Recently a woman contacted me who is studying journalism in her third year at university in England. She is writing a paper on facial disfiguration and asked if I could answer some questions as a body-image expert. Below are the answers to her questions. These answers will be helpful for whatever struggles you might be encountering in your life. Please enjoy.
Know this: whatever your physical appearance, you are beautiful. You can consider this to be a nice idea, but I guarantee it is the absolute truth. If you believe yourself to have imperfections, whatever form they take, please use the questions and answers below to help you let go of those false ideas and beliefs that prevent you from experiencing the beauty that you are. Because the experience of that beauty is the only beauty worth having.
Question: What exactly does your role as a Body-Image Coach mean? i.e. In general terms what is it that you do?
Being a body-image coach simply means that I facilitate people’s coming to love and accept their bodies and themselves. In a very real sense, I do nothing. I simply facilitate the natural process that is taking place within people. Within each individual is an intrinsic knowing, an intrinsic wisdom, that can best be described as love. This love longs to express itself, to our own selves, as well as to others. Unfortunately, very few people know how to access this natural love and allow it to unfold. As a body-image coach, I simply facilitate this unfolding. I help people connect with this beauty, perfection, love, and wisdom that is already inside of themselves, seeking expression. So perhaps the best word to describe my role is simply that of facilitator.
Question: What are your views on our societies obsession with being ‘beautiful’? How would you classify being beautiful?
My view is that everything in life is a gift, including that which seems horrible, awful, and incomprehensible. The only key factor is the individual – are you, meaning the individual, willing and able to view everything that you experience as a gift? This certainly does not mean that everything is enjoyable, or that pain or suffering should be endorsed or allowed, but it does mean that in each moment, you have a choice. A Course in Miracles states that every moment is a choice between a grievance and a miracle. Another way to say this same thing is “in every moment, you can make a choice between seeing life as a gift or a curse.”
So how is this relevant to society’s obsession with being beautiful? If you suffer from negative feelings about yourself and your appearance, it is easy to blame society. And yes, societies views on beauty are unequivocally limited, deficient, and utterly misleading. As an individual, however, you can use society’s limited perception of beauty to your advantage. You can use it to help you discover and experience your own inherent beauty and perfection.
Here is an example of how this might work:
- Let’s say you have internalized the mainstream culture’s messages about beauty. You believe that you do not fit this standard, and are thus deficient your lacking in some way. Simply notice this.
- Then realize that this is complete and utter nonsense. Realize that you were born absolutely perfect, inherently beautiful, and you will remain that way forever. Beauty is not something that you achieve because you look a certain way. Beauty is an attribute of your existence. You were born with it, and it always remains.
- Whenever you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about yourself, feeling like you are not beautiful enough, remind yourself that this is an illusion. This is simply the result of growing up in a society that cannot recognize beauty and is completely deluded regarding the whole topic.
- Every time you remind yourself of this truth, and let go of the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that keep you from this truth, the closer you will come to seeing and experience the beauty that is always there. True beauty is nothing that you achieve; it is simply something that you learn to see.
Being beautiful is simply being you. It is being you in all your dimensions, in all your aspects, in the very rawness of your humanity. Some days you might be well put-together; other days you might be falling apart. Some days you might radiate health, other days you might be beset by illness. Both are equally beautiful. It is only the mind that divides, saying one is beautiful and the other is not. In reality, there is only one beauty, and you are that.
Question: Do you feel that it is unhealthy for young women to be growing up in an environment where such an emphasis is placed on image and looks?
This depends. Would it be nice if we lived in a culture that honored everyone’s uniqueness and intrinsic beauty? Absolutely. The only way to create this society, however, is to start with each individual. Learn to recognize beauty within yourself; learn to recognize beauty within everyone and everything else. It is only by changing each individual, one-by-one, that a new society will be created that is simply an expression of these individuals steeped in beauty.
In the meantime, since we do live in a society that has a distorted view of beauty, take complete responsibility for transforming yourself. If you are a parent, raise your children so that they know what true beauty is. Teach them to see the beauty in everyone and everything. As an individual, whatever your condition in life, commit unwaveringly to knowing and experiencing your inherent beauty. As you come to know your own beauty, you will become a beacon of beauty that radiates beauty ceaselessly, slowly transforming the culture into one that is more supportive.
Question: I have read on your website that you once struggled with body loathing. How did you get through this tough time? What advice would you offer to others in this situation?
My struggle with body loathing, and the healing process, was a process. It did not happen overnight. But it did happen. And this is the most important thing for people to hear. Freedom from body-loathing, freedom from self-hatred, freedom from suffering and un-lovability, is completely possible. It only requires a willingness for it to end. It might sound odd, but this willingness usually grows over time.
The most important things is helping me to heal were professional help, yoga, and meditation. I, myself, suffered for way too long without seeking professional help. This is why I work as a body-image coach, to help people who are struggling. There are also many competent therapists and healers. The most important thing is to seek qualified professional help as soon as possible.
Equally important is learning to listen to your true self. By the time people have reached adolescence, most people have forgotten how to listen to their own intuitive guidance. Each person has a reservoir of wisdom inside of themselves. It is simply a matter of learning to listen to and follow this guidance.
Two great ways to learn how to access your inner-intelligence are through yoga and meditation. Yoga can help you to become aware of and in tune with your body. Your body has an incomprehensible amount of intelligence if you simply learn how to listen to it. Yoga can help you create a collaborative relationship with your body.
Meditation is also a critical component of healing. I cannot stress the benefits of meditation enough. Simply practicing meditation on a regular basis helps to cleanse the mind of the negative delusions and beliefs that plague so many people. If you are caught in a pattern of disliking your body and yourself, you are living with painful illusions. Meditation will begin to uproot the lies you are living with and help you begin to see and experience your inherent beauty and perfection.
Question: Obviously for people suffering from facial disfigurements and birthmarks it is not so easy to physically change their appearance. How would your five-step process to love your body and your life help them?
Changing your physical appearance is not an essential part of accepting and making peace with your body and yourself. As a matter of fact, changing your appearance can sometimes be a hindrance to this process of acceptance. This is not always the case, but it certainly can be.
The five-step process outlined in Love Your Body, Love Your Life, is a process designed to help people move from disliking their bodies and themselves, whatever the reason may be, to acceptance, and then to love. My work is not about helping people change their appearance per se. For people who want to lose weight or improve their health, this may very well come about as a by-product of loving and accepting themselves, but it is not the point of the work. The point of the work is to help people love and accept what is, and from that place of love and acceptance, anything is possible.
Question: Do you think that young women suffering from facial disfigurations would be more accepting of themselves if there was more awareness of this issue, and people with the condition were being seen in the media, for example in ad campaigns?
If by more awareness you mean that there was more awareness of what true beauty is then, yes, I do think that more awareness would result in people accepting themselves more. The key is that people become aware of what beauty is. Beauty is not something you achieve because you look a certain way, have certain facial features, appear blemish free, whatever ideas people have about beauty. Beauty is not what you think it is. Beauty is an attribute of existence itself. You were born beautiful. Whether you were born with facial disfigurations or born as a soon-to-be super model simply does not matter. I know this runs contrary to everything people have been taught to believe. This is what I mean about needing more awareness about what is truly beautiful. Every single person is beautiful because it is an essential attribute of existence, and a rose is no more beautiful than a tulip, then a daisy. All are unique; each one is beautiful.
If our media, advertisements, etc. begin to reflect a more true definition of beauty I think this could have a positive effect on everyone’s ideas about beauty. If ad campaigns show that beauty comes in all shapes, forms, and conditions, there will be more awareness and people will begin to cultivate eyes that can see true beauty.
Question: If these girls were considering surgical cosmetic treatment to effectively change what they looked like what would you say to them? i.e. Do you feel that your methods of coaching would be more beneficial?
This completely depends. I don’t have anything against cosmetic surgery per se. If people have a disfiguration that they really want changed, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, most of the time, changing the external appearance will not improve self-esteem and self-acceptance in and of itself. So I would recommend that if someone has a history of struggling with negative feelings about their bodies and themselves that they engage in internal exploration and healing, regardless of whether or not they decide to get surgery. Whether or not they have cosmetic treatment, the internal exploration will help them throughout their entire lives. After you seek professional help with a qualified therapist or comparable professional, then you can decide whether or not you want to proceed with the treatment. This will increase the chances that you feel good with whatever decision you make.
Question: What advice would you offer to loved ones and friends who are trying to help someone who suffers from low self-esteem regarding their looks?
The very best thing you can do is to let someone know that they do not need to live with the low-self esteem and disliking their looks. Let them know that it is possible to feel great in and about themselves. You can let them know how much you love and care about them. Then encourage them to find professional help. There are many great resources available, and good professional help and guidance can make a huge difference in their life.