Imposter Syndrome in Aesthetics

Dealing with difficult patients | Facial Aesthetics Mentoring by Julie Scott

In the world of aesthetics, where precision meets artistry and outcomes are immediately visible, the weight of expertise feels heavier than in many other professions.  The aesthetics specialty is unique in its essence. It’s where science meets art, where clinical precision intertwines with individual perceptions of beauty. Every procedure is a testament to your skill, knowledge and understanding of the beauty inside every patient. The results of a treatment can sometimes be immediate, and deeply personal..

My self-doubt began long before my entry into aesthetics. Imposter syndrome for me started in school where I felt inadequate academically, always striving to meet the mark. This struggle persisted as I commenced my nursing training, demanding immense effort and perseverance. However, as I transitioned into plastics, I found my niche, building both confidence and a sense of belonging.

Yet, the move from an area of nursing where I felt deeply rooted and recognised to the world of aesthetics presented its own challenges. Running an award-winning clinic and being recognised at The Aesthetics Awards for ‘Best Clinic South England 2023’ and ‘Nurse Practitioner of the Year 2022’, one might assume that self-doubt would be a thing of the past for me. However, the reality was very different. Immediately after both accolades, I had feelings of astonishment, and whilst on the outside I sounded humble by praising my colleagues and clinics that I aspired to be like, on the inside I doubted if I was worthy of my successes.

Imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate based on accomplishments. It’s a shadow that often grows in proportion to one’s achievements. The more I achieved, the louder the whisper became: “Do I truly belong here?”

The roots of imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome, first identified by psychologists Clance and Imes in 1978, and is characterised by feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.1 Individuals believe they’ve fooled others into thinking they are more competent than they perceive themselves to be.1 In the aesthetics industry, these feelings can be exacerbated by the very nature of our work. We’re not just delivering a medical procedure; we’re shaping perceptions of beauty, self-worth and confidence. Imposter syndrome is often the result of a combination of personal experiences, societal pressures and professional challenges. Early life experiences, such as being labelled ‘gifted’ or ‘talented,’ can also set the stage for future fears of being exposed as ‘a fraud.’

Gender dynamics and imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a universal phenomenon, transcending age, profession and gender; it is even estimated that it affects 70% of us at some point in our lives.2 It has been shown, however, that its manifestations and triggers can vary significantly based on one’s gender identity. Research indicates that women, in particular, are more susceptible to feelings of fraudulence and self-doubt.  It’s thought that women constantly compare themselves to others, the pressures of striving to ‘have it all’ and seeking perfectionism are all thought to be triggers.2

In the aesthetics industry, these gender dynamics take on added layers of complexity. The industry, at its core, is intertwined with societal perceptions of beauty, many of which are gendered. Women professionals in the field don’t just navigate the usual challenges of their roles; they also operate within a framework that constantly scrutinises, evaluates and often judges female beauty.

For women in aesthetics, the imposter syndrome isn’t just about questioning their professional competence – it’s also about reconciling their roles as beauty ‘providers’ with societal expectations of them as beauty ‘exemplars.’ This dual pressure can be intense. On one hand, they’re expected to deliver results that align with ever-evolving beauty standards. On the other, they themselves are often seen as representations of these standards, leading to a constant internal and external dialogue about beauty, worth and competence.

Confronting the imposter within

The journey of confronting the imposter within is both deeply personal and universally relatable. For many professionals, these feelings of self-doubt can be persistent, lurking in the shadows of every achievement and accolade. Even now, deep into my career, there’s an echoing sentiment that perhaps I don’t deserve to share the stage with practitioners I hold in high regard. This isn’t just about accolades; it’s about the internal battle, the self-limiting beliefs that whisper we don’t belong, we don’t fit in, or we’re simply not enough.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that the path to managing these feelings and challenging these doubts lies in a combination of introspection, continuous growth, and community engagement. It’s about asking ourselves, ‘Why do I feel I’m not enough?’ and then actively seeking the experiences and affirmations that counteract those beliefs.

In an industry as dynamic as aesthetics, the landscape is constantly evolving. New techniques, products and technologies emerge, setting new benchmarks and standards. Amidst this whirlwind of innovation, it’s quite easy to feel like you’re on the outside looking in, almost as if it’s a party to which you’re not invited. This sentiment is something I’ve often heard echoed by newcomers to the field. They frequently express feeling as though the aesthetics industry is a closed club – exclusive and elusive.

That feeling of not belonging covers a myriad of insecurities. For many, questions arise such as “Do I look the part?” This particular concern is a recurring theme I’ve noticed, and it underscores the multifaceted challenges professionals face in this industry. Indeed, Aesthetics Journal recently conducted a study looking at how the industry can affect practitioners perceptions of themselves. 58% of 62 respondents felt that aesthetic practitioners in general are more susceptible to experiencing symptoms of appearance anxiety and BDD because of the outside influences of their role.3

It’s as if we can excel in one domain, say, being a proficient injector, but the mere thought of presenting our techniques on stage becomes daunting because we don’t identify as ‘presenters’. Many of us venture into leadership roles, education, writing or presenting. The choice to embrace or shy away (as I did for many years) from these diverse facets is ours, but it’s the very versatility of the profession that can sometimes trigger self-doubt. The underlying secret, however, is that we don’t have to be all things to all people.

Being proactive is the key to entering these roles and breaking down those ‘imposter walls’.

If teaching is your aspiration, then consider contacting training academies with your CV and enquire of any opportunities. Or perhaps you would like to be on stage sharing your passion or dipping your toe into writing, start considering approaching event organisers and pitching to them your ideas and offer your services. By immersing myself in continuous learning and professional development, I’ve found that not only do I stay updated with the latest advancements, but I also reinforce my confidence. Each training session acts as a reminder of my expertise and commitment to aesthetics. These moments of learning and growth are more than just enhancing my skills; they’ve allowed me to rediscover my passion, reaffirm my commitment and reignite my confidence.

In moments of self-doubt, it’s essential to find out what you’re scared of and then seek support, help and guidance from someone who can provide it. These feelings, while challenging, have acted as silent reminders, urging me to never become complacent and to always strive for more. I ask myself “What’s the worst that could happen”? It’s never as sinister as one might think. I tell myself that these uncomfortable feelings are all part of the process of growth and push through them. If all else fails I visualise placing those thoughts in a drawer and closing it because it’s not serving me.

The way forward

One of the most potent antidotes to imposter syndrome is the realisation that you’re not alone in your feelings. Engaging with peers, whether informally over coffee or at industry events such as ACE and CCR can be invaluable. Making the time to watch presentations covering off professional development, communication, or peers sharing their inspirational journeys and business-related topics can be hugely helpful and encouraging.

These interactions provide a dual benefit. They offer perspective, as hearing others share their moments of self-doubt humanises the experience and provides insights into the universality of the feelings we grapple with. Sharing your thoughts with colleagues is so important in this context; it offers a different perspective from the often critical inner voice we all possess. Being part of the healthcare sector, the innate sense of helping others is at our core.

It’s essential to seek support from friends, colleagues, fellow trainees or mentors. In my experience, you will always find someone in whom you can confide. The key to creating your ‘tribe’ is not to be shy, if you meet someone that you admire or respect then step out of your comfort zone and try to connect with them. Approaching others with good intentions in my experience has been favourable and I always start with what I can bring to the table rather than what I have to gain.

Setting aside time for introspection has also been crucial in my journey – I find the times of quiet reflection and self-kindness are the most important parts of my day. In a profession where we’re often our harshest critics, it’s vital to remember that every professional, irrespective of their experience, has moments of doubt. These moments are not signs of weakness; they’re signs of our vulnerability, and in this vulnerability lies your inner strength. Every satisfied patient, every smile we help shape, every skin transformation we create, is a testament to our skills, dedication and the positive impact we bring to the lives of our patients.

 Beat self-doubt

Personally, the key to growth is to say ‘yes’ before overthinking. Commit first, and the path will reveal itself. If you always wait for certainty, you’ll remain trapped by feelings of inadequacy and the shackles of imposter syndrome. In the words of Michelle Obama, “It takes time and maturity and successes under your belt to realise that you’re good enough.” Just know YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH!

Originally published in https://aestheticsjournal.com/feature/tackling-imposter-syndrome/ 

References

    1. Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice
    2. Lewis, O. (2023) Women more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome than men, according to researchThe Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women-imposter-syndrome-workplace-confidence-b2313770.html (Accessed: 02 January 2024).
    3. Kate Byng-Hall, Addressing Appearance Anxiety in Aesthetic Practitioners, Aesthetics Journal, 2023

    Keep reading…

    Utilising Mentorship Opportunities

    Utilising Mentorship Opportunities

    No matter where you find yourself in your aesthetics career, as someone who has been through it all, I have learned along the way that it is imperative to have a mentor with you at every step.1 Mentors can be called many things and wear many hats – advisors, guides,...

    read more
    Utilising Mentorship Opportunities

    Utilising Mentorship Opportunities

    No matter where you find yourself in your aesthetics career, as someone who has been through it all, I have learned along the way that it is imperative to have a mentor with you at every step.1 Mentors can be called many things and wear many hats – advisors, guides,...

    read more
    Utilising Mentorship Opportunities

    Utilising Mentorship Opportunities

    No matter where you find yourself in your aesthetics career, as someone who has been through it all, I have learned along the way that it is imperative to have a mentor with you at every step.1 Mentors can be called many things and wear many hats – advisors, guides,...

    read more