We Need to Change the Way That We Think About ‘Pretty’

When I was ten years old, I started wearing make-up.

It wasn’t good make-up, but it was make-up. It was a heavy smudge of black eyeliner, as though two big, bad raccoons walked up and punched me in both eyes. I liked it. It didn’t make me feel pretty, but it made me feel badass, like a punk rock rebel chick, and that was the look I was going for. I wanted to be Joan Jett before I was even old enough to know who Joan Jett was. I wanted to stand out of the crowd, to look unique. And as I got older, I discovered that there was more to make-up than just looking ‘unique’, and I learned about it as an art form. I started modelling myself after the beautiful girls I knew, who stood apart from the crowd, who looked like ethereal goddesses sent down from heaven to brighten our days with their presence. I asked them to teach me their tricks, and I learned them adequately.

People would say to me, “you know, you’d look prettier if you wore a bit less make-up. Boys don’t like girls with a whole lot of make-up”, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t spending my money and time on make-up for anyone but myself.

When I was nineteen years old, I started my collection of tattoos.

It was something that I had always wanted to do, ever since I was little, when I saw my mother get her first tattoo. She came home with a fairy on her lower back, and I thought it was the most exquisite thing I had ever seen. A form of art that could be carried with you forever. I saw people with tattoos and I loved them, because it was a piece of their story that you could read by sight. One look, and you knew that butterflies or bible passages or the infinity symbol meant something to them. Maybe it meant that they got drunk with their friends one night and accidentally agreed to regret something later, but still – it was a part of them. A piece of their personality that couldn’t be erased.

People would say to me, “you know, girls don’t need to get tattoos. It isn’t a very pretty or feminine thing to do”, but I didn’t care. It was a part of me, and the way I saw it, anyone who truly loved me would accept that part as well.

When I was twenty-three, I shaved my head bald.

And, okay, maybe I came to regret that decision. What can I say, I like my hair, and I like all the funky colours that I can dye it: pink, red, orange, puce, chartreuse, whatever. But end of day, I wanted to try it. I was curious to see what it was like. I was curious to see what would change if I stopped depending on my hair to be there, if I would feel more or less beautiful because of it. And the truth was, no, I didn’t feel less beautiful, I just felt less personally comfortable, and that’s okay. There are a lot of women who are jaw-dropping with a shaved head, and I wanted to see if I could be among them for a moment. And now that that moment has passed, I will join the women who are jaw-dropping with hair.

People would say to me, “you know, men prefer women with long hair”, but that really had no bearing on my decision either way. I don’t design my life and my style choices around what men want, because that would be a thankless way to live.

I never wanted to be pretty. I wanted to be me. I wanted to express myself and the way that I felt, and maybe that wasn’t always pretty, but it was always beautiful. In it’s own way. I believe that, whenever a person is truly being themselves, regardless of what that means, it is beautiful.

Because ‘pretty’ is accepted, but ‘beautiful’ is something more. Beautiful is an artist caught up in their work. Beautiful is smile lines and stretch marks and the scars that built who you are. Beautiful is unique to every person, because what makes them beautiful is what makes them them.

Beauty lives in tears and in blatant shows of affection. Beauty is honest and raw and real, and you just can’t capture it by trying to be what people want you to be. That is, unless you just happen to be one of those very rare individuals who happen to be everything that people want you to be – but I haven’t met many of those people.

We so frequently tell people what they can and can’t do to be considered ‘pretty’. We tell women what to do so that “men will like them”. We police their actions, their clothes, their make-up, their grooming habits, their food, their exercise. We give them no chance for unique choice, because we stuff their heads with what they ‘should be’. And we internalize these ideas so often; even if you know that there’s nothing wrong with being a little on the heavy side, how often do you look in the mirror and criticize yourself for being fat?

We all want to fit in. We all want to be pretty, but we strive for that at the sacrifice of our individual beauty.

So change the way that you think about pretty. Ask yourself what your individual beauty looks like, and indulge in it. Stop denying yourself. Stop shaming yourself. Stop worrying about whether or not you’ll fit in, because you will. It’s impossible to live up to mainstream expectations, but if you’re fully and completely yourself, then you will attract others who share and respect your beauty. You will give others permission to find their own beauty, to become their authentic selves. People will see you, being who you are, and they will know that they are alright, just as they are. They will know that there is nothing wrong with being true to themselves.

You can set the world free, in your own small way, by being yourself.

 

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Why It Is Important to Talk When You Aren’t Okay

As human beings, we are not always okay.

We are not consistently positive, every single moment of every day. We are not always right. We are not always kind. We have moments where we feel broken and discouraged and hopeless and cruel.

And I’m going to tell you a secret: you don’t always have to be okay.

This should not be a secret. Because I think we have all generally accepted this idea that people are not perfect. We say, “to err is human”, and we expect that everyone will, at some point in their lives, make a mistake, or get hurt, or be down and depressed and lost. And yet, despite all this, we still make an attempt to hide it. We still think that we will be judged for being flawed – or, alternatively, we are judged for being flawed.

It has been a long time since I tried to hide the fact that I wasn’t okay. I’ve worn my status of ‘not okay’ quite proudly for a while now – speaking up about my experience with depression and anxiety, my struggle with toxic people in my life, as well as the simple daily struggles that I think all of us go through. My experience is not a particularly unique one – I think that many of us deal with these issues, if not all of us, at one point or another. And yet, despite this, I have been described by people – both personally and online – as “really messed up” or “seriously ill”, not because of the things that I have gone through, but because I chose to speak up about them. I never tried to hide the fact that I wasn’t okay at certain times in my life, and for some people, this was unacceptable – a sign of weakness.

What these people didn’t see was just how therapeutic this was for me. Speaking up allowed me the chance to see that I wasn’t alone. That other people experienced the same thoughts and feelings and issues that I was experiencing. Some of these people went public, like I did – expressing these issues loud and proud for all to see, while others simply whispered it to me behind closed doors. And either way, I am grateful for them – because they helped me. They relieved my guilt, my fear, my need to repress. They freed me. Because all of a sudden, I wasn’t only speaking for me – I was speaking for us.

And, on the other hand, I have known many people who tried to fit into a certain image of flawless. I think many of us know these people as well – the hyper-yogis and gurus who never have a negative thing to say. Their social media platforms are full of inspiration and positive thinking and little more. And while inspiration is great – necessary, even, there is such a thing as going too far in this direction.

Because when these flawless people do, inevitably, show a flaw, they cannot accept this. They cannot hear it. They must blame everyone else for their flaw, or deny that it is a flaw, or push it deep down, never to see the light of day, never to be worked on and fixed and improved upon.

And often times, these flawless people are so insecure, so afraid, so depressed, and never allowed to acknowledge the source of this, because they do not allow themselves to talk about it. They are too afraid that they will be judged, or looked down upon. They are so frequently told that they will not be strong, or admirable, or acceptable, if they are suffering. And we are all suffering, at one time or another.

Ultimately, you do more harm to yourself and to those around you when you do not allow yourself to discuss the fact that you might not always be okay.

End of day, life is not about being perfect. Life is about growth. And you achieve this growth by confronting your pain, rather than pushing it down and ignoring it. Now, the way that you confront this pain can take many forms – whether you speak out about it openly, or with a trusted friend, or a therapist, or your personal diary, whatever the case may be. But regardless of the way that you choose to speak, there is nothing wrong with it. There should be no shame in the methods that you choose to better yourself, and there should be no cause for judgement either.

So if anyone makes you feel ‘lesser than’ because you choose to speak out about your problems, please keep in mind that that reveals more about them than it does about you. You are not ‘messed up’ or wrong – you are dealing with the natural problems that many of us deal with, and you are dealing with it in the way that works for you. Meanwhile, they will not allow themselves the same luxury. They are still caught up in this myth of perfection, or flawlessness, that none of us are truly capable of.

And if you are someone who will not allow yourself to speak out, then allow me to say this: I understand that it can be frightening. It might seem weird, and you might think that you will be judged, and maybe you will, but more than that, you will be received with love. You will find kindred spirits, so much more personal to you than they would otherwise be, because they understand what you have been through. They understand the workings of your mind.

And you can start slow, if you want to. Start by simply saying it to yourself. You can move on to speaking out when you feel more comfortable. But end of day, you need to speak out. You need to do it for yourself, and for the kindred spirits who feel silenced, alone, and frightened.

What is Beauty?

“Women and girls need to be beautiful to be accepted.”

The problem with this statement should be obvious: the person making it is narrow-minded. This person comes to the table with a limited understanding of what beauty is, because beauty can be a lot of things.

This person thinks of beauty as being a body size, but the truth is that beauty is every body size. Beauty comes in sizes small, medium, and large. Beauty comes in the form of stretch marks and cellulite and body hair. Beauty is a woman who has recently given birth, and is regularly told that she needs to ‘get her body back’ (as though her body somehow left her when she used it to create a human being). Beauty is a woman who lifts weights, or does yoga, or is too busy to bother with any of it.

This person thinks of beauty as a race, or a religion, but beauty is too versatile for all that. Beauty comes in all colours. Beauty is monolid eyes, and dark skin, and natural hair. Beauty is a woman who proudly chooses to wear a hijab.

Beauty comes in all genders. Beauty is a cis-woman, sure, but beauty is so much more than that. Beauty is a cis-man, who has never been made to feel beautiful before, and who so desperately wants to. Beauty is a trans-person who ‘passes’ well as a cis-person, and beauty is a trans-person who doesn’t, and who might never, and that’s so much more than okay. Beauty is a non-binary person. Beauty is a gender queer person who only wants to feel beautiful some of the time.

Beauty is ageless. Beauty does not fade with time, and it does not lessen with wrinkles.

This person thinks of beauty as an edited cover girl, but beauty is often unedited. Beauty is that person with the confidence it takes to act crazy – loudly and in public. Beauty is your girlfriend, late at night, with her make-up smeared and her voice slow and tired, dressed in what makes her comfortable. Beauty is your friend, who is just so incredibly happy with where they are in life that you can see it in their eyes, in their smile, in the way that they present themselves.

“Women and girls need to be told that they don’t need to be beautiful.”

The problem with this statement is smaller: quite simply, people cannot escape from being beautiful. We are all beautiful.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it” – Confucius

Women and girls need to be told that they can be more than society’s narrow definition of beauty. Everyone needs to be told that they can be more than society’s narrow definition of beauty. Because beauty is natural, and beauty is everywhere, but society has decided to own beauty, to redefine it for itself, and society has done this poorly. Society has done this in a way that does not serve us. And, worse, we have let society do this to us. We have made it so easy for ourselves to miss the natural beauty in our own bodies, and in the bodies of others. We have told ourselves and others that they are ugly, when the truth is, they are simply left out of society’s definition.

And many of us know this. We know this. But believing it is another matter. Bringing ourselves to a place where we no longer punish ourselves for the way we look is complicated. Even if beauty comes in all sizes, we still call ourselves fat when we look in the mirror.

But look for the beauty. If not in ourselves, at least in others. In the world around us. In places you might not expect. Because that beauty is so exquisite, and we deserve to experience it. We miss out on so much when we’re so singularly attached to what society tells us to appreciate.

You Cannot Change People – And That Isn’t A Bad Thing

We as a society tend to romanticize the idea of changing someone.

It’s a common romance story trope to have two people meet, one flawed but with a heart of gold (usually the man), one more or less perfect already (usually the woman), and through their love, they both become more or less perfect, compatible, happy lovers.

A more recent example of this might be the Fifty Shades of Grey movies, which have come out with a new installment consistently around Valentine’s Day since 2015. These movies follow Anastasia Steele as she meets and falls in love with the wealthy and conventionally attractive Christian Grey, only to find out that he is emotionally distant, deeply traumatized from childhood, emotionally abusive, possessive, and uninterested in a romantic relationship. Yet, through her love and her love alone, she manages to train him into becoming her husband and (presumably) a better man.

Now, I wish that I could say that the Fifty Shades of Grey movies invented this trope, but I sort of feel like it’s existed since the dawn of time. Growing up, I had this notion that romantic love was supposed to be a force so strong, that it could not only withstand but defeat anything. If you were a bad person, then the compulsion for romantic love would be enough to lead you out of your habits and into the light.

And I think it’s significant that women, in particular, are told that this is possible. From the time that we’re small, girls everywhere are told to romanticize the ‘fixer-upper’. The rude, disrespectful, selfish man who we can teach to respect us with time, patience, and love. The beast to our beauty. We’re encouraged to put up with all sorts of unpleasant behaviour because “we can change him”, because he’s really a good guy “deep down”.

But here’s the thing that I think everyone should hear, whether they be men, women, flawed, or somehow, impossibly perfect: you cannot change people.

That isn’t to say that people can’t change. They most certainly can, but they need to be the one at the helm of that change. Not you. Because you can stand beside someone for their entire lives, telling them what to do, how to act, what to say or think, but if they aren’t hearing you, then it won’t matter. You can have the best intentions, the best advice, the most confidence that they can be a better person, but you cannot help people unless they want to be helped.

I think that this is an important lesson for all of us to learn, regardless of which side of the change that we intend to be on.

Because if we want to change our loved one, and if we believe so whole-heartedly that we can do it no matter what, then we set ourselves up for failure. When they inevitably return to their harmful behaviour, then we blame ourselves for it. We wonder what we could have done differently. We wonder why our love wasn’t enough to stop it. We tell ourselves that it will be different next time – and maybe it will be, but only if the other has perfectly, completely understood that they need to change. If they don’t understand this, then they’ll just end up doing the same thing again, because they don’t have a reason not to.

If we hold onto this idea of being able to change someone, then it allows us to excuse their behaviour and stick by them, even when we have no other reason to. Even when their behaviour harms us. They might even use this idea against us, telling us that it will be different next time, that they can change, but not if we leave them or hurt them. They might hold desperately onto us, taking what they need and giving nothing back. And we allow them to keep doing it, all in the hope that they might eventually stop.

If someone in our lives is flawed, self-destructive, or outwardly toxic, then we really only have two choices: we can accept them as they are, in full knowledge that they might never change, or we can decide that what they do doesn’t serve us and only hurts us in the long run. There is no shame in either option. There is nothing wrong with you if you leave, because there was nothing you could have done that would have fixed them. Their flaws are not your responsibility. And there is nothing wrong with you if you stay, so long as you understand and are prepared to deal with the potential consequences.

And perhaps all this sounds a little bit harsh, particularly for the people who are dealing with some sort of flaw or habit that they hope to be able to change, but I don’t think it should be. On the contrary, it can be a very liberating thought.

Your salvation does not lie in another person. You do not need a hero; you can be your own. And, no, that isn’t as easy as it sounds: you need to want it. You need to be able to recognize that what you are doing does not serve you or the people around you. You need to know that you deserve better. You need to put in effort and you need to pick yourself up after bad days and you need to forgive yourself when you inevitably fail, and you can do it. It is possible, but there is a reason why very few people succeed. You need to be strong. You need to be a warrior.

And you cannot do any of this if you put all of the work required for your change into another person.

This idea of romantic love being strong enough to incite change is incredibly harmful – for both sides. Romantic love can be a powerful force, sure – it can be what inspires people to want to change, and it can bring out the best of people, but it cannot be the sole reason for any permanent change. For that, we need a very different sort of love: we need to find self-love.

 

The Problem With Stealing Lives That Are Not Yours

Jealousy is an easy rut to fall into – especially in this day and age of social media.

All you need to do is log into Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and all that you see is just how well everyone is doing. Your childhood bully just got married to the hottest, sweetest, richest person you’ve ever seen. That girl that you talked to once at work just had the most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen, and all that she can talk about is just how happy she is. Your ex just found the job of their dreams, and is taking everyone they know (except you) out for sushi to celebrate. And here you are, sitting in your underwear on social media, wishing that you had even half of what they have.

A year ago, I got pretty caught up in my jealousy. I was at university, pursuing my bachelor’s degree and getting pretty good grades. But at the same time, I was single, I was unemployed, and I was feeling like I was missing out on something. I mean, I was good at the whole academic thing, and I enjoyed it, but other people had such different lives, and they all seemed so much happier than I was.

And upon graduating, I saw the perfect opportunity to get out of my life. I was going to pursue a so-called ‘normal life’, like everyone else had.

I tried to live like the people I was so jealous of. I tried to talk the way that they talked and do the things that they did, but it never felt natural to me. It always felt a bit like I was a puzzle piece, trying to force myself into a spot where I didn’t belong. I couldn’t get the happy and stable relationship that I saw advertised on social media, because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted. I couldn’t be satisfied with how I was filling the time, because it just wasn’t me. I found myself missing my old academic life, because I enjoyed it. It felt natural to me. And there was certainly nothing wrong with this life that I had forced myself into – I knew that it suited other people fine. It just didn’t suit me.

I began to understand this feeling a little better when I began to read about the yogic principle of asteya.

Asteya essentially means ‘non-stealing’, which might make you wonder how in the hell asteya has anything to do with what I just said. But the purpose of asteya is not to simply refrain from taking material goods from other people when you do not deserve them. Rather, asteya urges one to look deeper into themselves, to try to discover the reason why you feel the need to steal from them.

In the scenario that I just presented to you, I was stealing a bit of a life that did not belong to me. I didn’t fit into it, it wasn’t made for me, but I wanted it. I wanted it because I thought that I should have it. I wanted it, because I thought that what I had wasn’t good enough. I thought that wasn’t good enough, because I was good at reading and thinking critically and writing long essays, but I wasn’t good at all those things that you see people bragging about on social media. Getting an ‘A’ on an assignment doesn’t exactly get you the same kind of attention as receiving a diamond ring from your sweetheart, even if you pulled an all-nighter to do it.

But the thing is, we all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses. We can work on our weaknesses, most certainly, but being honest about ourselves, being aware of who we are as a person, will make it much easier to work on those weaknesses than ignoring them ever would.

And maybe we will have the picture-perfect, bragging-rights-on-social-media type of life someday. But if we are ever going to achieve that, then it shouldn’t be forced, and it shouldn’t be created despite discomfort; it should all happen naturally. Otherwise, we aren’t really happy, are we?

And maybe we won’t ever achieve that sort of life, and that’s okay too. Maybe your happiness comes from sources different from other people’s happiness. Maybe your happiness isn’t found in a baby’s laugh, or a lover’s embrace, or a high-paying so-called ‘real job’. Maybe you have to create your own happiness – but just so long as it is happiness, does it really matter? As long as it is peaceful and natural and fulfilling, then it is valid. You are valid. You are enough.

I think that many of us get so easily caught up in jealousy because we have this internalized idea that we aren’t right, or we aren’t enough. We might not even be aware that this is so, but we feel it nonetheless. And when we are jealous, then we try to take lives that are not made for us. We try to force ourselves to do things that we are not ready for, and that we did not want, just because we think we aren’t valid if we don’t.

Just because you haven’t fulfilled the same accomplishments as some of your peers quite yet, that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever fulfill them. Every single human being is different; every single human being grows and develops at their own pace. There is no need to rush if you are not ready, because what you want will come to you in its own time. It’s okay if you aren’t there yet. So, for now, just have faith in that, and find comfort in the knowledge that what you are right now is exactly what you should be.

This article is part of a series about the yamas. To read more, click here:

Ahimsa

Satya