Sarah May Bates
August 16, 2015 1:48 pm

Have you ever looked at an old photo of yourself and seen yourself for the first time? You see how young and beautiful you were – and yet, all the times you looked at this photo previously, all beauty was obscured by a fixation on flaws.

Maybe you think back to the moment when that photo was taken and you recall feeling distracted and depressed at how bad you felt you looked. You even removed yourself from the moment and didn’t really enjoy it, so much so, that when someone took a picture – you could barely force a smile. Your mind was trapped in remorse and self-consciousness. And maybe that’s something you can see in a great many photos – even the ones that were taken during great times in your life – when you were meant to be proud of an accomplishment, or joyful and having fun. Yet, no matter the time and place – all you could feel was unhappiness with the way you looked.

As an exercise, I invite you to find an old photo of yourself – one that represents a moment like this in your life: when everything was good and you should have been filled with joy. Can you see from the vantage point you have now, today – how much different you truly look compared to how you felt? Where you previously saw a person ‘five pounds overweight’ do you now see a young and beautiful person with a life they should have appreciated and enjoyed and not resented? Can you see that moment for what it is: a precious moment of joy that was stolen from your life? It was a day that could have been fully enjoyed – if not for this internal dialogue that robs so many of us on a daily basis of happiness and presence in our lives.

Now I want you to think about how you treat yourself – now. Do you allow your mind to stay focused on what’s wrong with you when you should be enjoying a night out? Do you get stuck in the mirror analyzing what part of you it too wrinkled or not the right shape?

The reason I’m asking all these questions is a lot of us suffer from being trapped in physical obsessiveness – and we never stop consider we have a choice. It’s assumed that we have to care deeply about how we look. That we can’t stop, because it’s too powerful. That this is what everyone must do, whether we want to or not, and it’s of the utmost importance over other facets of ourselves. But it’s actually not! That perception is a ruse. And when compared to the rest of life, physical beauty is actually a waste of time. Being thin and perfect is an exhausting bar to strive for because it’s always higher than you can reach. And if you DO reach it in your own eyes, then you’re constantly focused on trying to keep it up. Maintenance becomes an emotionally and financially draining time-suck of a ritual. Just like a drug addiction, it’s like having a fulltime job. Acquiring the right products, finding the right diets, attending the right butt-blasting classes. I’m describing when physical self-care changes from self-love to penance and a chore.

I believe exercise and physical self-care is wonderful and should always have an important place in your life, for your own health and enjoyment. However – when your mental focus tips toward obsession with your physical appearance, you begin to suffer a great amount of unhappiness. It’s like handing over the keys to your happiness – to your thighs. Or your uneven skin. When you hand over the keys to your happiness to the many tiny, random measures of how good you look, you disempower yourself from seeing what is great in your life and what means so much more in the grand scheme. You take the “me” out of your soul and put it into your physical form. Without realizing it, you can waste hours and years of your life stuck in this physical preoccupation with what’s wrong. How crazy does that sound? And yet, it’s quite an average experience! It’s rampant in our culture – because flaws sell! Achieving our exterior-best is encouraged from every direction.

Doesn’t this make you mad and sad and baffled all at once? Think back to how many moments of your life were stolen by a preoccupation with what was wrong with your appearance. How many important events in your life were soured by feeling unattractive. How many intimate relationships were made distant because you felt too self-conscious. The answer is more than is ever right or necessary. You should never have to feel that way. What a waste of precious valuable life! And how unfair to you, the soul living it. I did this exercise myself, and it simultaneously made me sad and angry. It’s infuriating that this happens to so many of us –everyday and causes so much torment.

I know that hearing something like this might feel like a big no-duh followed by a shrug. Because, what are you going to do? We all suffer this and if we could, we would stop, but there’s nothing you can tell yourself in the moment.

Here is the starting point I would like to offer. Begin by realizing that this process is happening to you and stepping back from it for a moment. The idea that vanity is able to rule over your life is a bit insane, don’t you agree? All of these amazing talents you possess and your natural beauty as a human being – isn’t that enough? Can’t you settle for an amazing and incredible person?

Choose to recognize this pattern in yourself today and everyday. Decide you want to change it. I invite you to make a rule for yourself, like I did. Make your health and happiness the golden measure for everything you choose to do and train your focus away from anything that hurts. Do not allow yourself to give details priority over your holistic worth as a human. Stop mental thought patterns that hurt and make you feel bad. Train yourself out of the unhealthy obsessive rituals – things you do to measure or examine your flaws. In short, do yourself no harm.

As you train yourself out of the obsessive self-examination habits, ASSUME as a participant in this vain world that you cannot and will not be able to see yourself and what you actually look like – EVER, because you are blinded by your own self-criticism. ASSUME whatever you are seeing in the mirror will always be distorted by your emotional state at any given time. CHOOSE to love and value yourself, as you are – by DEFAULT – and as soon as your patterns of self-criticism start, remind yourself, “I’m not gonna go there.” And if it helps, skip the times you normally lament your appearance altogether – make them unimportant in your life’s focus and don’t look at all.

Because, otherwise – think forward in time: how much of your life are you willing to waste feeling too fat or too old or too flawed? And how many times will you realize after the fact that it was totally unnecessary? This moment in time is all you will ever have – today, now, is the essence of life and it’s currently flying by unappreciated if you’re trapped in those thoughts. And one day it’s all gone! Just like us, our exterior grows older and more textured, and sadly that’s when our mind finally notices we wasted our youngest years with critique. Get the most out of your life now – and give your attention to what deserves it. It won’t be easy at first, but if you work at it, it gets easier – because when you distance yourself from a thought pattern, you gain perspective. You will more and more realize how nice it is to live without the fear and the pain – and instead just simple health.

After shedding the self-hurt, the health and balance is easy because it’s simple. There’s one pure measure for everything you do: is this good for me or is it not? Once you remove the judgment attached to your body, your goals align toward what rewards you holistically and what makes you happy.  I’m not a guru, a doctor or an expert in any of this stuff. I’m just a little wiser than I was a few years ago and maintaining my happiness is a process that gets easier every day. I wrote this because this was an important realization in my life, and with it, I hope to plant a seed in your mind – one that inspires tolerance and a shift in priorities toward holistic happiness and self-love.

Smile lovely friends! xo Happy Sunday

Featured image via iStock

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