“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” ~Proverb
I struggled with body image for years while I was living in Europe because I have a very fair complexion, oily skin, and thin hair.
During my childhood, people would look at me and comment on how pale I looked and ask my mother if I was anemic. Later on, as I was growing up, people who met me would ask if I was ill, or they would say that I look exhausted, tired, and weak.
It was most difficult during the summers, when there was always a social pressure to get a tan, as I heard a lot of negative comments then. I didn’t perceive myself as beautiful, nor did I think I would ever, until I came to India for the first time.
In India, bright skin is synonymous with beauty (beautiful means fair!), and everyone complimented me there, telling me how beautiful I am, that I am “bright like the moon.”
They also admired my silky, smooth hair and oily skin—in India, they call it “glowing skin” and appreciate it because skin can get very dry, with the hot weather.
Indian women would ask me over and over to share the secret behind my glowing skin, and they wouldn’t believe that it was naturally so oily; they’d think that it must be some cosmetic product from Europe that I didn’t want to tell them about.
Suddenly I realized why all my Indian friends, who lived in my hometown back in Europe, would not leave the house without the sunscreen, why they’d always tell me that I’d be considered very pretty in India, and why they’d joke that I’d get married quickly there!
I was shocked when I realized how much money people, both men and women, spend in India for fairness beauty products. Some women even bleach their skin with hydrogen peroxide-based cosmetics. Yet, in Western countries, people spend a ton of money on tanning products and solariums to get darker skin.
I realized in India how beauty is socially constructed and started feeling beautiful in my own (fair) skin for the first time in my entire life. Or, I should say, I discovered how beautiful I am, with all my Western “imperfections.”
For last two and a half years, since I’ve been living in India, people who knew me for a long time comment on how I look much more beautiful now and ask me to share my secret.
I don’t deny that Indian vegetarian food and the abundance of tropical fruits, together with natural beauty products with neem, heena, herbal oils and sandalwood, are part of the equation. But I believe the major reason is that I started feeling beautiful and good in my own skin.
Here are seven things I learned that can help us all feel better in our skin, with all of our “imperfections.”
1. Beauty is socially constructed.
This was one of the biggest aha moments I had in India. While we may not be considered as good looking in our own country, in some other part of the world we may be perceived as a beautiful person.
In some other part of the world, our height, complexion, hair color, facial features, and body shape—things we might see as “imperfections”—would be considered attractive traits.
2. Our body is our home in this lifetime.
We should be deeply grateful every single day that we have a body, which is our home and our vehicle in this lifetime. We can do so many things with our bodies—dance, swim, run, walk, talk, sit, move, hug our beloved, smile, eat, write, type, pick up objects, work, paint, cook, be intimate with our partner, and so much more!
Instead of focusing on the color or shape of our eyes, which we may not like, we can focus on how fortunate we are that we can see. Instead of focusing on how skinny, thin, short, or fat our legs are, or how much cellulite we have, we can focus on how blessed we are that we can walk, and so on.
3. True beauty comes from within.
Although this saying may sound cliché, it’s actually true. No matter how many beautiful facial features a person may have, a sad or angry face is never pretty. No matter how beautiful a person’s appearance may be, if the same person behaves with disrespect to others, or acts rudely and arrogantly, people will not want to spend much time around him or her.
A smile can bring radiance and beauty to every single face.
An old wise saying suggests that our external beauty is often what gets people attracted to us, but it is our personality that makes them fall in love with us.
4. Stop the negative self-talk.
If we observe the thoughts running through our mind every single day and notice negative self-talk about our body image, we need to consciously stop ourselves and replace those thoughts with positive ones.
Telling ourselves that we are “fat like a cow,” “ugly as a beast,” or that we look “pale and sick” will do us no good. It will only crush our self-esteem and makes us feel insecure and less worthy.
We need to observe these kinds of thoughts and decide that we will not continue repeating the same old negative story over and over again; instead, we will embrace and love ourselves, with all of our imperfections.
It can be hard in the beginning, but the first step to letting go of the negative self-talk is to observe and notice these thoughts coming up. Once we become aware, we can replace them with more positive ones, like, for example, we can focus on what we like about our appearance, or what we like about ourselves that has nothing to do with our appearance.
5. Self-care is the road to self-love.
Self-care can help us feel better in our skin and our body immensely. Nourishing our body with nutritious food, good quality cosmetic products, and massages, and practicing some form of physical activity that we enjoy, will not only help us to feel good in our skin, but also to love and respect ourselves more in the long run.
6. Confidence is more attractive than good looks.
Imagine that you have a choice to date one of two people: The first is someone who is good looking, but very insecure, who doesn’t feel worthy and needs a ton of validation and compliments, who doesn’t feel confident enough to express their feelings toward you.
The second is someone who is average looking but communicative, funny, and courageous, who feels secure and good about him/herself and worthy of you, who makes you laugh all the time, and feels confident expressing their feelings toward you.
Which one would you choose? Very likely the second type of person, right?
7. There are lots of things we can do to feel better about our appearance, and feel better in our body.
Although we cannot change our appearance to the extreme, there are so many things that are in our control, that we can do on a daily basis to feel and look better.
We can wear clothes that resonate with our personality and make us feel more confident, we can do some form of exercise that improves our body tone, practice yoga or Pilates to improve our posture, get manicures, style our hair in a way that we like, nourish our skin, make sure we get enough sleep and drink plenty of water, decide to eat healthier, and so on.
Though we should do these things for ourselves, if we feel good in our own skin and love ourselves, other people will instantly start perceiving us as more beautiful and loving as well.