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Citrus Fruits

The cult of beauty

Myth: People who are truly spiritual are above things like money, luxury cars, fancy houses, formal education with high-ranked universities, makeup and beauty standards.

Myth #2: True yogis are exempt from stress, they keep their cool in all situations. They are a mix of Yoda and a bald monk in a sarong walking exclusively with flip-flops, talking exclusively in proverbs that make no sense for you and me, common muggles.

If it is true that the traditional aim of Yoga is illumination (Samadhi), it is crazy to think that everyone on Earth can be a small Buddha without consequences: imagine 8 billion meditating in a cave all day every day, and you can start to imagine the problems.

Yogis – even teachers – are humans and their personality doesn’t disappear the minute they start a Sun Salutation. Our past, our upbringings, our quirks, our skills, but also our flaws, our trauma, our opinions and our personal desires come with us on the mat.

Most of us don’t improve our bodies and minds to be better at Yoga. It is quite the opposite: Yoga is meant to help us get better at life. Yoga is meant to keep us healthy inside out. The Asanas (postures), initially meant to keep us sitting for hours meditating, will allow us to move our body freely without pain, to walk until our old age or to carry our kids around. The mastery of the breath, used to rebalance our energies and calm our minds, will allow us to manage the stress of handling emails and exams, children’s baths and that annoying person cutting line in traffic. Meditation will give us space to think about what really matters to us, our family and our careers, rather than being carried away by an argument about dirty dishes.

There is nothing inherently wrong about wanting a comfortable house or wanting to look our best. The intention, however, matters more than the object of our desire. I talked in a previous article (here) about money and materialism. Desire to belong, to feel interesting and competent, and to be loved and desired are fundamentally human. They are at the core of our human experience and key to our happiness.

What is the opposite of belonging? Rejection. (I talk about how to get over it here).

Humans are so afraid of rejection, that we internalize it even before it can happen to us. That is how we create shame.

According to the n°1 expert on the topic Brené Brown, shame can belong to 12 categories, which themselves belong to 3 core themes: body image and health, relationships and social status.

Obviously, these will affect us differently depending on our personal situation, and the mindset of the people close to us (does our family, partner, or friends tend to judge or shame us easily?), but also on a broader level on the norms set by our workplace or school and what we perceive to be required from us by the society in which we live and, by extension, in the media.

Why do we feel so pressured to be beautiful? More than that, we feel the need to be hot.

We need to look great in all circumstances and at all ages. At school, at work, at the gym, on social media. At 16, 30, 45 and 60. Months after having a baby, curing cancer or fighting cancer. Not just for us (even if we say so), but for our parents, our partners, the cute guy who works at the grocery store, and the girl from the cafeteria.

Beauty standards affect all of us and seem both more ridiculous and severe with the years, but they affect women disproportionately (Brennan, Lalonde, & Bain, 2010). In her book, The Beauty Myth (1990), Naomi Wolf describes in detail how beauty has been associated with a woman’s worth and has slowly taken over the previous dominant shame schemes associated with being a housewife.

What used to be a bonus to an arranged marriage to secure a family’s prosperity or an indicator of health and wealth (more like the absence of incurable or congenital diseases and good nutrition) has now become an obsession and a way to judge people’s worth.

Contentment (Santosha) and kindness for oneself (Ahimsa) can be difficult to attain when it feels like the world wants us to fit a mould, and when our reptilian brain says that our survival depends on it.

Regaining our power will not happen by pretending that all bodies are beautiful (especially since beauty is individually and socially subjective!), but by reflecting on what are our bodies for in the first place.

What can we do with them? What can they do for us? How much joy can we derive from tasting a good meal, playing tennis or looking at the sunset? How much importance do we want to grant to what it looks like compared to what it can accomplish? How do we take care of them with love? How much does our appearance weigh in our happiness compared to the time spent with our family or our contribution at work? How much do we want to care about what people think of it? And how do we let them?

Body neutrality is giving less importance to what the body looks like, and more to what it can do. It is also to acknowledge that in some circumstances, beauty doesn’t have to matter at all. It is to recognize when we have natural biases (hello pretty privilege!) and learn to treat others equally, no matter their looks.

There is little to be said in the practice of Yoga about what the body ought to look like, but a lot to be explored about its health and maintenance through the years, about its power to carry our energy (prana) and intentions, and about its ability to connect to our mind and, by extension, to others and to the rest of the Universe.

This week I invite you to self-compassion, kindness and reflection. I invite you to feel from within and to move with love.

Reference: Daring Greatly, (Brené Brown, 2012); Myth of Beauty, Naomi Wolf (1990); Male vs. Female Body Image (Brennan, Lalonde, & Bain, 2010)

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