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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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.

 

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

Giving Others Your Light

There is this quote that I have seen bounced around on social media, by an unknown author:

“Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light”.

There’s something about this idea that struck me, and it has to be more than a somewhat accurate metaphor.

Perhaps it’s this idea of self-sacrifice (to this degree) being connected solely to good people, the implication being that, if you aren’t willing to douse your light for another, then you aren’t a good person. And perhaps this wasn’t the author’s intent when they produced the quote; more than anything, this quote strikes me as a lamentation about how unfair life is, that good people are harmed by doing good for others. But the idea that the only way to be considered a ‘good’ person is by putting out your light is, admittedly, an interesting one to me.

Or perhaps this quote struck me because I have known people who did, in fact, burn themselves up to give others light. I have known people who gave everything that they had, all of their time and energy, and it still wasn’t enough.

I have known people who do, in fact, expect others to sacrifice their light for them, and dismiss those people as ‘not good enough’ if they spare a little light for themselves.

But, personally speaking, I do not think that giving others everything you have, right down to the meat and marrow, is the only way to be a good person. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy.

This quote relies on an idea that we have in our society, that you need to give people your 100 percent greatest effort at all times, especially if they are family, or if you have made a commitment to them such as marriage. If you don’t do this, then you aren’t trying hard enough. If trying harms you emotionally, then that’s your problem that you need to work on, because that person needs your attention. Society has decided that you owe them that.

But the thing is, a relationship between two people should not be draining.

You should not feel like you are a candle, melting away to give light to others; ideally, you should feel like the moon: solid, stable, giving light effortlessly and receiving light in return.

Remaining in a toxic relationship and allowing the other person to drain you away to nothing does not make you a good person, and walking out of that relationship does not make you a bad one. These really are not moral questions. If someone is hurting you, or making you feel like you are diminishing, then sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away, for our own sake. Because not everyone in this world is going to make us feel this way; sometimes certain people just aren’t good for us, and it doesn’t matter if they are family or if we have made some sort of commitment to them in the past. Sometimes, the only thing that good people can do is leave.

And maybe that does mean that the other person has to go without light for a little bit, but they will find it again, even if they have to create their own. But if you allow yourself to burn out completely, you may never get yourself back. You only have one you, so value it.

There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first from time to time. There is nothing wrong with needing your own light for a bit. We put too much emphasis on giving everything we have to others, that sometimes, we forget that we need to give something to ourselves as well, and this doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us human.