The concept of beauty evokes different feelings in different people.
The word itself brings up feelings of both empowerment and shame. It may conjure up images of nature, or of airbrushed models gracing the cover of the nearest magazine.
What is beautiful to one person is not always beautiful to another, but the concept itself is powerful.
Recently, I had a conversation with friends about why we so often feel unworthy and lacking in beauty. A common theme emerged: We’ve caved to societal pressures to accept a standard of beauty thought up in some advertising agency somewhere to sell us something else we didn’t need. Or else it was handed to us by a patriarchy that will never understand just how hard it is to live up to these ever-so-exacting ideals.
Lady Gaga’s recent SuperBowl appearance is an excellent example. Here’s a beautiful, thin woman with incredible talent, publicly body-shamed for having a “muffin top” (read: a regular, healthy woman’s stomach). To fat-shame a thin woman is just indicative of how none of us can measure up.
I’ve often marveled at the magazine rack at local grocery stores. Stories stand side-by-side, alternately shaming women for being too small or too large, too old or not old enough, too fit or not quite fit enough. There is no good enough, and this attitude infiltrates all of our media. We have this standard of perfection shoved down our throats. We must have the perfect body, hair, teeth, skin. This and this, but not that—not you.
So, how do we learn to see ourselves as beautiful when society is constantly trying to tell us we don’t measure up?
1. We throw out the rulebook.
We stop caring about how society says we should look.
We see advertising and media images for what they are: fictions intended to sell a product, be it a bar of soap, a movie or a clothing line.
In order to feel beautiful, we have to stop telling ourselves that we need to measure up to anyone else. We have to abandon comparison as a form of judgment when it comes to beauty.
If we don’t have comparison, what do we have? We have happiness.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the loveliest people I know are also the happiest. One could assume that this happiness stems from the ease of being beautiful in a society that worships physical appearance. But happiness is so much more than a set of physical characteristics, and this type of beauty emanates from within. Happiness itself draws positive attention our way, and it also tends to drive us to care for our bodies and present ourselves with confidence.
When we follow our bliss, we’re naturally more beautiful as a result. Happiness is beauty.
2. We stop adding up all of the things we loathe about ourselves and start counting the things we love.
It would be so easy to list the things about myself that aren’t ideal, but that’s not how we gain confidence.
Instead, we start with one thing that we like, and we build from there. For instance, I love my eyes—particularly the color that’s the darkest of blues and grays. We can all find at least one thing about ourselves that we like, and when we focus on our positive aspects, we begin to feel better about ourselves.
3. We actively change our perception.
When I worked as a therapist, I often assisted clients in learning about and utilizing cognitive behavioral techniques to change behavior. There are so many ways we can apply this to our perceptions of ourselves. For example, we can practice stopping ourselves from indulging in negative thoughts. When an ugly thought about our appearance comes up, we can stop ourselves from dwelling on it or believing it just because we thought it. We can begin to replace those negative thoughts with honest yet positive ones.
For example, I am 35 years old and recently had to get braces. I don’t like them, and I feel self-conscious. Instead of dwelling on those uncomfortable feelings about how I look in braces, I instead focus on the fact that I have healthy teeth, and that they’ll be really straight for the first time in my life once the braces come off. I also focus on the fact that I can’t bother my nails or cuticles like I used to; since I’ve gotten braces, my nails have grown long and healthy.
4. We display and repeat positive affirmations.
When someone pays us a compliment, we can stop dismissing it or throwing it back in their faces with self-deprecating remarks. We learn to say thank you—to acknowledge the compliment with appreciation and a smile rather than exasperation or disbelief. I used to roll my eyes every time I was called beautiful because I couldn’t even take in that information. Now, I have the biggest, happiest smile, because I appreciate that someone thinks so.
5. We stop focusing so much on physical beauty.
We’re born with a certain set of features—and sure, there will always be people who judge them and find them wanting. Those people can take a hike! We’re more than the sum of our parts. Our actions and our impact in this world are so much more important than how we look. If you’ve ever met a classically beautiful person with an ugly attitude, you already know what I mean.
We sometimes focus so much on the physical that we don’t take the time to make sure our words and actions are beautiful. We often treat these elements as less important. We spend so much time on our outward appearance, but what about nurturing our inner lives and beauty? We focus on the latter through reflection, meditation, time in nature, and introspection.
6. We speak kindly to ourselves.
We shouldn’t say something to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to a friend. We are often so much kinder to others than we are to ourselves. It’s not simple or instant, but beauty is accessible to anyone once we stop letting everyone else define it for us.
Beauty is about who we are and how we impact others. Most importantly, beauty is how we love and nurture ourselves. It’s the lens through which we see ourselves and the world, and if we don’t feel beautiful, it’s time to clean that lens.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: YouTube Screenshot
Editor: Toby Israel
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