The Beast of Beauty 11/10

November 2010

stuffing bra

When in China in 1998, I noticed local women were trying hard to look like western women. It wasn’t limited to trying to be taller and bigger breasted. Who doesn’t want that? Billboards were loaded with images of Chinese women with unusually white skin.

One day at an outdoor teahouse, the sun made a rare appearance through the smog. I watched women move for cover in fear of tanning their naturally beautiful color, while I coveted a spot in the sun.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Yang Yunxia was quoted in our local newspaper saying, "Big eyes and a straight bridge are signs of beauty." Today’s Chinese women (and men) are increasingly choosing to have eyelid and nasal bridge reconstruction in hopes of improving their chances of finding mates, getting better jobs or both.

So easterners are abandoning the features that make them uniquely Asian in an attempt to look more like westerners, while westerners aren’t any more at peace with their reflection.

What is beauty? That is a question we could study in depth, as history and geography tell different tales. In Mauritania, on the west coast of Africa, young girls go to fat camps where they are force-fed 14,000 – 16,000 calories a day in order to fetch a good husband. Critical obesity, complete with stretch marks, is not only sexy, but is viewed as a symbol of wealth.

As African women risk their health to be large, some western women (and girls) risk their health attempting to be thin. If we don’t rely on the media or the opposite sex to tell us what is beautiful, just how do we know what is beautiful?

I see beauty in the wrinkles of a dried-up apple, or in the layers of color and texture in a field of dead grass. It’s not just an apple or a field to me. Is it my inner artist? Is it wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept about the beauty of imperfection – think dried up apples. According to Wikipedia, "Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."

With that in mind, I ask again, what is beauty? Like most things it’s really determined by our perception, isn’t it?

Before you attempt to lose weight for beauty’s sake, think about what being more beautiful will get you? What is it you really want? In what additional ways can your goal(s) be accomplished?

I am not dismissing the value of weight loss. I am encouraging you to investigate your thoughts, your true goals. Clients always say they want to lose weight because they want to feel better about themselves (among other things). That feeling can be temporary if you’re only working on your weight – your body, versus all the worthy aspects of you that come from mind and spirit.

While you’re thinking about that, remember: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. As Picasso said, "If there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint a hundred canvases on the same theme."

If you’re thinking about escaping to Mauritania, investigate what’s beautiful about you, just the way you are. Think about all that is authentic. Think wabi-sabi. See yourself as anyone who loves you sees you.

Recognizing your own beauty doesn’t mean you become complacent about your current condition. It means you work from a healthier frame of mind, creating an environment that allows change to occur. Starving or stuffing is not the answer. Perhaps wabi-sabi is.