
Building an Internal Validation Engine
The first thing you have to remember when you’re trying to focus on improving your internal validation mechanisms is that you are not going to be perfect. There will be times where you criticize yourself or don’t feel capable of convincing your mind of your own value. That’s alright. It’s much, much more important to keep listening to both the validating AND invalidating statements, and using those important methods for finding your authentic voice. The last thing you want to do is to feel like since you couldn’t keep the cheer up, you’re a failure. That’s a side effect of toxic positivity, and is only going to lead to heartache and more distorted thinking.
The real path to a self-fueling validation drive lies in patience and acceptance, rather than a quick leap to loving yourself. In fact, you don’t even have to love your body, a topic that we’re going to dig into strongly in the next article. Internal validation only means that you recognize you are worthy of belonging, dignity, and attention, not that you fit a specific mold.
A good first step to becoming more self-reliant for validation is by questioning where your values lie. When you feel the need to have others prove your worthiness in some context (such as craving likes on a selfie), consider every way in which you believe someone can be valuable if that particular form of validation doesn’t play out. Break down some of these categories, and think of the ways that someone might find comfort in their worth. Then, question why you’re focusing so heavily on the value metrics that rely on a specific reaction from others. You may find that there are just as many options that center around your authentic feelings instead.
"Internal validation is a powerful weapon against Imposter Syndrome"
For example, Imaginary Inez is a painter who is struggling to find value in zir artwork because nobody is buying it. Ze is suffering under the belief that an artist’s worth can be measured in dollars, and to not sell art means ze is not a real artist.
One day, Inez sits down and lists all the ways ze thinks a painter can be successful or valued, no matter how silly, and comes up with the following:
- Creating beauty in an ugly world
- Channeling hard emotions into something tangible
- Finding new ways to play with color, shape, and light that intrigue and entice
- Bringing joy or nostalgia to someone who receives art as a gift
- Making a living and gaining fame
- Being an influencer of social change
- Contributing to an emotionally open and communicative world
- Giving local coffee shops something to hang up on their walls
After reflecting on this list, Inez realizes that ze’s been so focused on one aspect (making a living) that ze has totally forgotten the other reasons ze started painting in the first place. Taking some time to question where this came from, ze remembers zir parents pushing zem to “do something productive with your education” after begrudgingly allowing zem to major in Fine Arts. This leads Inez to understand that zir feeling of failure wasn’t actually rooted in zir authentic self, but in pressure put on zem by zir parents.
Once Inez is able to move on from that, ze is able to look at zir paintings in a new light, and appreciate the gorgeous work ze is doing. It also has the unintended side benefit of helping zem realize that the reason ze can’t sell isn’t because ze is a bad artist, which helps zem explore different reasons. Eventually, ze finds out that ze just isn’t marketing well and hasn’t built up a strong online presence to help get zir name out there. With a little help, ze is able to turn zir business around and really take off.
Now, not everything you examine for self-validation is going to be as fruitful or big picture as Inez’s situation, but it’s still an important skill to learn. Being able to be satisfied within yourself is a major way of self-soothing and coping with stressful situations. It can help minimize feelings of isolation and insufficiency, and is a powerful weapon against Imposter Syndrome.
You Can Still Love Love
That said, we are social creatures, and we still need other people to show their appreciation and acceptance of us from time to time. So how can we reach out for that sweet, sweet serotonin without becoming dependent on it?
The next time you find yourself in a situation where you are putting something out in the world in hopes of receiving positive feedback, take a moment to reflect on the following questions:
- What response am I hoping to get?
- What will it feel like to get the response I want? To not get it?
- Can I cope with not getting that response?
- Is there another, better way I can be satisfied with myself?
Use the answer to these questions to determine whether it’s worth it to seek external validation at this moment, or if you are setting yourself up for disappointment. A huge part of feeling valued is by having your social expectations met, so calling out for attention and not being prepared for what happens if you don’t get it can be very damaging. However, if you already have a sense of self worth that’s grounded in authenticity, every positive response can just become icing on the cake, boosting you up without risking deflating you instead.
What Does This Have to Do With Boudoir?
Boudoir photography is all about validation. People don’t generally book an intimate photo session just because they’re lazy and don’t feel like putting clothes on before going to the studio. No, boudoir is an expression of some very deep identity emotions: pride, vulnerability, sensuality, sexuality, and power, just to name a few.
If you enter a session with the goal of creating pictures that will make others think you’re proud, vulnerable, sensual, etc. without taking into account how to let yourself feel that way, then it’s going to be very difficult to have the session and results you want. Even if you intend to give the pictures to someone else (a sexy photo album can be a great holiday gift, hint hint), you need to be happy and confident in the outcome as well.
And you deserve it.
Author’s Note: If you’re unfamiliar with Ze/Zem/Zir, we invite you to learn more about neopronouns!