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.

 

Advertisements

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

This Is Your Truth

I believe that, nine times out of ten, people usually know what they want out of a scenario.

I believe that everyone has a little voice at the back of their mind, and this voice is usually the first one to react to something new. Sometimes it will react with excitement, in that brief moment of time before fear and the cycle of over-thinking kicks in. This voice is the one that reaches for your dream, the one that knows where you want to go and what will make you happy in the long run, but we so often bury it with doubt and fear and self-consciousness, just as soon as it has its chance to speak.

Sometimes this voice will react with distaste. Sometimes this voice is the one that begs you to get out of a scenario, please, because whatever is happening is killing your soul or your happiness or your dreams. Sometimes we listen to this voice when this happens, and sometimes we proceed to bury it beneath so-called ‘logic’.

We have this strange tendency to keep trying to bury the voice.

And sometimes, what the voice demands does come across as a little bit unrealistic. For example, when the voice is demanding that you quit your job immediately but there are still bills to be paid, then it might make sense to teach the voice a thing or two about patience. But, overall, I think that the voice is incredibly important.

Overall, I believe that this voice is where your truth lives. This voice is your satya.

And there might be many reasons why you would want to ignore the voice. Fear is a very strong one; fear is a great motivator. Sometimes, what the voice demands of us requires immense change, change that we do not know if we are capable of. The voice might put us at risk for rejection, disappointment, or failure, and all of this can be incredibly difficult to live with. The voice imagines beautiful, wondrous situations for us, and then our fear barges in to ask what we will do if those situations don’t become reality. And, more times than not, we don’t really have an answer.

But here’s the thing about fear – it’s sort of necessary if we’re going to lead any sort of fulfilling life. When our world is about to change, then fear is going to creep up on us, but if we don’t face it and keep going anyway, then our world stays the same. We never learn anything new. We never grow as individuals. Our situation in life never changes – and, sure, facing your fear isn’t a guarantee that your situation would change, but not doing it is a guarantee that it won’t.

You can give into fear, and nobody will claim that that isn’t a very human thing to do. But, end of day, the only way that you are going to lead a fulfilling life is by taking a chance and listening to the voice.

Connected to fear, expectation might be another huge reason why you would not want to listen to the voice. Maybe these are your own expectations – about how the world should be, or about how you should be. Maybe these are the expectations of others, being enforced on you. Maybe you silence the voice because you believe that the voice is telling you to do something that isn’t normal, that isn’t accepted. Similar to this idea of fear, you don’t want to be rejected. You don’t want to be told that you are wrong for who you are, and this can mean anything from dressing the way that you want, to being openly LGBT.

These expectations might try to tell you who you should be, but this voice exists for a reason. And this voice won’t go away, no matter how much you try to silence it.

If you avoid this voice for too long, then you simply become resentful. If you ignore this voice, then you begin to wonder how differently your life could have been had you listened to it from the beginning. You become regretful at best, convincing yourself that it is now too late to change anything, and at worst, you become resentful toward those others who actually gave in and listened to what the voice had to say. You call them “stupid” or “weird”, because they had the right circumstances or the courage to do what you never allowed yourself to.

And as I mentioned before, your voice won’t be correct one hundred percent of the time. Sometimes, you need to find a balance between your truth and the world’s logic. Sometimes, you need to stick with that dead-end, soul-crushing job, all while actively seeking out the job that the voice is pushing you toward. Sometimes, the voice does make things incredibly difficult, and sometimes you might curse the voice for putting you in these situations. But the thing about the voice is, even when you’re frustrated with it and you wish that you could do something else, you don’t truly mean it. When you give into the voice, then you know that you could not do anything else and still be satisfied. You know that this is your one and only option to ever truly grow and develop and be happy – if not today, then at least tomorrow.

Because this voice is more purely you than anything that your fears and doubts and expectations might say. All you need to do is sit yourself down, try to quiet everything else down, and really, truly listen.

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

Ahimsa

Asteya

Do No Harm, Not Even To Yourself

If you identify as a yogi, then chances are, you’re aware of the term ‘ahimsa’.

For those of you who aren’t aware, ahimsa is one of the five yamas, or the moral and ethical guidelines that yogis try to live by. And ahimsa specifically refers to this idea of doing no harm, or engaging in no violence.

Ahimsa can be translated in many different ways in our life.

In the specific scenario of practicing yoga, ahimsa can be utilized by listening to your body. You never push yourself beyond what you are capable of. You do not cause yourself injury, and if you think that you might, then you back off a bit and forgive yourself, in full knowledge that if you just keep practicing, then you will eventually be able to push further, much safer.

I have heard ahimsa utilized as an explanation for why someone is a vegan or vegetarian – because they do not want to cause harm to any living creature on this planet.

We might frequently think about ahimsa utilized when it comes to our relationships. Ahimsa is an explanation for why we should not try to hurt other people. Why we should refrain from violence, or from intentionally harming another person’s psyche.

Yet, there is another use of the word ‘ahimsa’, one that I think is vital for everyone, yogi or otherwise, and one that I think needs to come before we utilize ahimsa in our relationships.

We need to practice ahimsa for ourselves.

And I’m talking about a very similar concept to practicing ahimsa in yoga: whenever something isn’t benefiting us, when it is only going to harm us in the long run, then we need to learn when to back off. And, I know, this sounds like common sense to most of us, but I think that there are many factors – some external, some internal – that makes us frequently push ourselves too far for our own health.

Expectations, for example, can be a form of harm that we put on ourselves – whether these be the expectations that others have put on us, the expectations that we put on ourselves, or the expectations that we place on the world at large. When we are constantly striving to prove something, first and foremost, we have a tendency to do harm to ourselves in an attempt to reach that goal. We sacrifice mental health. We pick ourselves apart, creating deep insecurities and self-hatred. We hurt ourselves, without even meaning to.

And according to the practice of ahimsa, all of this is a sign that we need to back off a bit on our expectations. Ease up. Allow things to be as they are, all in the faith that someday, they will grow to become something better. But we will not grow if we are constantly causing ourselves harm.

And there are millions of ways that we cause ourselves harm, every day.

We cause ourselves harm by holding onto toxic relationships that no longer serve us.

We cause ourselves harm by demanding that we fit into a specific image – that we be strong and silent and selfless and beautiful.

We cause ourselves harm when we allow people to hurt us, all in the effort to avoid hurting them.

And as a woman who lives in a society that tells my gender that we should be self-sacrificing at any given turn, as a person who has struggled with depression and anxiety, as someone who has literally self-harmed and battled eating disorders, I am no stranger to doing harm to myself.

But by doing harm to myself, I began to learn just how important self-love is. Because if you cannot love yourself, then you cannot fight for yourself. You cannot stand up and tell people when they are treating you in a way that you do not deserve to be treated.

When you cannot love yourself, then that opens you up to a plethora of harmful behaviours. It might create judgement or jealousy, as you look down on others who have what you feel you lack. When you feel angry about who you are as a person, then you take that anger out on other people, even if they had nothing to do with it.

When you cannot love yourself, then you cannot properly give love to the world around you. And, likewise, when you cause harm to yourself, then you cause harm to the world around you. That is because love will always start with you.

Part of ahimsa, in all of its translations, is simply accepting who you are as a person. Accepting that you are limited, but that you possess the ability to grow if you give yourself the chance to do so. This is why we back off on yoga poses that might cause us harm. This is why we stop being so hard on ourselves and the way that we look, or the place that we are in in our daily lives. Just because we can’t do something today, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to tomorrow – all it means is that we have to give ourselves time and patience to get to that place, and if we hurt ourselves in the process, then we stunt that growth. And it is easy to give time and patience to other people, but it is rarely natural for us to give it to ourselves. And we need it. We need it if we are ever going to grow, and do some lasting good in the world and in our lives.

So, breathe. Forgive yourself for what you perceive to be your faults. Give yourself time and self-care and a cookie, if you need it. And remember: do no harm, not even to yourself.

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

Satya

Asteya

What It Takes To Be A Great Artist

An artist is an interesting breed of person.

An artist needs to be confident. As in, it’s a requirement for the job.

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be convinced that you have something important to add to the world. Whether that be some sort of message, some sort of insight, some sort of style. Maybe it’s something that existed before, but the world hasn’t seen it done by you yet. You need to be convinced that that matters. That somewhere out there, someone is going to be affected by what you do.

And you need to be convinced of this, because how can you be an artist if you aren’t? How can you stand by your work and assert that it needs to be seen if you don’t think anyone needs to see it?

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be so confident that you can withstand being told that you’re awful. You need to accept that you will be publicly ripped to pieces, that anyone, at any moment, can look at the thing that means the most to you in the entire world, and they might say that it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. You’re going to have to accept that you’re going to receive criticism, and so much criticism that it almost sounds like they’re telling you to stop doing what you’re doing, even if the words never legitimately leave their lips. And you need to be prepared to hear all of this, and still keep doing what you’re doing. You need to hear all of this, and you need to remain firm in your belief that you still have something important to say, that this is still something that you need to do.

And I mean it when I say that: need to do. Not want. Want isn’t strong enough, if you’re going to be an artist. Nobody endures this for a simple want.

Because, if you’re going to be an artist, then you can’t just be confident. You need to be humble as well.

Because you can withstand all the criticism that you need. You can laugh it off, let it roll off your back like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. But that won’t help you improve. And you can only go so far without improving.

The greatest artists listen to the criticism that they receive, and they think about it. They accept that there might be some truth in it. Because the greatest artists accept that, while they have something important to say, they are not perfect. And they never will be perfect. The greatest artists are human, and they know that they will always have room to grow and improve and create.

And maybe they don’t take every criticism to heart. They just think about it. Consider it. Decide if they agree with it, and if they do, then they apply it to their work. And this, ideally, will make their work better.

An artist’s growth comes from their ability to apply criticism. An artist’s longevity comes from their ability to insist on their importance. And, overall, an artist’s very existence is dependant on a balance between these two.

But the problem with being dependant on these two opposing forces is that they will battle one another, and sometimes in the most inconvenient ways.

Sometimes, your confidence might overpower, and you will refuse to listen to anyone’s advice. Anyone who tries to tell you what to do will immediately be dismissed as stupid, or wrong. And that’s okay – just as long as you remember, at the end of the day, that other people might have valid points as well.

Sometimes, your humbleness might overpower to the point that it becomes self-consciousness, and you internalize all of the criticisms that you have heard. You find yourself thinking them as your own thoughts – you wonder if you actually do have anything worthwhile to say. You wonder if there’s any point to trying. You wonder if you should stop.

Trust me, this has happened to me many, many times over. And when it does, I always return to that idea of need. This is what I need to do, I can’t give up. If I did, who would I be?

This is the thought that keeps pushing me through the moments of self-consciousness, just long enough for me to become convinced again that I have something important to say.

These things come in waves, you see? Sometimes one thought. Sometimes the other. Sometimes, perfect balance. And different artists will experience these thoughts in different ways, in different amounts. And that’s okay. So long as you insist on maintaining both. Because it’s in that place of balance that a great artist can be borne.