I’ve been thinking lot about beauty. It started from a negative place. I compared by pale skin to the beautifully tanned skin of fellow backpackers. I don’t tan very easily. My skin tone is very light, when I do colour I usually burn. Also, I’m trying to comply with the clothing standards here. When I travel, I like to take whatever most local women wear in the country as a measure for what is appropriate. That means that I’ve decided that during my travels I will be covering my shoulders and upper thighs at all times (the beach being the only exception). So apart from my natural complexion, this choice is also the reason huge parts of my body never even see the sun here, hence don’t tan.
Different people have different bodies. When it comes to beauty, here is some food for thought:
1. Gain some perspective on the relativity of beauty standards
As I said, I was in a negative place about this whole thing. My first day at the Cambodian beach, I felt a bit like the ugly duckling. Then these local women approach us, trying to sell manicures, pedicures and other bodily care services. One of them touches my arm and says my skin is so beautiful and light and she wants to trade skins. Just like you will find tanning lotions in most Western countries, they have products to make your skin lighter in other countries. From experience, I know lighter skin is a beauty ideal in India and Cambodia at least. Ten minutes later, another woman who gives pedicures comes up to me and says the exact same thing, how she would like to trade skins. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
When you look at fashion history, you will discover that every era comes with its own standard: from big boobs to small boobs, rounded curvy hips to flat boyish features. If beauty is so relative, you know your perception of your own beauty is also relative and changeable. You can transform your image of beauty into a healthier standard than the ones surrounding you. If beauty is so relative, it can be anything you want it to be. Decide that you are beautiful, whether or not your body complies to the relative beauty standards (which are often unachievable anyways) of the time and place that you just happen to live in.
2. Realize that changing your body will never make it more perfect than it already is.
Why is it that women always seek to desire things of their body that aren’t natural? Why is it that you would want a darker skin while you have a light one, or lighter one when you have a dark one? Why is it that you can get so focused on removing every single hair on your legs while hairs are just a natural result of the way our body grows and functions? Why do you reject what is naturally given to you? Every tiny hair is just there, carrying out its function until someone randomly decided that it would be more feminine for it to not be there. What nonsense do you tell yourself? How can removing parts of the female body result in being ‘more feminine’? I always wished I had big, dark, curly eyelashes. The reality is that mine are very short and light. But what nonsense to even think such idle thoughts! My eyelashes perfectly catch my sweat, raindrops and they protect my eyes from getting hurt. What else should they be, apart from being exactly what they are?
How perfectly does your body recover, heal your wounds when you get cut, do everything it can to make you function to the best it can?
Think about how wonderfully your feet and legs bring you places, make you move to whatever location you wish, whatever their shape or length. Think about the beautiful ways your eyes make you soak up the wonders of this world. Think about the sounds and voices you can hear, the music you can absorb through your ears, whatever their size, whether they have earrings or not. Think about how your skin so skilfully manages your temperature, how your sweat helps to cool you off, how your skin forms a protection layer between your inside body parts and the outer world.
Why do you get so fed up with beauty ideals? Why do you want to spend so much time, energy and money on changing the appearance you were born with? Doesn’t it make more sense to embrace your body, every part of it?
3. Go on a make-up/mirror diet
While travelling, looking into the mirror happens only sporadically. You’re always on the move, and when public toilets have running water and a toilet seat they pretty much are of a fancier type. Forget about soap, toilet paper and mirrors.
Every now and then I will go on a ‘make-up fast’: I don’t wear make-up for a certain period of time as a way to become less attached to these outer appearances and more comfortable being in my own skin without any artificial ways of enhancing my features. I haven’t worn any make-up since I’ve travelled. In this case it has a more practical reason. I don’t have anyone around me I would like to feel beautiful for and honestly it’s just too much effort and too hot.
You could try to do the same if you experience feelings of fear and shame surrounding your body. You may find a certain freedom in detaching yourself from mirrors and make-up for a while. I’m not saying these things are bad in themselves. It can be very nice to enhance your features and feel more confident when taking care of yourself. However, as with everything it’s a matter of balance.
4. Start the habit of thanking your body parts for doing their job
I started thanking my body parts for carrying out their function: ‘Thank you ears, for allowing me to hear. Thank you feet, for walking me around. Thanks stomach, for somehow transforming the food I eat into energy to feed the rest of my body. Hello body, I really appreciate you slowly but steadily healing my blisters.’
And you know what? I find that thanking my body, however flawed it may seem by my distorted perspective, makes me feel a whole lot better about it than pointing out ways it should be different from what it naturally is.
I might not be completely healed. Cultural beauty standards are hard to compete with in the sense that they are so loud and omnipresent. It might take me a lot of time and practice to be completely content with every part of my body. But I know what I want. I want to feel confident in my own skin, own every part of it, be immensely grateful for all of it and radiate a glow of self-confidence. If there is a way to positive change, I think I am on the right track.