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Our Obsession with Beauty and How to Unchain Ourselves from Perpetuating Unattainable Ideals

Several years ago, I read Naomi Wolf’s groundbreaking book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women.  It’s a provocative, intelligent, and compelling read.  It also confirmed several of my fears—namely, that our culture’s obsession with maintaining youth, beauty, and vitality restricts women in the workforce, creates unrealistic standards that are fraught with anxiety, and leads to depression, eating disorders, self-doubt, and a lack of spiritual fulfillment.

One would think that if history has taught us anything, it would be that the body alone cannot sustain us.  Our good deeds ought to carry more weight than our appearance, but this is simple to forget in an environment where image is valued above integrity.

How can we change this?  By practicing the following:

            –When discussing body image with young, impressionable women—whether that’s your daughter, niece, or the girl down the street—emphasize strength over thinness.  Fitting into a pair of size zero jeans is far less impressive than being able to run five miles, row a kayak, or hit a volleyball over the net with competence.

            –Recognize that the females portrayed in women’s magazines have entire teams devoted to making them look flawless.  That, and people who are exceptionally skilled at Photoshop.  To yearn for what’s presented in different forms of media is a waste of time and energy—what’s projected to us is often an illusion.

            –Practice what you preach.  This can be achieved by complimenting others not on their tiny waists, slender legs or expensive earrings but on their accomplishments and acts of kindness.  Did a stranger hold open the door for an elderly man?  Thank her.  Did your neighbor offer to water your roses while you were away?  Show her your appreciation.  Did your friend’s daughter make the soccer team?  Congratulate her, and praise her on the many hours she spent practicing.

            –Stress intelligence over perfection.  Our bodies might betray us before our minds do, and it’s just as critical to exercise our minds and imaginations as it is to work out regularly.  Highlight the importance of education to children and teens.  Encourage your mother and grandmother to keep their minds agile by engaging in crossword puzzles and Sudoku.  Read a novel or a journal that promotes spiritual awareness instead of flipping through fashion magazines and gossip rags, where every page offers an example of our culture’s unhealthy preoccupation with perfection.

            –Exercise creativity.  We’re inclined to conform if our minds aren’t allowed to play and be free.  Spend time each and every day with a creative endeavor, even if this means taking just ten minutes to dabble in your toddler’s color book.

            –Eat to live.  Be mindful of what you take in but refrain from obsessing about calories and fat grams, which can lead to dangerous eating habits and influence those around you to do the same.  Listen to your body, and be kind to it.

            –Avoid remaining on the surface.  The more we linger in the space where appearance and wealth dominate, the less we deepen our knowledge of the unseen, where true treasures lie.

            –Celebrate aging.  One might be disappointed and surprised with the changes in their appearance as they age but adding years is an accomplishment.  Accept your wrinkles, rejoice in the wisdom you’ve gained, and enjoy yourself.  Your real beauty will shine through.

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