As a mother of a daughter, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to teach her about beauty. The power, the responsibilities, the privileges and the pitfalls. But more than anything, I believe it's my job to teach her what "beautiful" actually means. It's my job to give her a true and meaningful definition of beauty that gives her a foundation that's strong enough to withstand the multi-billion-dollar-backed message that she's not pretty enough.
And girls aren't the only target anymore. Among my colleagues, the conversation has turned more and more toward the parallel pressures that men now feel. According to Travis Stock, "The images of masculine beauty have increasing skewed toward the mythic, god-like bodies shown in fitness magazines." Michael Trotta agrees, "With greater regularity, I am hearing men complain about their their looks, especially those reaching middle age. At a life stage when a man might best know the monarch that lies within, he is today in a desperate search for his lost crown. This tragic misunderstanding of himself often leads to the projection of impossible expectations on the entire kingdom that might be his."
If we rely on the beauty industry, the fashion industry, the diet industry or the fitness industry to determine our definition of beauty, not only will we be striving for a perfection that is not attainable by anything other than smoke, mirrors and Photoshop; we'll also create an enormous amount of suffering for ourselves, for our sons and for our daughters. We will also miss an extraordinary opportunity for joy, contentment and peace.
My work has completely redefined beauty for me. At my retreats and trainings, I have seen, time and again, people become more beautiful throughout the day. When I say I’ve seen it, I’m not speaking metaphorically. With my own eyes, I have seen the faces of people that I know, intimately and deeply, change in front of me. People who have held pain and guilt and shame for years literally drop each mask of suffering. I have watched them shine brighter and more lovely as the hours pass. I have seen them shape-shift from burdened and gray to glowing and golden. I have seen them upright their spines and grow taller. I have seen the blue or green or brown of their eyes become a deeper and more translucent shade during the course of an afternoon. I’ve seen people frozen in their lives and in their bodies come to life like flowers that have finally found sunshine and water.
That's what I call beautiful.
Take a moment to think about your definition of beauty. Think of a snowflake, a wild animal, a mountainscape, a piece of fine art, a beloved poem, an old tree, your favorite song, or the kindness of humanity. Can you create a definition of beauty that includes you among these things?
When Pablo Neruda spoke of a beauty, he said, "As if you were on fire within / The moon lives in the lining of your skin."
What would happen if we adopted Neruda's definition of beauty for our daughters? For our sons? For ourselves?
What if, when we looked in the mirror, we only noticed how brightly we shine, or the intensity of the fire burning from within us, or the moonlight in the lining of our skin?
In her poem, Weathering, Fleur Adcock says, "I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty and only pretty enough to be seen with a man who wanted to be seen with a passable woman. But now that I am in love with a place that doesn't care how I look and if I am happy, happy is how I look and that's all."
For my daughter, for myself and for all of us, this would be my prayer to help heal our relationship to beauty:
May we find ourselves as if we are on fire from within. May we see the moonlight in the lining of our skin. May we all find that place that doesn't care how we look or if we are happy. And may we find that happy is how we look.