The Beauty of Different: How to Reframe Your Flaws as Superpowers

We spoke with talented photographer and bestselling author of 'The Beauty of Different,' Karen Walrond, about Dove's #SpeakBeautiful campaign.

Copyright Karen Walrond
Copyright Karen Walrond

It’s pretty clear that real beauty has made real change happen in 2015. If 2015 was the year of female empowerment in both social media and brand messaging, and of changing the conversation both on and off the Internet, Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign certainly soared above the rest.

On Twitter, positive beauty and body image conversation increased tenfold following the launch of the campaign, and we’re certainly excited to see what new heights this trend takes us to in 2016.

We’ve only got bigger and better things to look forward to from here; and bestselling author of The Beauty of Different, Karen Walrond, could not agree more. We got the chance to pick the motivational speaker and self-esteem expert’s brain about the trend, celebrating your own individuality, the problem with thinking of your flaws as such (and how to reframe them as beautiful differences instead), and more. 

How did you learn to embrace your own differences?

Slowly, honestly, if I’m honest with myself, I probably did not actually get it until I was probably in my late 30’s, early 40’s. Really, it was a matter of figuring out that my differences weren’t going anywhere and so I might as well accept them. And I might as well accept them with joy and with enthusiasm, because doing it any other way would be too difficult, and too hard, and life’s too short.

It was literally a very conscious decision on my part to go, “You know what, these things that have made me different, that have made me feel uncomfortable about myself in the past, are beautiful, and I’m going to believe that they’re beautiful, and I’m going to act like they’re beautiful. And I wrote a book about the [period], and I came to believe it. Practice makes perfect. I decided that this is going to be what I believe, and I came to believe it wholeheartedly; it was no longer an act.

Karen is an author, speaker, coach and photographer.
Karen is an author, speaker, coach and photographer.

Why do you think most women are so hesitant to embrace their flaws?

You know, before I even answer this question... I don’t believe in the word “flaws,” actually. I take a lot of issue with “flaws,” because you hear that a lot, that people should “embrace their flaws”; and I actually don’t believe they exist. On a physical level, I believe there are tons of differences, but there aren’t actually flaws.

Even if you go to, let’s say the modeling industry, the fashion industry – there was a time that a mole would be considered ugly, and then Cindy Crawford came along! If you even look now at the whole full-figured fashion, the industry is just exploding. There’s this kind of trend in marketing about what’s beautiful, and if anything that trend signifies that there are no flaws, because what was considered a flaw in the past is now considered beautiful.

And if that’s true, it’s that transient, then I think it’s almost encouraging for all of us [who have] all of these differences. If I’m trying to remember when I was a kid, I was lamenting the fact that I have a big bottom, and now having a big bottom is considered one of the best things you can have! [laughing]

I think that proves to us that we don’t have flaws; we have differences, but we don’t have flaws. Back to your question, I think that the reason women are so hesitant to embrace their flaws is because we’ve bought into the idea that we have [them]. Because we’re not on trend, I guess, at a certain time in our lives, and so… I think that’s the reason; that word itself is the reason. We’re hesitant to think of ourselves as less than, and the word flaw means less than, and I don’t think we should do that! I think instead of flaws we should say this is our difference.

And my difference is that I have a big bottom, or that I have a mole or a gap tooth, or I’m not 5’10” and 110 lbs and blonde and blue-eyed! These are my differences; this is what makes me different, and by God I’m gonna celebrate it. I am the person that gets to own my beauty story. I am the person who gets to tell that beauty story, not someone else, and I think we really need to start working on that. I mean, I make it sound like it’s really easy… but even just looking at society, we have the proof that that is fact. That we are different, and that different is beautiful.

How can women work on building self-confidence, ridding ourselves of negative thought patterns, or re-framing negative self-image?

It’s difficult; I don’t mean to minimize that, and I think [that what] it requires... is a lot like exercise. I think it requires a mindful, intentional decision to do it. A mindful, intentional decision that when you look in the mirror, instead of focusing on what is bugging you, focus on what’s awesome. Focus on this part of [you] is actually really kind of cool.

It requires sort of a mindset change to be able to do that, to go and look at yourself and your body and go, “You know, how can I make it so that whatever This is, make [it into] something that people look at me and go wow, that is really cool about her!” And then live it, really be in it, and own in and love it. It literally is daily. And there are gonna be days when you look at yourself in the mirror and be like, “Forget it, I’m crawling back into bed.” But just like exercise, you get back up and you keep on doing it and you keep on working toward positive self-image. And how you look at yourself and how you talk about yourself, and what you say out loud about yourself.

And then the other thing... and this is something I always tell people, is to learn how to accept a compliment. If you think about it a compliment is a gift, and if I gave you a gift, and your reaction was like, “Oh god, no! Are you crazy?” I mean, you would be hurt, right? The person giving you a compliment is giving you a gift, so the only response to that should be “Thank you,” and to own it and to accept the gift with gratitude and graciousness. Because you would accept any other gift that way. And once you start getting in the habit, of instead of like, “Oh no gosh you’re crazy, oh this old thing? Oh this was in the back of my closet, it’s awful” and “Oh my god, my hair looks crazy today,” when you start to do that what you’re really saying is, “You have no taste.”

I think that’s a really simple way to start owning it, is just when someone compliments you, to accept it, say… “That’s so kind of you, I really appreciate that.” Just accept the gift the way that you would accept any other gift. 

From a photography series Karen shot entitled, 'Everyday Beautiful'
From a photography series Karen shot entitled, 'Everyday Beautiful'

According to Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign, 8 out of 10 women encounter negativity on social media that is hurtful/destructive to their self-esteem.

Yet there has been a 140% increase in more positive than negative self-talk on Twitter following the campaign’s launch. What do you think we need to do moving forward in order to continue increasing positive self-talk online?

Everything that we’ve been talking about right now, and remind ourselves, each of us, that we are the CEOs of our own media empires. We have the power, to not just speak beautiful, but to make speaking beautiful go viral. We have that power! And I say that even if all you have is a Facebook page with 5 friends. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take much to share Speak Beautiful and have somebody just Like it. So that their friend on their page sees them liking something, and so on and so on and so on. It doesn’t take a whole lot.

So we just need to remind ourselves that the smallest act of speaking beautiful, not just to other people or about other people, but even just to ourselves. I’m a mom, and I know that if I tear myself down all I’m doing is modeling what my daughter will do when she’s an adult. Right? So I would much rather her see me go, “Wow, you know what, Alex, I just did that 5-mile run and I am feeling energized!” Or, “I’m feeling really strong today,” and really being very vocal about how I feel as far as my health, or my strength, or, “Check it out, Alex, good hair day!” and celebrating the times when I’m really feeling comfortable in my own skin.

You really get comfortable in your body and spread that. That compliment – accept the compliment, [really] accept it, not just distance yourself from it, put it away. Accept it; that whole mindful act, you just keep doing it, online and off, and I think this wonderful trend we’re seeing on Twitter will just keep going up.

At Livingly, we strive to “live life beautifully.” What does living beautifully mean to you?

That’s such a great question, and it’s something that I think about a lot in my work right now. Living beautifully is to look for the light. I’m a photographer, so that’s actually very literal for me, because light is my medium – but also to look for the light in other people, to look for the light in yourself, to look for the light in the beauty around you, and to really be mindful and consciously focusing on that. Because if you don’t, frankly, you’re gonna get yourself down. And when you do go through tough times, and hard times, and pain, and loss, that habit of looking for good is what’s gonna sustain you. That’s what gets you through it. So look for the light.

Look for the light, and Speak Beautiful.

Karen Walrond
Karen Walrond