Improving yourself | Boost your self-esteem | Improve your body image | First impressions count | Dress sense | Get a great haircut | Which hairstyle works best? | Facial perfection | Posture perfect | The perfect manicure | Make contact

Image is what shapes us. It's a statement to the world about how you feel inside and how you want others to perceive you.

Genetically, we are all programmed to react on first impressions. In primitive times humans often only had a split second to decide whether an approaching object was a friend or a foe. They soon learnt to make decisions based on first impressions, which is still very much a reality today but, whereas the wrong impression could've meant being hit over the head, nowadays it could cost you a new job or a date with a potential dream partner.

Studies have shown that someone normally makes up his mind about you within four minutes of meeting you. Research also shows that a first impression is made up as follows:

  • 55% visual impact/image (the way you are dressed, your facial expressions and your body language)
  • 38% tone of voice
  • 7% what you say

    Therefore, what you look like has a far more lasting effect than what you actually say, which underlines, yet again, the importance of image.

    The modern day need for individuality and identity is another reason why image and reinventing yourself is becoming so crucial, says Phillipa Davies, a psychologist and expert in communication skills. In the last century, a lot of people experienced (and are still experiencing) an identity crisis as traditions started to change. These days more people are working for themselves and not for companies, more people are single or choosing not to marry, and more women than ever before are joining the work force.

    The old, traditional ways of defining yourself often don't count anymore, causing people to search for another identity. According to social trend watchers, these identity searchers often find inspiration by watching famous people or reality shows. They also try and find their identity through shopping, buying products and items of clothing that project a certain image.

    Phillipa says that opportunities abound to reinvent yourself and improve your image but improving it only on the outside won't work. You have to know who you are and where you're going, since the heart and the face need to match up. For example, you might like the image that a clothing range projects of being for trendy and confident women. However, kitting yourself out in these clothes still won't turn you into an instant sophisticate if it's not what you feel like inside.

    Improving yourself

    Self-image is the idea you have of yourself. Your image will be shaped by what you think you look like, the kind of person that you think you are, what you think others think of you, and by how much you like yourself or think others like you.

    Your self-image has a direct infl uence on your self-esteem. In fact, you can't have one without the other. Self-image is how you see yourself. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, says confidence coach Karl Perera. Therefore, if you don't like what you see, you won't like what's inside, either.

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    Boost your self-esteem

    The mantra of a person with low self-esteem is: "I am not (fill in the word of your choice) enough" – not good enough, not clever enough, not thin enough. In other words: I am not enough. To improve your self-esteem, try the following tips from confidence-coach Karl:

  • Never compare yourself to other people. There will always be people who are better off – and worse off – than you. So what is the point comparing?

  • Stop putting yourself down right now! If you're always telling yourself and others how fat, unintelligent, or stupid you are, everyone will start believing you.

  • If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. If you did something particularly stupid, don't lie awake at night fretting about it. You'll only wake up the next day feeling tired and prone to making even more mistakes. Rather deal with the mistake head on. Say to yourself: this is what went wrong. This is what I've learnt. This is what I can do to prevent it from happening again.

  • Try affirmations. Some of us do feel silly standing in front of a mirror and telling ourselves how beautiful we are, but if you can't say it to yourself, how can you expect others to say it to you?

  • Acknowledge your positive qualities and skills. Don't go on and on about how bad you are with numbers, for example. You might be an excellent writer or typist instead: skills that many people wish they had.

  • Stop being a doormat. Don't tolerate abuse or putdowns from anyone.

  • Engage in activities that you enjoy. Don't tell yourself that you don't deserve a new dress, or a day at the movies – of course you do.

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    Improve your body image

    Many women have a negative body image: you can be as thin or as beautifully dressed as can be but, if you don't like your body or the way you look, your lack of confidence will definitely spoil the pretty picture. If you battle with a troubled body image, consider the following advice by the McKinley Health Center:

    1. What do you gain from telling yourself that you are fat, thin or ugly?

    2. Do you tend to think that thin or pretty women are happier and better than you? Think of three reasons why that assumption is ridiculous. Repeat these reasons the next time you want to compare yourself to others.

    3. Don't spend an obsessive amount of time in front of the mirror or on the scale. It will only encourage you to blow things out of proportion.

    4. Exercise is always an excellent way to improve body image. It improves your posture, you'll feel more confident (as you get more control over your body and the exercise), and you'll be firmer and fitter.

    5. List five good qualities that you have and repeat this to yourself next time you start telling yourself that you are fat or ugly.

    6. Write down the compliments you receive and repeat them to yourself to remember them. Often we only tend to remember the snide remarks.

    7. Start treating your body with love and it will love you right back. Every body needs exercise, healthy food, sensual pleasures and relaxation.

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    First impressions count

    First impressions, and what you look like, count, says image consultant Jane Shonfeld. Your image is all that you have to make a good first impression. Research has shown that when people meet a woman, they tend to judge her on her looks first, before they decide whether she's credible and worth listening to. With a man, people will listen to him first and only then look at the rest of him. Body language is extremely important to create a good impression, says Jane.

    "We speak at a rate of about 140 words per minute but you think at about 800 words per minute. Therefore, you need to influence the thinking process of the person you're talking to. Positive, confident body language is the way to do that. If you're trying to be friendly to someone but your arms are folded defensively and your body is turned away, he'll think that you're not really interested."

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    Dress sense

    There is a worldwide trend towards dressing smarter, says Jane. "Overseas, people are already moving towards dressing and looking smarter, and I predict that in the next five years we'll all be doing the same. Let's face it, you'll perform better, in your life and at work, if you're looking good. If you look good, you'll feel good and it will show in your body language."

    Women often say to Jane, "Oh, please don't look at me! I look terrible today!", but why then go out if you know you don't look your best, asks Jane.

    To find the look or image that suits you, you need to take the following into consideration: your personality, your lifestyle, your figure and your budget.

    "Your personality plays a big role in dictating what you'll feel most comfortable wearing. If you're shy, you might not feel at home in brightly coloured clothes. It is best to dress according to your personality, and just step it up a bit." Also take your lifestyle into account. If you go to the gym in the morning, then have to clean house, pick up the children from school and go shopping, formal wear will obviously not work for you.

    "I find that the following formula works best: if you have a smart lifestyle, your wardrobe should be 70% smart and 30% casual. If you live the casual life, the ratio should be 70% casual wear and 30% smart. If you have a 50/50 lifestyle, your wardrobe should reflect that."

    When dressing according to your figure, forget all about your body shape, says Jane. "Following the old principle of pear shape or apple shape doesn't work, simply because our bodies are made up of different parts that might not all fall into one category. You need to look at each body part and choose clothes that will hide your flaws and accentuate your good points. For example, if you have flabby arms, cover them with three-quarter sleeves. If you have a tummy, don't wear T-shirts that will creep up and show off your bulge." If you don't know how to do this, you could consult an image expert or a good book on the subject.

    When it comes to your budget, remember that you can look as good in an R80 T-shirt as in a R500 T-shirt if it's the right fit for your body, says Jane.

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    Get a great haircut

    If you need an instant image lift, a good haircut is the way to go but, often, a poor self-image can stand in the way of the perfect hairstyle.

    Says hairstylist Diana Roos: "My clients often have no idea of what they look like. They see only a distorted image of themselves (old, fat, boring) when they look in the mirror and they definitely don't see themselves like a friend or I would. That's why you need to ask a stylist or friend to give you their honest opinion of what will suit you," she says.

    She says that's another reason why a woman will often say that a certain hairstyle "isn't her". It could also be that you have associations with certain hairstyles. For example, you might think that going blonde is too young or flirtatious for you, because you associate it with the Pamela Anderson stereotype. You have to rid yourself of these associations in order to try something new.

    Going to the same stylist year in and year out can also cause you to end up in a rut. If your stylist runs out of creative ideas, see a new one.

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    Which hairstyle works best?

    Before going for a hair cut, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have time for a complicated hair styling regime?
  • Do I prefer to leave my hair to dry naturally, or do I like the blow-dried look?
  • Do I mind using styling products in my hair?
  • Do I want a sleek look or anatural look?
  • Do I want a new hairstyle to help to enhance my career?
  • Do I want a style that will make me look sexy?
  • Do I want a hair cut to make me feel better?
  • Do I want to make a statement with my hair?

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    Facial perfection

    A "natural" look with minimum make-up creates the best impression if you're striving for a polished image. Don't confuse the natural look with no make-up at all. A bare face can make you look tired and unkempt. Whatever your look, experts agree that the key to a polished image is flawless make-up and retouching. Try carrying a little bag with you with all the touch-up essentials you need. Here are a few tricks:

  • Put a small amount of face powder on a tissue, fold it, and put it in your make-up bag. Use it to blot your face to take care of excess oil.

  • Check your make-up throughout the day and always reapply lipstick when necessary. Jane has the following tip for stay-on lipstick. "First apply foundation on your lips and then powder. Apply your lipstick, blot, and then powder your lips again. Apply a final coat of lipstick." After applying lipstick always check for lipstick on your teeth.

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    Posture perfect

    To walk the walk and talk the talk, you have to be confident. If you don't have confidence, then fake it until you feel it. If you hold yourself in an upright, confident manner, you'll exude confidence. Always sit straight. Don't fiddle. Hand movements are fine but don't flap all over the place. Walk straight with your arms loosely hanging by your sides and never slouch. Don't drag or shuffle your feet when walking or take short, nervous strides.

    Do the posture check To check whether your posture is correct, stand sideways and ask a friend to check the following: your ear should, ideally, line up with your shoulder bone, which lines up with your hip bone, which lines up with your ankle bone. From the front, your head should be straight and your shoulders and hips should be even.

    Stand and walk in style. Your toes should point forwards, not outwards or inwards. Lengthen the space between your navel and your collarbone by lifting your breastbone up towards the ceiling to allow your head to rest naturally on top of your spine and give a natural curve in your lower back.

    Sit correctly. Place your feet flat on the floor. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor and your knees and hips should be on the same level. Your weight should be over your pelvic bones. Lift your breastbone to position your head and shoulders correctly.

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    The perfect manicure

    According to manicurist Laetitia Stone, the best nail choice for a polished image is a natural, French manicure, in shades of pink and coral. Also keep in mind how much "nail traffic" your hands have to handle: if you're a hands-on person, rather choose a natural or light colour that doesn't require constant maintenance and won't show chips as easily as a darker colour.

    Image consultant Jane Shonfeld recommends a similar colour as your skin tone (a nude shade), as this will make your hands look longer without necessarily drawing attention to your nails.

    Keep a good hand or cuticle cream in your bag and in the kitchen and always lather on some cream after you've washed your hands, as water and detergents can dry them out. Another must-have for a well-groomed image is a three-way nail buffer for emergency chips.

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    Make contact

    Jane Shonfeld is an image consultant with 20 years' experience in the fashion industry. For a consultation, contact her on 021 794 0711.

    Visit Karl Perera's website at for tips on self-esteem.

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    Image: Anél van der Merwe/Woman's Value