So I posted last week about how my daughter and I are trying to reframe how we think of beauty and I think I wrote it too soon, before I had hashed out a lot of my thoughts. So, instead I’m going to focus on one aspect of that philosophy in this post and maybe my thoughts will come out clearer when I look at a smaller piece of it.
Our media – TV, Movies, Magazines, Social Media – places a high value on physical beauty because that is what translates visually the easiest. As a result, Hollywood and the world of fashion and clothing and makeup have defined beauty for us. We may not realize it, but because we’re always shown long lanky white women with the perfect tiny curves, we have had our brains programmed to think that is beautiful. This is not unique with our generation. There are always strange facets of society that shape the concept of fashion and beauty. We all know how it used to be a sign of RICHNESS to be fat and therefore it was DESIRED. And don’t forget how everyone used to want to look like they had Tuberculosis. Our beauty goals have never been defined solely inside of our own hearts and minds.
The way this manifests is subconscious expectations of our own beauty. When you ONLY see the SAME thin body type on TV and on magazines and on film – which is EXACTLY what my generation saw – that is what you are conditioned to believe is your beauty goal. I had a Seventeen magazine subscription when I was 13, it was my Dad’s attempt to provide assistance for my growing female teen self. But EVERY picture in EVERY ad and EVERY article and EVERY cover was the SAME GIRL. She weighed about 100lbs and her body was perfectly proportioned and her skin was the right amount of tan and she rarely had curly hair and she never had acne always had perfect teeth.
Now, we have seen the effects this has on people and the “industry” is trying to now recognize beauty in different packages, but it is still VERY mono-typical.
Because of this programming, are brains see thin girls and women with perfect skin and shiny hair and we think that they are beautiful. But in another time we would have seen them and thought them poor and therefore ugly. And then another time we would have seen the person dying of Turbeculosis as the ultimate beauty idol.
This is all to point out that our instinctive response to beauty is programmed by someone other than ourselves. It’s programmed by movies and television and trendsetters on Instagram.
So my question to myself is – what is truly beautiful? If I had not been exposed to media, what would I find beautiful? So, when I find myself responding to someone with these preprogrammed definitions of beauty, I am stopping and asking myself Why?
When I see a petite woman with perfect arms in front of me in the check-out line and I instinctively think She is beautiful, I wish I looked like her, I stop and ask myself, Why?. When I do, I can’t really come up with anything that has not been programmed for me by external sources.
On the other hand, I have friends in my life who I look at and think are beautiful and wish I could be more like them. My instincts are strong around them, I want to emulate them in many ways. Sometimes the beauty they’re emitting comes in a physical package. Maybe they’re wearing a dress I covet or they’re a necklace I adore. But it’s the entire scope of them that I want more of in my life. And when I ask myself, Why? DO I find them beautiful. the answer is easy. Because they emit love through their eyes and they make me feel welcome. They put off an energy into the world that I want to absorb and redistribute. It’s because they parent in a way I want to parent. Or maybe the are wives in the way I want to imitate. Maybe it’s how active they are with their kids, or their adventurous soul. Maybe it’s because they love fiercely and laugh loudly. There are often physical attributes as well, but they are just the icing on the beautiful cake of what is on the inside that I want to mimic in my own life.
I find the more I challenge myself when I feel recognizing beauty in the world around me, the more I’m undoing the programming done by the world of check-out line magazines and instagram filters. Every time I challenge that thought that pops into my head when I see a small woman wearing a cute dress, I mute that instinct a little bit more. It’s been a slow process, but I can tell it’s working because my instinct to find beauty that I covet in the two women cracking up at a restaurant is much stronger now than to idolize and desire that perfect body on the stranger in the cereal aisle.
The decades of programming are fading as I stop those thoughts in their tracks and face them head on: THAT BODY IS A REFLECTION OF GENETICS. Why idolize that when you know nothing about the health or the spirit or the soul inside of it? Instead…idolize that other woman wearing her house slippers who stopped to help pick up the apples that fell on the floor. That is a sign of charity which is a type of beauty you truly value in your heart, instead of a beauty you’ve been taught to value from the fashion industry.
This is deep programming and it’s hard to re-write. Especially when we all still scroll through instagram to see trim women in idyllic yoga poses on mountain tops. I have to challenge my instinctive assignment of “beauty” every day, but I truly believe challenging that has started to reshape how I look at my own body which is – in the end – the point of it all. To remind myself that the real beauty I value is reflected back every time I look in the mirror. No matter what size I’ve been or how my skin has looked or whether or not I’m wrinkly. I see the beauty of empathy and strength and perseverance and love and loyalty and all of that is there and all of that is beautiful, no matter what the outside looks like.