The below was posted on Talk To Jess a couple of years ago, and I re-read it today after I posted about my battle with my self-image. I thought it deserved reprinting here, if only so I can re-read it easier in the future...
Karly Randolph Pitman founded First Ourselves to help women love their bodies, embrace their divine worthiness, and make self-care a daily practice. Her dream? To help women face their stuff---whatever it is that holds them back----so that they may be free and clear to fulfill their unique purpose. Karly is a mother of four who feeds her spirit with long walks, pedicures, reading, and beautiful clothes. She makes her home in the mountains of Montana.
Why Beauty Matters -- Feeling beautiful, I've found, has very little to do with the reflection in the mirror, and everything to do with the inner landscape. In my work, I've talked with countless stunning women who can neither see nor accept their beauty. I've also spoken with size four women who aren't comfortable wearing a bathing suit in public; who bemoan their hips, butt, or thighs. Conversely, I know women who are at the heaviest they've ever been, and yet go swimming and clothes shopping with ease.I'll save answering why some women are at home in their bodies, and some chastise every flaw, for another day. I think a more interesting question is why beauty matters at all. Why should we care what we look like? Why does feeling beautiful matter so much to women?
The two aspects of beauty -- Beauty is tricky, because it does, and doesn't matter. No, in the grand scheme of things, our appearance isn't important. On our deathbeds, we won't lament the time we spent dieting or berating ourselves for being a size 10. We are ultimately spiritual beings; our true essence is not our physical self. Our beauty will change, and fade; our spirit, by contrast, grows and evolves.Yet we are not only spirit; we are also human. And our humanity brings all the challenges and blessings of living in a physical universe. Our bodies are a gift: the vehicle for experiencing the world through our senses. Our beauty is also a gift, something to be honored and appreciated and used, just as we honor, appreciate, and use our other earthly talents. For everything, there is a season. There is a season to relish your beauty, a season to enjoy your body, and that time is now.
Over focusing on the body -- The key to understanding beauty is to accept both aspects of ourselves, body and spirit. Each has its place. We become unbalanced and suffer pain when we lean too strongly towards one or the other. When we're too focused on our physical selves, we become rigid, perfectionistic, holding our bodies to impossible standards. We bemoan the onset of wrinkles, cellulite, gray hairs; we denigrate any wiggle or jiggle. We live for someday ("I'll take that dancing class when I lose fifteen pounds") and worship our youthful past. We white knuckle our sensuality, shame our natural human desire for sexual pleasure, satiating food, and physical comfort.Even worse is when we hate our bodies for unconforming to our impossible expectations. We think that somehow we can love ourselves while hating our bodies. But this is impossible. How you feel about your physical self influences your feelings about every part of you. Your physical body is in the house in which the rest of you---your spirit, mind, and emotions---resides. Hating the vessel pollutes every part. If you loathe your body, you loathe yourself. This is slavery to beauty; being in bondage. Bondage is when your self worth, how you feel about yourself as a person, is defined by your appearance. Your physical self will fluctuate. Some days, you'll look smashing. Some days, you won't. This is where your spirit comes in. If you appreciate your spirit, your being-ness, then you can accept the changes in your humanity without fear, knowing that wrinkles and cellulite don't change who you are.
Overfocusing on the spirit -- However, this doesn't mean we should ignore our bodies' needs. Sometimes we feel guilty for caring about our appearance at all, especially women who are focused on their spirituality. We feel unholy for wearing make-up or desiring pretty clothes. We feel egoic because we feel better when we look better. When we take time for a massage or a pedicure, we feel like we're indulging in something slightly sinful. This is shame talking; not your spirit. Shame is simply another form of slavery; another form of bondage. Focusing solely on the spirit, and ignoring the body's needs for rest, proper nutrition, exercise, and, yes, beauty, is just as harmful as overfocusing on the body. Devalueing your body is as painful as overvalueing your body (vanity): they are opposite sides of the same coin. It's human and natural to have a need for beauty, just as it's human and natural to have a need for rest, solitude, and peace. It's normal to want to feel pretty; to enjoy a new outfit; to pamper your body so that it can look its best. It's okay to indulge the body.
Balancing body and spirit -- But how do we acknowledge our need for beauty without become trapped by vanity? How do we navigate a world that defines beauty in narrow terms? How do we balance our humanity with our spirituality? The answer is twofold: self love, and self care. It takes both. Self care is what motivates you to exercise, eat food that makes you feel good, and rest when you're tired. It's also what inspires you to find a dress that makes you feel sexy, style your hair, and paint your toes lavender. Self care is treating yourself to a yoga class, silk sheets, and a makeover. Self love, by contrast, is what enables you to completely and deeply love and accept yourself at all times, when your toes aren't painted; when you're grungy and sweaty or camping in the woods. Self love is accepting the loss of your beauty with grace and levity. Self love is embracing the abundance of the universe, letting other women feel beautiful, too. Combining self love with self care is treating your body as well as, but not more importantly as, your spirit. It's embracing your humanity and your spirituality with equal measure. It's letting your inner beauty match your outer beauty, and apologizing for neither. It's expanding your definition of beauty to include you at your best, your worst, and everywhere in between. It is, in a word, freedom.