Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
When I was 15, I stood stark naked and dripping wet in front of a group of teenage boys.
Allow me to elucidate. It was quite accidental you see, a humiliating bi-product of the “oh my god I forgot my towel” scenario that seems to strike only after you’ve lathered, rinsed and exited the shower. There’s a moment during those times when you are faced with an important decision. Three little words may come to you at a time like this. Do... I... run?
I wasn’t purposefully walking a spiritual path then. There were no known guiding forces, higher voices or silent inner searching that would lead to profound insights about the importance of remembering a towel. Life was a random crap shoot that sometimes worked out or didn’t. The only thing you really needed to know was to be inside before the street light came on.
On this particular day I was well aware that there were boys in the house, but decided I would take the chance and make a bolt for my room which was thankfully right next door to the bathroom. Even as I raced into my room, I just knew in my heart I had gotten away with it. It was the perfect gamble. The odds were on my side. It should have gone any other way than the way it did. Enter crap shoot.
My younger brother may have been the first to scream. It would have been a dreadfully off-key pitch that can only be created in the pubescent male vocal cord. He was mortified, his older sister suddenly defiled by his intrusion. He had ventured into my room with four of his friends to look through my sewing kit for safety pins, or thread or whatever ridiculous item boy-ninja’s eagerly search for when they are in throes of a juvenile mission. He just kept screaming “Cover yourself, Cover yourself!” I, by contrast, was finding minimal interest in shielding my dripping body behind the half open door, and more interest in demanding to know why they were in my room in the first place.
Their faces were plastered with goofy grins and they made no attempt to defend themselves against the blows of my brother who demanded that they cover their eyes. One of them may have actually winked. Winked. Perhaps I should have taken it as a complement.
By the time the ordeal had ended, no eyes had been gouged. Little apologies had been made. The neighborhood boys ranging in ages of 14 and 17 left the house with their cheesy grins and their needles. And after everything had been said and done I was left alone with one burning question that haunted me for weeks. Allow me to clue you in. It wasn’t “Why were my boundaries violated?” Nay I say. My brother and I had shared a room during our earlier years and my boundaries still hadn’t been set in stone. Therefore the question that bothered me most when I received a rogue eye from one of those boys in passing was this: On that fateful day, when I was forever cast into neighborhood infamy as the girl who stood buck naked in front of a group of boy next doors, Did I look fat?
Ah yes, the proverbial question. Am I hot, or Am I not? How many times have you asked it in the past, or secretly wondered if the person across from you was appreciating the view? During these times of self-doubt, you bombard yourself with internal assaults. Will they notice the gap in my teeth? Do my thighs jiggle too much? Is this person better looking than me? It’s a never ending quest to look better, look younger or thinner; a quest that only seems to get harder as new generations of fashion trailblazers and celebutantes dictate what you're not doing right.
But then there’s the fact that you may be in a trans-formative process. You’ve waged war on the stereotypes, and fought a personal battle of sweat and tears to find the inner part of you that shines in beauty and grace at any age, weight or hair density. Because deep down you know that your body isn’t the real you, don’t you? It’s just your physical vehicle and what truly counts is the treasure that lies inside.
You're not alone. I spent decades obsessing over my physical self. My body image that had been crafted through the hell fires of Caribbean ancestry had seen a chaotic fluctuation through the years. At nine I was hiding the girth of my thighs wondering why my entire lower half had to be bigger than the legs belonging to all the pretty blonde girls in my class. At thirteen I began a bizarre love affair with red spandex-anything and blue eyeliner, finding amusement when I drew the attention of the gas station attendant. At 19 due to peer pressure I went on Jenny Craig, even though I was convinced that 178 pounds wasn’t too chunky and a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich with a side of baked potato, chili and nuggets was a perfectly acceptable meal for the health conscious. I mean hello, I drank diet coke and never ate the fries. It had to count for something, right?
During all of my phases, I was being yanked around by standards that didn’t belong to me. Was I pretty enough to catch this person’s attention? Was I thin enough to not draw unwanted attention to the areas that were round and just plain rebellious against modesty? Was I still curvy and sexy, even though my bosom had deflated with a vegetarian diet? And then my eyes, oh my eyes. Were they sinking and dark because of dehydration or genetics? Would the cute guy at the checkout counter notice? During the last few years, I often cringed at the difficulty I was having in overcoming my self esteem conflicts. Because sometimes when you've awakened to the divine inside of you, you just feel like you should know better. You feel like you should ignore all the impulses that drive you to look at yourself in the mirror and say "Hey, I look kinda good today," or "wow, I look hideous in this lighting," Because your higher self may just kick you for being so superficial.
Bring on the Ugly!
By the time I had found some semblance of truth along my spiritual journey, I was eager to overcome the struggle with my self-image. I believed my challenges with self esteem were hindering my spiritual progression, so I decided that I would uproot the obsession with outer beauty and find the beauty inside of me. I would discard my use of makeup or trendy clothes. I’d even go natural with my hair, only using products that came from the earth. My plan was to emerge a care free phoenix of empowerment. Unfortunately this bold maneuver also collided with an extremely difficult time in my life when not caring about my looks was the easier thing to do. On some level, I believe I wanted to remain unnoticed, like a casual piece of old furniture tucked away in someone’s garage. I felt invisible and started to see that invisibility manifesting everywhere I went.
There’s an old saying that if you look better, you feel better. Not true. Not for me anyway. When you’re sick, you’re sick and no amount of pretty is going to put a pep in that step. In the scheme of things, I see clearly that all of this too was just another phase of the ongoing battle with self worth.
My Pretty is Better Than Your Pretty
There's something almost righteous about not wearing makeup isn’t there? Or standing firm in one's conviction in the pact of the plain Jane, shedding the illusion of physical glamour primarily fueled by the drunken stupor of high fashion, celebrity ogling and brand name brutality. A survey conducted by YouGov and the Huffington Post illustrates part of the effect of societal beauty glorification. It found that one-fourth of men (25%) and around one-fifth of women (21%) take longer than 30 minutes to get ready each morning. To go out at night, nearly half of women (42%) require longer than 30 minutes of getting ready time. As estimated by Statista.com, such habits results in cosmetics industry revenue trends of about 56.63 billion U.S. dollars in the United States.
What does this say? Part of the journey toward finding the true self and becoming free of the entanglements of spiritual illusions sometimes means sorting through a lot of pretty glitter. But the quest to empower the flickering light of inner divine beauty can be a daunting task when there is the constant flood of super beauty hero's who sparkle and decorate every corner of the outside world. Especially if you fought so hard to be one of them. You may see them and tell yourself that physical appearance is skin deep—It means nothing and degenerates for many with age or sickness, stress or malnutrition. You may see the pretty girl who is all painted and perfect wearing the best designers and feel a twinge—a nuance of a reminder that you still care about that stuff. No worries...you will beat that urge out of you eventually (if you're into pain). Or, you just may have found a perspective that has delivered you from all of this. You may be one of those people who have come to terms with the understanding that all of this stuff is simply an expression of a state of being, neither good nor bad, and doesn't really matter one way or another.
Nobody seems to have it all figured out. Many are just doing the best they can as it all comes together one day at a time. But here’s a helpful perspective.
It is agreed upon in many circles (even in many world religions) that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. Whether your journey requires you to believe that the Holy Spirit dwells inside your body, or you believe that you are originally from some far away La La Land taking a human form, it all boils down to one thing: Your physical body is human. It requires nutrition, water, sunlight and maybe a good bath every now and then. Preferable with a towel nearby. Of course, there are some who may have become so spiritually advanced that they have learned to tap into the mystical divine force that allows them to forgo most of these things, but chances are, they'd be in some musty cave in the Himalayas and wouldn't be scoping out web based commentaries that discuss popular beauty trends.
As a student of the spiritual path, this took me quite a bit of time to grasp. So many of us spend so much time working our spiritual muscles while navigating our paths, that we can forget that our physical body grants us the license to walk the earth on any path. After four years of physical suffering in social isolation, locked away from family and friends I realized that it was time for some of us to make amends with the physical body and stop treating it like an inconvenient Sumo suit, too bulky and bothersome to make you feel truly beautiful.
Individuals who find their growth while facing self esteem conflicts often have a heavier burden in this area than those who walk confidently in a love affair with their bodies. It seems that there is a fine balance that must be struck in order to navigate these waters.
It can be a difficult lesson to learn. Accepting the body as part of the spiritual journey doesn't mean drowning it in buckets of colorful product or designer labels. But being true to the divine self doesn't necessarily mean ignoring or rejecting them either. It may just be that what is most important is understanding the relationship between who you are and what you need to express in order to vibrate and honor the higher parts of yourself.
To arrive at where we are trying to go, some of us may merely need a reconciliation with the right to honor the physical body with all its flaws and pretty parts. This may be coupled with the right to express beauty in whatever form best suits your higher need.
Being Better than the Gap
In 2011, during the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love, a gorgeously womanizing Ryan Gosling takes a heartbroken Steve Carell under his wing in order to help salvage him from the wreckage that had become his marriage. Part of the misguided quest to re-establish Carell firmly in his self-esteem included of course of all things, a makeover. It seems no truly good romantic movie can end without some magnificent transformation and the memorable upgrade from ugly. And while one may easily scoff at a portrayal that glamorizes the concept of becoming love worthy only after physical changes have been made (which is not necessarily the message of this particular movie) What is notable about this scene is that Carell's character is only too happy to remain in the physical slump that had been created due to apathy, laziness and familiarity with a limiting self image. The character Cal, quite unaware of the necessity to honor his physical body during such an emotional ordeal doubts that he needs more stuff, and designer stuff at that.
Cal: "I think I'm set for jeans"
Jacob: "No you’re not set for jeans"
Cal: "These are fine!"
Jacob: "They're not fine! You have a mom butt! Is that what you want?"
Cal: "Can't we just go to the Gap?"
(A frustrated Jacob walks out of the store and Cal gives chase.)
Jacob: "Cal, be better than the Gap. Say it."
Cal: "I’m better than the Gap."
We find Cal going from one extreme to the next. And you know what? I totally get it. If I were a character in the movie I’d corner Cal at the Gap and say “I feel yuh buddy. Would you like me to point you to the nearest Ross store?” Because balance is an art form isn’t it? It’s a habit that is carefully nurtured and grown in a field of patience and compassion. And it takes practice to be good at it.
Beauty Is Soul Deep
If you were to line up every Miss Universe and ask each of them which one of them was most beautiful, I’m positive that the answer would be different for each. Could you decide? It would probably be impossible. Why? Because according to the grand design of things it’s all meant to be subjective, isn’t it? We are inspired, and we create and we manifest all from a palette of personal experience that dwells somewhere in the depths of our soul. And like this, the way we see ourselves or others is completely correlated with our learned biases and prejudices from these experiences, and these are the sentinels that stand in our way in accessing true freedom. If we let them be sentinels.
So how do we fight back? One step at a time. It isn't an easy road, but you can win this battle. It helps to remember a few things.
1. You Are Worthy
You are worthy to see yourself as beautiful. You are worthy because you are an extension of the divine. And the divine is beautiful because it is everything. You don't have to earn your beauty. Like many of the greatest qualities you seek, it already belongs to you.
2. Your Beauty is Abundant
The powerful spark of beauty and perfection is within you whether you see it or not. It exists beyond time and aging and will continue to be what it is whether you appreciate it or not. And mainstream standards can only afflict your vision of yourself if you buy into the hype of it all.
3. Self Expression is Your Right
Whether you have mastered the art of non-attachment or not, you have a divine right to express yourself and cherish the physical parts of you. If that means primping or losing weight in order to help yourself connect with the vibration of beauty, than that's okay. If doing this will help you to honor you or help you take better care of yourself then you should. But always remember that cosmetics and fashion are just the masks that we put on. And in the end, our bodies aren't the real us, they're merely the vehicles that we use to get us to where we need to go.
So am I a pile of red steaming hotness? Sure. Because everyone is, which means that so are you. If you’ve awakened into the higher parts of your true self, does it matter? Maybe. If you find growth through the exploration of your physical beauty thus bringing you closer to personal freedom, then it does, in my opinion. And if you can bask in your own physical beauty from a place of non-attachment, having little or no desire to capture it, vibrating in a place of non-judgment of yourself and those that may attempt to impose their standards upon you, then you’re probably ahead of the game. Give yourself a break. Wear a pretty dress. Eat an extra cupcake. Or don’t. The important thing to remember is that your version of ugly can be my version of swoon-worthy. When we as people begin to understand the simple beauty of this subjectivity, then we are on the way of becoming free of self-judgment. We are then able to find harmony along the path of balance, admiring ours physical selves through our own divine lenses and loving ourselves for the light within. And that is a beautiful thing.