Beauty: we think of it as youth, as wealth, as sanity. We think of it as shining hair, smooth skin and taut flesh. And because we think of it like this, those with kinky hair, acne, scars or love handles, those who are old, poor or mentally ill, are rarely perceived as beautiful.
Of course, most of us are un-beautiful in some way, or think we are, thanks to the relentless cultural droning about how we should look.
Desperate to be beautiful, we—women in particular—resort to endless judgements and criticisms. If we tear other people down, perhaps we will feel better about ourselves. And if we tear down ourselves, perhaps we will motivated enough to lose the love handles, straighten our hair, and cover our skin with 10 different kinds of make up.
We give a lot of lip service to “internal beauty” and “loving ourselves as we are,” but do we really value such things above “physical perfection,” or are we just trying to convince ourselves we do?
Such is the constant chatter of my own mind, a maddening cycle of self doubt and attempts to understand who I am, why I am this way, and how I can be different. Because at the end of the day—though I realize I am operating within a cultural paradigm meant to seduce me into buying happiness—I seem helpless to fully transcend it.
One of the only methods that has helped me leave that chatter at the curb has also been one of the simplest—a practice of loving kindness.
I don’t even remember where I learned this particular iteration of it, or if I came up with it myself, but it hardly matters. When things are very dark within my mind, and my body dysmorphia leaves me feeling like my flesh is expanding like one of those toy dinosaurs that come in a tiny capsule and grows to 100 times its original size when dropped in a glass of water, this is one of the few reliable means I have to get grounded.
I call it internal flame.
When I feel myself spiraling into a place of negativity–the most reliable sign of which is that I become Miss Judgey McJudger—I put on the brakes by turning off the judgement and tuning into the flame. The flame is the spot of light within each of us that shines brightly and steadily no matter what our weight or age or income level or coolness or any other conceivable thing.
We all have it and at its essence, it’s the same in each of us. Sure, some flames might be more shadowed than others, but that’s irrelevant. If we want to, we can look right past the shadows and into anyone’s heart-light.
The practice is easy. Look at a person, any person, and instead of focusing on their appearance, imagine instead the small, steady flame that abides within them. This is their soul. Then imagine your own small, steady flame. This is your soul. Now your two souls can meet on equal ground and recognize each other unencumbered. It is a great feeling.
In the midst of writing this article, my internal flame practice was profoundly challenged. My husband was watching Channel 7, and the new Victoria’s Secret angels were being announced. There they were, all 20 of them, in all their airbrushed, size zero, supermodel glory. My heart sank. Typically, the image of these women would stay with me for hours and poison a large part of my day. But instead of succumbing to jealousy or self-hatred, I chose to look past their skinny jeans and see their internal flame. And you know what? They were all really beautiful. And so am I.
It isn’t easy, but we all have the power to define beauty for ourselves, even in the punishing face of popular standards that reward little more than accidents of genetics. One way to do it, is to prioritize the stuff we personally find empowering, and for me, that means reminding myself that at our foundation, we are all the same.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Travis May