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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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

Why Being The Real You Can Be Frightening

There are a few details about me that I am, for the most part, very out and proud about, that some might consider controversial.

For example, probably the lesser of all these details, is that I have short hair, shaved into a pink mohawk. I don’t exactly live up to the stereotyped image of the punk-rock party girl; I’m rebellious in your typical let’s-smash-the-patriarchy sort of way, not so much in a let’s-do-hard-drugs-all-night sort of way, but I like my mohawk. It’s cute. It’s stylish. And it’s surprisingly easy to maintain, despite the constant questions of “oh my god, how do you manage to keep it up all the time?”

And, yes, I’m aware of the assumptions that might arise about me because I have a mohawk; that I’m trying too hard to be cool, that I’m not pretty or ‘feminine’ enough, yadda yadda yadda. I’m aware of these assumptions, but I always try to remind myself that these assumptions are wrong. I am totally feminine enough, and I’m damn beautiful, thank you very much.

Like I said, I always try to remind myself of this.

On another note, I have proudly and openly identified as a feminist ever since I was about twenty years old. That isn’t to say that I didn’t believe in women’s rights before then (heck, I’ve sort of been wrapped up in the whole ‘girl power’ thing ever since my days of watching Sailor Moon in kindergarten). But before my twentieth year, when I was taking a women’s studies course at my university, I was always a little bit too aware of the assumptions that followed women who identified directly with the word ‘feminist’.

The assumption that all feminists were essentially black holes that sucked all the fun out of the room. The assumption that all feminists were man-haters, or stuck-up, or generally more hateful than they were loving. The assumption that all feminists were overly-aggressive bitches, fighting battles that had already been won because they wanted so desperately to stay relevant. I didn’t agree with any of these assumptions, but I was aware of them, and being aware of them was enough to make me distance myself from the label.

And then, when I was twenty, I took a women’s studies course at my university, and I learned all about how important and relevant feminism still is. And I decided that all of these assumptions were wrong, just an attempt to undermine a movement with a powerful message. I decided that I really needed to identify as a feminist if I was going to help make the world a better, more equal place for everyone.

Once again, I try to ignore the assumptions that follow me around.

On a third note, I’ve been bisexual pretty much from the moment I started to exist as a person. I first realized that I was when I was about ten years old. I first came out of the closet when I was sixteen. I first retreated back into the closet when I was eighteen. I came out of the closet for the second time when I was nineteen. Basically, what I’m getting at here is that, coming to terms with my own sexual orientation has been a long and difficult road for me, and a big part of the reason for that is… well, the assumptions that I knew followed bisexual people around.

I knew that there was this assumption that bisexual people didn’t exist – they were just confused heterosexual or homosexual people. Or, bisexual people were greedy, or dirty, or “special snowflakes”. I knew that 47 percent of people won’t date a bisexual person because of these assumptions, and that bisexual people experience alienation and exclusion within the LGBT community because of them. As a living specimen of bisexuality, I had a hard time buying into these assumptions, but at the same time, the knowledge that these assumptions would follow me around kept me in the closet.

And then, when I was nineteen years old, I basically just came to conclusion of “fuck it” and forced myself out of the closet, for better or worse. I knew who I was. I knew that these assumptions were false. I knew that the best way to prove that they were false was by going out there and being the best damn bisexual person I could be.

So, again, I tried.

I hope you’ve noticed this key word that comes up over and over again: tried.

Because, here’s the thing: I’m proud of everything that I just told you about. I don’t waver in my conviction when it comes to any of it. If I’m only ever known as that bisexual feminist with the bright pink mohawk, well then, there are worse things to be known as, aren’t there? I’m cool with it. I’m happy.

Except, every single time that I meet with someone new, I find myself doing the exact same fucking thing: I shy away. I dread adding them on my social media accounts before they can get to know me, because I know that, sooner rather than later, they’re going to notice that I talk an awful lot about feminism and the importance of combating biphobia, and they’re going to make assumptions about me based on that.

And I know, logically, that it’s stupid of me to fear that. I know the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote: “Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in” (this quote also works for friends and biphobic female-dating-potentials). And yet, just the same, the part of my brain that still wants to please everyone won’t turn itself the hell off sometimes.

This is a character flaw in me; I shouldn’t go out of my way to please people who would be so quick to dismiss me. I am aware of it. I am working on it. But I thought that it might be constructive to work on it, you know, publicly, just so that everyone can see me admit, right here and now, that being yourself despite all public assumption is difficult. It’s something that you need to work on.

Being yourself is not a light switch: you don’t just come from off to on, just like that, even if, on the outside, it may appear that you have. Being yourself takes a fuck-ton of time and self-confidence and training yourself to not be afraid of what others might think, and it takes more of all that than I currently have. But that doesn’t mean that being yourself isn’t worthwhile.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m ashamed of who I am; I’m not. I love who I am, and the moments when I am most free, most me, have been some of the most fulfilling moments in my life. I wouldn’t give up any of it for the world.

And I sincerely hope that everybody can know that level of freedom and fulfilment. I hope that you, dear reader, can read this and think about the thing that you’ve been hiding from people for years because you were afraid of the assumptions that they might make. I hope that you can take that thing, and you can start talking about it. You can open up, re-introduce yourself to people who have yet to meet the real you. And, most importantly, when you find yourself faced with the assumptions that will, inevitably, come (or, hell, even just your own fear of these assumptions), then you can find it within yourself to decide that this still matters. This is still who you are, and who you are is valid, and important, and deserves to be recognized for more than just the stereotype that others have created around them.

Just because someone assumes something about you, that doesn’t mean it’s true. It might sting, and it might be unfair, but end of day, it has nothing to do with you, and more to do with their limited view of the world. So introduce them to a better world. Expand their mind, force them to see what more can exist, by being your true self. It won’t be easy, no, but it will be amazing.

And, besides, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so eloquently pointed out: isn’t being true to yourself more important than pleasing some close-minded person who doesn’t even see you as an equal?