Our culture around the world puts so much pressure on us to look good, stay young, and stay beautiful. Why? How does this impact us? There are many reasons why. One, from more of an evolutionary stance, is that being beautiful encourages people to procreate. Of course, younger women can have children, so youth is seen as something desirable; this is natural and helps us have procreated around the world. If we had evolved in such a way to find older adults to be attractive, then we wouldn’t have as many babies, and genes wouldn’t be passed on. While this may seem rather scientific and cold, it has a very evolutionary, genetic aspect. It helps us make babies and keep generations going. You could almost say that beauty is in the genes.
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But perhaps a far more powerful force that generates what we consider beautiful and affects us is the media. The media is constantly telling us what’s beautiful and attractive because there’s a benefit to that. If we love who we are and don’t see a need to change to improve ourselves, no company can make money to sell products that improve people. So there’s a sense that “hey, we have to make people feel like there’s a sense that they need to change themselves and make themselves more beautiful so that we can make money.” Again, this may seem cold, but it has a very monetary benefit to our culture. It helps us create products so that we can change and look “more beautiful.” So in a sense, we could say that we are brain-washed. We’re brain-washed as to what beauty is, and it constantly changes, so in that way, we are continuously on the move to improve ourselves. We’re never satisfied with who we are; we have to change and stay young, and if we are young, we have to look different from ours. That is what keeps the economic wheels turning.
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So can we or do we need to do anything about this? The answer is “yes.” Yes, we should do something about this, and yes, we can do something about this. So first, why should we do anything about this? Why not just buy into everything we’re told, make changes, and keep improving ourselves to stay young and stay beautiful? Mostly we should do something about this because it’s hard on us. It’s not wrong or inappropriate to make changes to improve ourselves; it’s actually good to do that, but when there’s a sense of constant “deficit” that we tell ourselves “there’s something wrong with me,” then changes need to occur. It’s better, far better, to say, “Hey, this is the way I am. This is the way God created me. However, can I enhance it, or can I make it better?” It’s a lot like a farmer who has a field, and there are wild berries there, and he can find wild animals to hunt and gather, or he can get domesticated animals, and he can till that land and make it even more productive. It’s kind of like that; it’s a choice, we still love the beauty of the wildness, but we can choose to improve ourselves.
For a moment, let’s imagine our beauty is an open field. Something that in and of itself is truly beautiful; it’s a gift from God; it’s something we can celebrate and be excited about. However, we may want to change and make some improvements; or we may not; it’s just a choice. Either one is fine. If we take it in a way that, “Yes, my hair is graying a bit. I think I’ll color my hair and not let the gray come out,” it’s okay; or we can say, “Yes, my hair is graying, but I’m just going to accept it. I don’t mind the graying” then that’s okay too. But do you see the gentleness there? We’re kind about our looks. We can change them, but we can also love them and keep them the same. We can be excited about the change, and we can be excited about growing old and aging; both can be fine, but if we don’t accept what we have, even after the improvements, we will be unhappy. I think that’s where we need to be careful about media and advertisements. They really play on us being unhappy with what is. Health is about accepting what is and ultimately loving what is.
Beauty is something that we can change, we can improve upon, and we can accept. But to be happy, to have a good life, we need to love what we have and/or love the improvements we make with what we have. If we look in the mirror every time we are self-critical, we attack ourselves and say things like, “That’s ugly. That’s unattractive. Those wrinkles are just disgusting,” then we’re going to suffer. Instead, if we say, “Hey, that’s a beautiful person there. I love that person, and I’m going to make some changes and make that person even more beautiful, but it’s a beautiful person even when it gets out of bed first thing in the morning.” That’s hard to do, and that’s why meditation can help us improve this.
Let’s work towards improving how we feel about ourselves because the main person who suffers when we are self-critical about the way we look is us; we suffer. The key to change is to start by being aware of what we are thinking in our heads all day long. If we are noticing that we are self-critical all day long about the way we look, we’re not going to feel good inside. There’s going to be a slow, progressive, self-loathing there. Since we all age, there’s no way we can keep up with the most beautiful people in the world; it’s impossible. So instead of comparing and contrasting, by just loving ourselves, we are going to be happy.
For example, we may go to an art gallery and see some beautiful Monet Lilies and fall in love with them, finding them utterly beautiful. We can go to another part of the gallery and see a Michelangelo sculpture and say, “Oh my goodness, that is so beautiful!” So the key is to celebrate everything and see it as beautiful. If we don’t judge ourselves and, equally important, if we are not judging other people, then life will go better; because the negative self-talk that we hear in our head is hard on us. The ultimate goal is to quiet your mind and not judge, not criticize, be with and enjoy all the wonders of life. Celebrate the different shapes, sizes, and looks of everyone around us, and life goes so much better.
When I met my wife and began dating her, she introduced me to one of the most beautiful women I have ever met in my life. Her name was Vy, and it was my wife’s grandmother. She was almost 90 years old, and she was short, overweight, and yet she had an indomitable beautiful spirit that just made her glow with beauty and radiance beyond description. Our actions often make us far more beautiful than the external looks that we have. But the most important person in the world that’s going to help us feel beautiful inside and out is ourselves. Even if the whole world thinks we are beautiful, if we don’t think so ourselves, it won’t make any difference. But the reverse is true also. If we celebrate who we are and love who we are, even as we age, we will feel attractive; we will feel beautiful no matter what the world says. So it’s important to pay attention to our thoughts, and that’s the beauty of meditation; it helps us be aware of what we are thinking. Once we are aware of what we are thinking, we can then change what we are thinking. So let’s pay attention to our thoughts. Let’s work on loving who we are, finding ourselves beautiful inside and out, and then love us around us too.