“If one is afflicted with melancholy, he should cure it by listening to songs and various kinds of melodies, by walking in gardens and fine buildings, by sitting before beautiful forms, and by things like this which delight the soul and make the disturbance of melancholy disappear from it.”1 Maimonides
Beauty delights the soul. It feels intimate. It happens in real time and it is brief. Beauty may catch you off guard but you are drawn to its pull. You want to return to it. Even when you watch the sun set every day its beauty still inspires. Beauty holds your attention and points to something beyond itself. It awakens something deep inside. You may feel awe, curiosity, or simply lit up and alive. It is more than a feeling of pleasure. It takes you out of the mundane and reminds you how good you can feel. Perhaps when we witness beauty it connects us to the intrinsic beauty within ourselves.
Why don’t we feel beautiful?
“I often tease young people about their concern for how they look; more important is inner beauty – compassion, affection and respect.” 2 Dalai Lama
We live in and rely on a digital world. It makes our lives easier and better but we also get distracted by even addicted to the hyper-stimulation of our screens. The flood of images and messages point to an ever-changing often unattainable standard of beauty. It is especially harmful to teens who seem to live on social media. Even celebrities and stars, the actors and cultural influencers seem dissatisfied and restless. They compulsively change their faces, bodies and appearance. How can we protect ourselves from a beauty culture that feeds insecurity, conditioning both men and women, teens and even young children to become critical of their physical appearance? Worst of all, we may not even realize it is happening. We simply absorb and internalize each time we check our screens.
The pursuit of beauty has become normalized while powerful cultural forces dictate how to be. People are willing to go to extreme measures just to fit in; eager to fight aging with injections, procedures, fillers, hair transplants – whatever it takes. Even young celebrity role models get their lines filled, cheeks inflated, foreheads frozen, lips exaggerated. At best it creates a standardized mask-like beauty that looks somewhat blank, tight and distorted. Men feel pressure too and many are willing to trade some of their masculine energy for vanity, buying into anti-aging narratives that prey on their insecurities.
The beauty industry generates over $100 billion in revenue worldwide. 3
Beauty isn’t only external.
Ordinary people convey beauty all the time. It is in our humanity and expression. It reveals a light and warmth that radiates outward. There is more to this kind of beauty than meets the eye and it is with us at every age. So don’t panic at the first signs of aging. One of the many gifts of getting older is a confidence that kicks in. You feel more comfortable in your skin despite the wrinkles. Every age has its power and the confidence from living life and learning a thing or two along the way can be compelling. Confidence keeps your life force magnetic.
“How I feel about myself is more important than how I look. Feeling confident, being comfortable in your skin – that’s what really makes you beautiful.” 4 Bobbi Brown
But what if the treatments and procedures described as self-care and anti-aging wind up making you feel insecure and distort how you see yourself in the mirror. Are you trading authentic expression for the illusion of youth? And does it even look good? How often do you see someone in the media or in your own life whose face suddenly changed and you asked yourself, “What have they done?” We stay silent because we are polite. Has our current culture gone crazy?
“If you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might. I just might.”5 Kim Kardashian.
Vanity has a sinister and shallow side that can lead to an unhealthy obsession with how you look. It keeps plastic surgeons and dermatologists busy but it may also steal your peace of mind. The treatments provide a temporary high but like an addict, you need more and more just to feel good. Like a bad toupee from the 70’s, they undermine true confidence, don’t look natural and point to what you don’t like about yourself. Perhaps the time has come to buck the pressure and realize there must be a better way. The feeling of beauty happens inside us and it is always there ready to express itself. Appreciate and rely on your individual essence. How?
Mindfulness training helps.
Mindfulness helps you return to a more genuine way of seeing the world. It expands an appreciation of beauty in all of its variations. The habit of harsh self-judgment is replaced by a sense of freedom and peace. You become less critical and more kind to yourself and others. Mindfulness helps you develop a self that is able to identify, manage and change the relationship you have with your emotions, thoughts and sensations. Ironically, you feel more control as an inner flexibility develops. You get better at directing your attention where you choose throughout each day instead of being on autopilot. When you understand that life is experienced in the present moment it helps you feel more alive and connected to what is. You no longer try to cling to the past or even worry about the future. Aging can feel revelatory instead of traumatizing. Mindfulness helps you develop a stable, calm inner power that improves the relationship you have with yourself. It is a beautiful thing.