When we were growing up—in the 80’s—there was only one real beauty standard (white, thin, blonde), and only a few media channels through which we were educated (magazines, newspapers, television, and the movies). Now, there are many, rapidly-evolving ideas about what is beautiful, thanks to modernized attitudes about diversity, representation, and inclusion. There are infinitely more channels through which multitudes of beauty standard ideals—some of which are more toxic than ever—are being disseminated, faster, and with even more high tech photo-altering capabilities.
Over the weekend I was at a meditation retreat and was telling two participants about my new book, Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Embrace Your True Power. These women had a great question: Do you think that it’s easier to do this now than it was when we were growing up? I said, “It’s complicated.”
In this environment, which is arguably more accepting, it seems that young people are, ironically, forced to make more difficult choices about their bodies and identities, more swiftly. Social media also has encouraged everyone to falsify their reality, by only showing the “highlight reel.” The promise of beauty, perfection, and leisure still has a strong hold over all of us.
The cult of thinness hasn’t disappeared in a sea of diversity. In fact, it just may have gotten stronger. But there’s an upshot to the sharply increased volume of imagery, precisely because it shows a multitudes of possibility. It reveals a pathway, and an answer to how to end unrealistic beauty standards once and for all. This answer is simple, but not easy. Like yourself. Like your body, simply because it’s yours. Like your nose, simply because it belongs to you. Like your voice, just because it’s yours.
How to begin to like yourself? Here are five simple, but not easy steps:
1. Take the time to get to know yourself.
It is impossible to determine if you actually like yourself if you don’t know yourself. In yoga, this is the discipline of svadhayaya. Approach getting to know yourself as a lifelong journey of friendship.
2. Resource your friends to help.
Unsure what is likable about you? Ask your friends. There is a reason they want to spend time with you, that has nothing at all to do with how you look, or the shape of your body.
3. Identify the sticky points.
Everyone has things about themselves they don’t like. These are places of opportunity and growth.
4. Determine if the sticky points are really you, or simply habits you’ve acquired.
Sometimes the things we don’t like are not true or real to the core of our nature. This is where yoga is so helpful. Practice will encourage discernment or the ability to identify what is you, and what is unhelpful conditioning or samskara. (Note: samskara aren’t inherently bad! We can also have helpful conditioning).
5. Rid yourself of unhelpful habits; embrace the true core of you.
Sometimes what and who you really are isn’t what you would have hoped for. Being ourselves frequently has consequences, some that can be painful. Our task as humans is to like our core selves, no matter what. When you do the work of liking yourself, everything about you becomes beautiful. People who like themselves have a luminosity that eclipses the physical body. And, this is how we will, collectively, end unrealistic beauty standards once, and for all. Will you join me? Now, of course, what I’ve presented here is an incredibly condensed map. If you’re intrigued, and want to know more about making friend with your body, I hope that you will take a deeper dive, by reading my book.
Diversity in representation shows that liking yourself could emerge from looking like yourself, instead of like someone else. Paradoxically, body image acceptance isn’t really about your body at all. It’s about your spirit and your soul. When you like yourself—the being that lives within the body—the body is a joy, a gift, a delight, no matter what it looks like or what it can do. And when everyone likes themselves, then unrealistic beauty standards just bounce off boundaries composed of kindness and affection, and everyone simply goes on about their day unaffected emotionally, intellectual, spiritually. Simple. Not easy. If liking ourselves were so easy, we would have a very different world!
By Erica Mather
Author, Yoga Therapist, Forrest Yoga Guardian, and Master Teacher Erica Mather, M.A. is a life-long educator. She teaches people to feel better in, and about their bodies. Her book Your Body, Your Best Friend: End the Confidence-Crushing Pursuit of Unrealistic Beauty-Standards and Embrace Your True Power (New Harbinger, April 2020) is a 7-step spiritual journey helping women befriend their bodies and utilize them as tools and allies on their quest to live their best lives. Her Adore Your Body Transformational Programs help overcome body image challenges, and the Yoga Clinic of NYC supports students, teachers, and health professionals learn about empowered care for the body. Mather is a recognized body image expert and a Forrest Yoga lineage-holder, hand-selected by Ana Forrest to guide and mentor teachers while they learn about Forrest Yoga. She lives in New York City and teaches at PURE Yoga. Visit her at www.ericamather.com.