How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself. Follow Kimber as she shares her journey to loving her body, the joys and sorrows of yoga teaching, and venturing into the wilderness of writing and publishing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who You Calling Beautiful?

Here’s a variation of a conversation I occasionally find myself in:

“Kimber, I just want to tell you that I find it hard to believe that you ever disliked your body. You’re so radiant and beautiful.”

Me: “Aw, thanks.”

“No, seriously, it’s hard to square how you say you hated your body with what you look like.”

[Momentary stunned silence.]

Me: “I suppose you’re right. That’s the whole point. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you you’re beautiful if you don’t believe it yourself.”

Here’s a half-truth: I wasn’t always as beautiful as I am now. Yup, there’s a bunch of you out there who have known me since I was a wee little mite, and you’ll say, “No-no, Kimber, you’ve been beautiful all along.” But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Other people might see it, but if I couldn’t see it… well, it wasn’t there. Perception is everything. Think about it… have you always seen yourself as beautiful?

For comparison’s sake, here’s what I used to think beauty was:

1. Perfect fat-free body

2. Immaculate cleanliness and grooming

3. Fashion model hair

4. Wrinkle and stretch-mark free as if steam-cleaned and ironed smooth by the dry cleaners’ hulking metal machines

5. Hairless (except for number three above, and of course, eyebrows and eyelashes!)

6. When everyone unanimously agrees you’re beautiful

Do you see the problem here? No living person can live up to that standard of beauty. It’s an artificial, two-dimensional, airbrushed, photo-shopped, billboard model standard of beauty. It’s the standard of beauty that prompted Cindy Crawford to say, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” I had adopted an unattainable standard of beauty that excluded me by definition. Anyone who asserted otherwise (“You look great/pretty/lovely”) obviously had regrettably low standards and therefore could be disregarded completely as not knowing what the hell they were talking about.

An even more pernicious definition was working away behind the scenes of my unconscious. Though my parents always emphasized intelligence and education, my young brain attached itself to the equation: Beauty = Worthiness. Because I wasn’t beautiful (according to my own definition), I also wasn’t worthy. This further undermined my ability to receive the sincerest, most well-meaning of compliments; since I wasn’t worthy of receiving a compliment and (obviously) wasn’t beautiful, anyone who complimented my appearance was a liar, possibly blind, apparently believed I was a complete idiot, and undoubtedly held some sinister ulterior motive.

The problem wasn’t what I looked like. It was how I perceived my own worthiness.

How can you stop believing in your own unworthiness? Question it. I asked myself: Whoever said I was unworthy? Why should I give a crap about what a jerk like that would say anyway? Why should I believe that I’m unworthy? I couldn’t come up with a good answer.

My yoga practice finally perforated and melted the shield of unworthiness. It’s hard to feel unworthy in Warrior Two or a juicy, well-aligned Tadasana. My body learned to balance in crow pose, and even how to kick into handstand. Nothing unworthy there. And savasana… I soaked up the resting pose at the end of class like it was my birthright. I deserved it. I deserved to feel whole, worthy… even loved.

Worthy enough, I decided, to redefine beauty to include myself. Nowadays beauty has different list of criteria:

1. Inner radiance born of self-awareness and compassion

2. Warmth, friendliness

3. Self-confidence co-existing with humility and humor

4. Love for self that extends beyond self and longs to include all others in its embrace

5. Ease and sense of being at home in the physical body, joy in aliveness

6. Capable of seeing beauty in self and others and everywhere

7. And more….

None of these things are based on appearance, yet when we look at someone who embodies these qualities, is it possible to see them as anything but beautiful? Anyone can attain this standard of beauty… though perhaps not perfectly all the time. Just ask my family if you want proof I don’t always embody the above qualities. But there’s a certain beauty in our vulnerability and pissy-ness, too. Real beauty is flexible and gritty and sometimes downright tough.

If your definition of beauty doesn’t include you, redefine it for yourself. Then take the next step… can you see yourself as beautiful and worthy even when you’re not feeling/being beautiful, even by your own definition? Maybe beauty isn’t something we have to define or pin down. It’s like seeing yourself as God, or the Earth, or Mother Nature sees you… whole, perfect, beautiful, even when you’re not. Maybe beautiful is what we’ve been all along.

Yeah, I’m beautiful. And so are you.

Love Your Body Blog: Part 56