It Has Nothing to do With What You Look Like

I have come to the conclusion that three things matter:

Living a life that is authentic to your values.

Speaking your truth.

Helping others achieve their highest and best.

When all is said and done, this is what our lives boil down to. We can either choose to live a life that isn’t authentic to who we are- perhaps doing things to impress or appease others rather than fulfilling ourselves- or we can chase after the things that fill us up. We can either speak our truth or hide from it. We can either help uplift and inspire others or weigh them down with us. Our lives swing between these two extremes every day, with every decision we make, but it is always our choice.

I have also come to the conclusion that one thing never does, and never will matter:

What you look like.

Living authentically, speaking your truth, and helping others has literally nothing to do with your outward appearance. Finding a life’s work that completes you, that makes you want to wake up in the mornings, has nothing to do with what you look like. Standing up for what you believe in, fighting for your cause, has nothing to do with what you look like. Helping others, being the light at the end of the tunnel, has nothing to do with what you look like.

And yet, I find so often that we, as a society and as individuals, preoccupy ourselves with the one thing that doesn’t matter. 

We are a visual society. We like pretty things, nice things, visually-appealing-things. We like pretty people and pretty cars and pretty houses. We like pretty Instagram feeds and pretty pictures of pretty people living their pretty lives. And that’s innately within us. We’re drawn to the attractive, drawn to what we, collectively, have decided is beautiful. But because of this, we have become preoccupied with whether or not we are “pretty enough” to fit into this mold of attraction.

I teach mostly in a studio without mirrors, and it is done with intention. Yoga is about what you feel like, not what you look like. It’s about remove external preoccupations and getting back to the breath and the root of who you are. One studio I teach at, however, does have mirrors. A lot of mirrors. It feels like every surface is reflective, and in any given class you’re provided with a 360 degree view of your body in every twist, shape, and angle. That is to say, there’s no preening to make sure you see yourself from your “good side” in a yoga class.

One day as we were setting up, a student laughed and mentioned that she hated practicing in this room filled with mirrors, because she “hated seeing herself.” This particular phrasing stuck with me- it wasn’t that she hated having to look, it was that she hated having to see. 

Because in a world filled with images of ideals, we’re led to believe that if we aren’t a perfect composite of each desirable trait, we aren’t “good enough.” We aren’t worth looking at. In fact, it draws up emotions of shame and inadequacy to look into a mirror and see someone who is supposedly failing to be a pretty-enough person.

I believe that women today (not exclusively women, mind you, but predominantly)  have spent a lifetime internalizing shame about how they look. They’ve been handed a set of ideals that are seemingly contradictory in their existence: be thin, but not too thin. Curvy but not too curvy. Strong but not too strong. Feminine but not too feminine. Wear makeup but not too much. Dress to impress, but not to flaunt. Have nails this color, hair this long, lips this size. The list goes on.

The media and our society has systematically instituted a rigid standard of beauty ideals that we now feel pressured to achieve every day.

8 out of 10 women will look in a mirror and be unsatisfied with their appearance.  And this starts well before adulthood. 81% of ten-year-old girls report dieting in an attempt to “look better”. Even normal-to-underweight young girls (not even young women) are already being pressured to believe that they aren’t good enough. That they need to change who they are in order to be enough.

And I don’t believe any of us are above the preoccupation with appearance. I’ve written before about becoming preoccupied with minutia in how we look, because it is not a unique experience. I think we spend a significant portion of our day thinking more about how we look doing things rather than how we are doing them: is my outfit appropriate? Does my hair look okay? Is my makeup smudged?

A quote that comes to mind is Katie Couric from the documentary Miss Representation:

“If women spent more time helping a sick neighbour or volunteering at a homeless shelter, focusing on how to use all of their energy to focus on solving some of the world’s problems — if they spent a tenth of the time thinking about those things that they do thinking about their weight, we would solve the world’s problems in a matter of months.”

This isn’t to shame women. This isn’t to make you feel bad for wanting to look and feel good in your skin. But it’s about looking at the greater perspective. When you are on your death bed, looking back on your life, you will not think, “Gee, I sure am glad I sacrificed time and energy in order to make sure I fit into x pair of jeans.”

Your gravestone will not include your dress size.

No. You will look back and want to see that you changed the world. That you touched lives. That you were true to who you are. At the end of the day no one will reflect on your life and admire you for the size of your pants, how you looked in your bikini, whether your thighs touched or not. They will admire you for what you did. They will admire you for the things that matter:

Living a life that is authentic to your values.

Speaking your truth.

Helping others achieve their highest and best.

The legacy you leave is based upon the actions you took to touch this world. Find your cause, find your passion, find your happiness, and pursue it. That just doesn’t exist within the world of the aesthetic. It’s time we stop focusing on the one thing that doesn’t reflect who we truly are- time we stop trying to look a certain way and start trying to be a certain way. To be the change we wish to see. To be the role model we wish we had. To be completely, wholly, and authentically ourselves.

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