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Under the skin of beauty

28 Mar

Modern society would have us believe that beauty is a very external thing, that to feel beautiful we have to look beautiful.  Such a myth is born out of the belief that good looks equate to beauty – that without an aesthetically pleasing appearance you cannot feel good about yourself.  It is certainly true that if you are heavily invested in your appearance and devote lots of time and energy into looking attractive or different, you will find it difficult to feel beautiful.  This is because you are stuck in a rut where your self-worth is defined by your appearance.

Yet, despite the conditioning of society, we all know individuals who aren’t considered conventionally beautiful yet radiate an inner beauty – a sense of being at ease in their own skin.  Beauty is not just something that is enjoyed by those gifted in the looks department, but something that lies much deeper under the skin.  So, how do you tap into that ‘something’ and radiate your inner beauty?

I asked a group of women* “What makes you feel beautiful inside and out?”  Their answers were enlightening – the beauty they felt had very little to do with their external appearance.  They experienced feelings of beauty from knowing they were making a difference to others, using their innate skills and talents, spending quality time with family and friends, and generally being their most authentic selves.  It seems engaging in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable can make us feel an inner beauty that transcends any physical form of it.  Here are my tips for unleashing your inner beauty:

Do what you love

Whether it’s your work, hobbies or social activities, when you make time for activities that are enjoyable and meaningful for you, you will automatically feel good about yourself.  The simple fact is, when you feel contented, you radiate contentment, ease, and happiness – everything that embodies your inner beauty!

Use your talents

What are you good at?  When you focus on those skills or talents that make you unique, you make a difference by sharing your gifts with others – this gives you a sense of purpose and fulfilment.  It’s that ‘warm glow’ you feel inside that shines through on the outside.

Be authentic, be you

Don’t compare yourself to anyone – you are unique, so you don’t want to be like anybody but yourself!  When you tap into your authentic self you will feel comfortable and content in your own skin.  Once you accept yourself, you will find that others will too – drawn to the ease you exude.

Challenge your beliefs about beauty

If you’ve grown up believing that only those with great looks can be beautiful, it’s time to change.  Beauty on the outside doesn’t guarantee contentment, being comfortable in your own skin or feeling good about yourself.  In fact, an outwardly beautiful person can radiate an inner ‘ugliness’ if they are not fulfilled or lack meaning in their lives.

Physical appearance is not the whole picture when it comes to defining beauty – what lies under the skin is a fuller, more enduring picture of what constitutes real beauty.  To quote body image expert Thomas F Cash, “Your looks are not everything, and you are certainly much more than your looks.”

* with thanks to members of the IASC, my friends, followers and fans

The Changing Face of Beauty

27 Jan

I recently read that the iconic hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe is considered ‘fat’ by modern day standards.  At the current day equivalent of a UK size 14, I wondered how one of the world’s most famous pin-ups went from being considered ‘sexy’ to being labelled as over weight?  Clearly, society’s idea of beauty has shifted over time.

Looking at the history of beauty, it’s clear to see how ideals have changed.  There was a time when a plump body was considered beautiful:  in the late nineteenth century, this was thought to be a sign of wealth.  During the 1950’s, Marilyn Monroe and the curvy forms of her contemporaries embodied sexiness.  This is in stark comparison to the modern day where women are constantly dieting to achieve the elusive ‘waif like’ figure.  These different standards show us that there really is no consistency in what is considered attractive – attempts to ‘keep up’ with ever changing, and arguably more and more unattainable standards, are leaving women with low body confidence and self-worth.

So, when the goal posts keep moving on beauty, how can you safeguard yourself against poor body confidence?  Follow these five tips to help free yourself from the pursuit of unrealistic standards:

Remember, there is no real standard of beauty

As history has shown us, ideals of beauty change in the same way that fashions do.  While it’s easy to toss out clothes that are no longer in fashion, we cannot mould and manipulate our bodies at will to conform to the latest beauty trend.  The only consistent ‘beauty standard’ is that women come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own unique features. We only have one body, and it’s time we started accepting what we have.

Beware the beauty standard setters

Think about it, where do the beauty ideals come from?  Those most invested in creating beauty standards have products to sell.  Pick up any magazine and you’ll see adverts of airbrushed celebrities and models selling products to ‘improve’ our skin, hair, body, etc.  These adverts are designed to make us feel discontent with our looks in some way, to motivate us to buy a product that will disguise, camouflage, enlarge, or minimise whatever our ‘flaw’ is.  Remember that believing you should aspire to some standard is exactly the trap advertisers want you to fall into.

Be clear what you love about your body

Ask yourself, “What are five things I love about my body?”  Do this with reference to what you like, not to some idealised standard.  You might like parts of your body for how they look, what they allow you to do, or even because they tell the story of your life e.g. a scar you got while playing as a child.  When you’re clear what you love about your own body, you are less likely to make unfavourable comparisons with unrealistic ideals.

Look at the real women around you

When you look at the women around you, what do you see?  I bet you don’t see many that conform to today’s super skinny ideals!  More likely you’ll see real women of all shapes and sizes.  This is reality, not the photo shopped images that advertisers want us to buy into.

Focus on the beauty within

When you focus heavily on your external appearance, self worth becomes defined by your looks.  This denies the many other qualities, characteristics and achievements that are an integral part of you.

Begin to appreciate the beauty within you: what are your best qualities, what are you most proud of?  If you struggle with this, ask a good friend to help you.  As you begin to appreciate every part of you, so you will see yourself as a whole, beautiful being, with many other facets than just your appearance.

Remember, you are a real woman, beautiful in your own unique way: don’t chase the ever changing and elusive face of beauty!

New Year. New Relationship

12 Jan

When we think about relationships, we typically define them in terms of family, partners, friendships and even business. What we are less likely to consider is that we have a relationship with ourselves. Think about it, you spend every day of your life with you, have an internal dialogue with yourself, and choose how to treat yourself. This relationship with YOU is the biggest and most significant one you will EVER have in your life. Yet, how often do we really invest in this relationship or take a good hard look at whether it’s ‘working’ or not?

Our ideal relationships are characterised by such qualities as love, respect, kindness, and understanding, and yet the relationship that we have with ourselves can often be diametrically opposed to these qualities.

What is your relationship like with yourself? Are you an abusive and judgemental ‘partner’ to yourself? The shocking truth is that if we were in love relationships or friendships as critical and loveless as some of those we have with ourselves, we’d think it unsupportive and even abusive and consider getting out!

So how do we foster a healthy relationship with ourselves? The answer is perhaps not so difficult as you might think. Look at all your other relationships – which ones do you consider to be the most nurturing, supportive and loving? What has made them this way? The strategies that you use to cultivate a good relationship with others are the same as those for developing a new relationship with yourself:

Learn acceptance

Think about friends or relatives who you accept just as they are, despite them being irritating at times! Embrace all parts of yourself; they make you who you are.

Become non- judgemental

With good friends it’s easier to be non-judgemental of their behaviour, because we accept them as they are. Practice taking an objective view of your behaviour, looking at it factually rather than labelling it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Practice forgiveness

Let yourself off the hook – stop beating yourself up over things you think you should or shouldn’t have done. Think of all the times you’ve forgiven family and friends.

Cultivate kindness

Be kind to yourself – think of yourself as your own best friend. How would your best friend comfort and support you when you are going through a tough time?

Love you

Relationships endure because of love – often unconditional. It’s not egotistical or self centred to ‘love yourself’ – it’s vital for a healthy relationship with yourself. In fact, until you can learn to love yourself, it is very difficult to love others.

Respect yourself

In the same way that abusive behaviour is not acceptable in our relationships with others, respect should be an integral part of how we interact with ourselves. Being abusive in any form – through a critical internal voice, or physical self abuse (excesses of alcohol, over or under eating, taking drugs, self harming) are not signs of self respect.

Make 2012 the year that you enter into a new special relationship – the one you have with yourself!