How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young–or slender. (William James)
Today’s quotation is all about acceptance—especially as it relates to age, weight, and physical form. It’s a tough concept for many as it speaks to a truth that one is seldom taught but may finally arrive at through the wear and tear of life experience.
Living in a society that prizes youth and beauty and profits economically from the fear of such natural and unavoidable processes as aging and death, we are often taught to compare, compete, struggle, and strive to achieve the “perfect” body image. As a cultivated and ever-changing cultural ideal, obtaining a desirable body image or chasing after the latest style can be like pursuing an arbitrary and ever-moving target.
It is important to remember that body image is but an image. As a mixture of the tangible physical body and intangible perceptions created by oneself and others, it is—and is not—real.
It is true that one’s body can be altered, changed, or dressed up to varying degrees and for various effects. Body image, as studies show, can enhance, adorn, compel, and attract. Whether obtaining partners or promotions, beauty in women and handsomeness in men has proven social and economic benefits.
It is also true that body image can, like a distant vaporous mirage on a hot day, deceive and distort. Assumptions about intelligence, aptitude, character, virtue, or any number of other human attributes may not be congruent with external packaging. For better or worse, body image is but the outer shell of the “person package.” Whether glossy or plain, loose or form-fitting, the wrapping may enhance (or obscure) the real (or perceived) value of the gifts of the human being inside. Misperceptions and false appraisals of oneself and others occur all the time.
With a multi-billion dollar health, dieting, and beauty industry providing the public and professionals with research and marketing messages for increasingly attainable perfection, it can be difficult to accept and love ourselves as the loving and lovable souls we are. Whether caterpillar or butterfly, ugly duckling or swan, it is important to recognize and celebrate that the soul, spirit, or essence is the same.
We are not just exposed to messages extolling the virtues of physical perfection, we are immersed in them. It can be hard to recognize and buffer against the unfortunate value judgments that no amount of external repackaging may temper. While there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting and working towards the enhanced self-esteem and social acceptance that can come from customary appraisals of proportioned, aligned, and symmetrical attractiveness (especially if it hinders a sense of belonging or success in the social world), it is always important to temper this with a healthy appreciation of diversity and the many all-important aspects of inner beauty and worth.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the deepest and most eternal forms of love transcend anything as fleeting as external body image. To be preoccupied with body image—literally an “image” of what is relatively real—is to dwell unduly upon the “person package” rather than the heart, mind, soul, spirit, and essence inside.
To spend precious time developing one’s exterior, the shell or vehicle that transports the most precious cargo of human potential, is to embark upon a journey that leads away from the deepest forms of connection with the social-emotional, psychological, and spiritual inner self.
In the dating world, personal “stats” such as age, height, weight, hair and eye colour determine all—very often neglecting consideration of other social, emotional, personality or character attributes that may make a desirable and compatible long-term partner. While there will always be a place for research, education, and innovation that improves the quality and quantity of life, it is just as important to be aware of one’s heart, mind, and character as an authentic and fully integrated person in the world. Personal vanity need not become a socially sanctioned end in itself.
While it might seem that preoccupation with the quality and quantity of life would be desirable, there is a higher ideal—a life of fulfillment and a serene, graceful, and loving acceptance of one’s place in the world exactly as we are. For me, this would be the same untainted innocence and joy-filled beauty that children are born with before socialization, education, and experience make them self-conscious and uneasy.
As inherently precious and worthwhile human beings with awe-inspiring human potential, I dream of all children and fully grown “inner children ” radiating joy, security, and serenity as they fully occupy a treasured place in their unique body and the world.