Love Your Body. Love Yourself.
How often do you look at yourself in the mirror and pick flaws in your face or body? A mark on your chin from a childhood fall, a wrinkle on your forehead, some extra weight around the middle, too short, too tall, too thin... the list is endless.
Now move away from the mirror. That’s not who you are; at least, it’s not the ‘whole’ you. Think back to the times you’ve had friends and family tell you how beautiful you are, inside out, because of your smile that lights up the room when you walk in, your empathy that shines through your eyes, your strength and resilience. And you smiled back, pleasantly surprised.
So, which of these really is 'beauty'? The ‘perfect’ face — 'glass' skin, dewy, glowing, and wrinkleless for women; rugged and tanned with an aquiline nose and sharp jawline for men? A body fit and chiselled with protein-fed muscles rippling from underneath your clothes? A weight that falls in the normal range on the BMI chart (or is body fat percentage your standard of measure?).
Now think about this: let’s say you have the perfect face and body as described above. But you feel like you’re crumbling inside. You’re riddled with stress, and anxiety, and self-doubt. Would you still feel so beautiful outside? Would it even matter how you looked?
No. It wouldn’t. All that would matter is how beautiful and peaceful and strong you feel inside.
Why, then, do we buy into this damaging and limiting beauty hoax sold to us by popular media and society? Why do we support the push for more diverse beauty standards but don’t apply them to ourselves? And why does it seem that we are afraid to love ourselves for who we are? For how we look?
Accepting ourselves and our bodies is the first step we need to take to feel as beautiful inside as we strive to be outside. It’s also the first step towards Wholistic Wellbeing. We can’t achieve happiness, health, and harmony in life without authenticity — without loving and embracing ourselves just as we are.
We need to do away with our penchant for physical self-deprecation. But how?
Out with the standards
When it comes to looks, we often hold ourselves to impossibly high and unreal standards — standards we don’t even hold others to. And we’re unfairly critical of ourselves, punishing ourselves by 'starving’, exercising to a point of collapsing, spending thousands of dollars on clothes, cosmetic products, and procedures.
A poignant ad campaign by skincare brand Dove Real Beauty Sketches (2013) showed how this looks like in real life.
The ad shows an FBI-trained forensic artist painting the faces of seven women based on how they describe themselves, hidden behind a curtain. Earlier, they all meet a stranger who too describes the women to the artist so he can sketch a separate set of portraits of the same women. The sketches based on the stranger’s description had a more beautiful, joyful, and accurate portrayal of the women, while the ones based on the women’s own description emphasized flaws in their appearance. The campaign struck an emotional chord with millions of women who realized that the imperfections they obsess over often go unnoticed by others.
The point being: So-called beauty standards are forever shifting and have always differed across cultures and countries. They’re impossible to reconcile with. Even if they were achievable, they’re not fair and we shouldn’t subject ourselves to them.
Learn to love your body
Our bodies have cared and provided for us since the day we were born: they deserve our love, not our hatred. It doesn’t matter if the society’s expectation of a ‘perfect’ physique doesn’t match our own. Beauty is about self-love, acceptance, and feeling comfortable in our skin. It is the glow of our spirit that energizes our body, making it more beautiful.
We need to take a step back — from the ideals imposed by society, but also from our bodies themselves — and recalibrate the negative thoughts we harbor around our self-image. We need to reimagine our beauty from beyond to truly love our bodies.
When we do so, we unlock new opportunities for ourselves. Self-acceptance gives us the confidence to try new activities and learn new skills.
It is what we do and how we relate with others that makes us what we are, and that is where true beauty lies. Beauty is not a cosmetic to be applied from the outside, it is a light that shines from within. A light that only we can nurture. Real beauty is empowering, not crippling. It’s not an end in itself, but a result of the work that we do, and of the love we create for ourselves.
I ask you again: what really is 'beauty'?
It is when we love ourselves on our own terms.