“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
I read this quote the other day, and I have to say, nothing has shaken me to the core more.
For the most part, you wouldn’t know I have a serious physical disability aside from my visible limp, my difficulty getting up and down stairs, and my tendency to fall when I get weak. I was never able to do sports growing up like my friends and often had to enroll in special Adaptive Phys Ed classes in school.
I always felt my disability separated me from my peers growing up, so I put up an emotional wall and convinced myself that I had to wear the latest clothes, have perfect skin, and have the perfect body in order to “blend in” with everyone around me—in order to be truly loved. Then maybe I would be considered beautiful.
Then maybe no one would notice I was different. If I just looked like those Victoria’s Secret models, then someone would accept and love me.
So often we look to external things to define our beauty, most commonly, our physical appearance. We think that if we just fit into the mold that society has told us is “good looking” then we’ll feel good about ourselves and will gain acceptance.
I put a lot of value in being in a relationship too. Because of my disability, I was extremely shy for a long time and very insecure. All I wanted was a guy to come along, sweep me off my feet, and fall in love with me.
Then I thought I would truly be like everyone else, because I would have someone (other than friends and family) there all the time telling me that I was loved and valued.
In today’s world especially, it’s hard not to feel like our lives need to have a certain set of circumstances for us to truly be accepted.
With things like Facebook, we’re exposed to all the intimate details of a lot of people’s lives at one time. When they get engaged, married, have children, or are traveling the world with their fabulous jobs, we know almost instantly.
For a lot of us, that creates increasing internal pressure to have our life be a certain way because we think that’s what we need to feel happy with ourselves and be accepted in the world. We look to all of these other things outside of ourselves to feel beautiful and to feel accepted when the whole time, the only person who can truly allow us to feel these things is staring back at us in the mirror every day.
After I read this Thich Nhat Hanh quote, I went to clean the bathroom in my house and was suddenly overcome with emotion. I realized that all those things I’d been doing were what I thought I needed to do for everyone else to accept me, when in reality, I wasn’t accepting myself.
Whether it was having a boyfriend, having a lot of friends, or looking “perfect” all the time, I was trying to show everyone else, “Hey! Look! Someone loves me! I have value now!”
Really though, I was the one who didn’t like that I was different.
I was the one who couldn’t accept this disease I was born with. I had amazing friends and an incredibly supportive family who didn’t care if I walked with a limp or not—people who didn’t care that I couldn’t run a marathon or that sometimes I needed their help getting up a curb.
I was even told growing up how beautiful I was, but I couldn’t understand why I never felt like it.
It’s because I wasn’t truly being myself and accepting myself. I didn’t feel beautiful, and no amount of people telling me I was beautiful was going to change that. I was letting a circumstance I was born with define me and define how I thought others saw me.
In our extremely visual culture I think we all struggle with the idea of “beautiful.” And it can feel like no one ever really says “Just be yourself, love yourself, and accept yourself. That is true beauty.”
Beautiful doesn’t mean being physically attractive or looking like those people we see on TV or in magazines. It’s not defined by having or not having a significant other or by how many friends you have. We’re all born with our own struggles, and beautiful isn’t defined by those either.
Beautiful means just being and loving you!
I wasted many years trying to do everything I could to be considered beautiful by my peers and by society. Comparing myself to others and wondering why my life wasn’t like this or that.
The thing we don’t realize is that all along, we are already beautiful. Just for being ourselves. And we are the key to accepting ourselves—no one else.
There’s only one of each of us, and this is our chance to really live, so why waste our hard-earned energy trying to gain acceptance from everyone around us and trying to make ourselves look perfect in order to feel loved?
When you start down that road to self acceptance—that road to truly loving who you are, flaws and all—it’s then that you can truly open yourself up to being beautiful, for you and no one else.
Photo by La Melodie