Editor’s Note: This is a contribution by Mary Dunlop
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
From the time I was a little girl, people told me I was pretty, but I never believed them. Instead, I scrutinized myself in the mirror searching for ways to look better, not realizing that what I was really looking for was a way to be me and feel good about myself.
As I focused even more on my looks throughout my twenties, I became increasingly self-conscious and dependent on how others perceived me. If someone complimented me and gave me attention, I would feel confident, but if I went unflattered or unnoticed, I would return to the mirror in an effort to figure out why.
I had often heard the expression “what you are inside shows on your face.” However, I didn’t know what these words truly meant until one day at the age of 35.
That day, I took another long look in the mirror, and suddenly something clicked: My looks were not the problem—they never were.
Somehow I understood that what I didn’t like about my face had nothing to do with my physical features. It was something else; something within myself that was reflecting out and causing me to feel unattractive, ill at ease, and unconfident.
At that moment, I knew there were two things I needed to do. The first was to stop staring in the mirror. The second was to look at what was going on inside.
Soon, a friend recommended meditation, so I gave that a try. I sat, breathed, quieted my thoughts, and shared my feelings in a nine-hour course, which I soon followed with a two-day silent meditation retreat.
It’s possible that a silent retreat may not be for everyone, but, for me, it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. The two days forced me to meditate, reflect, and “be” with myself in an environment that did not permit social interaction, not even eye contact.
There were also no distractions, such as telephone, TV, books, or computers.
Was the experience disagreeable? Initially, yes. Was it painful? Sometimes, but it allowed me to bring forth a lot of valuable self-information and one remarkable realization: I became conscious of how unnatural I felt.
In the time I was there, I recognized that I was not uncomfortable in that setting because I didn’t know how to be with myself. I was uncomfortable because I didn’t know how to be myself.
This was also why I often felt unattractive and ill at ease with others.
I was frequently projecting someone who didn’t feel “like me,” and that projection habitually depended on who I was interacting with.
It was this realization that launched my journey to authenticity and the discovery of a beautiful me.
Slowly, I started to learn about myself and the things that make me happy, and I found that I had a rhythm. I could hardly believe it, but I actually had my own beautiful flow, and as soon as I began to follow it, my authenticity started to build on itself.
I gradually began to feel less self-conscious around others and much more comfortable with myself.
For the first time in my life I started to feel well and beautiful—and it showed. I saw it in the mirror. My husband noticed it in my body language. He said I carried myself differently, like I had more confidence and ease.
Of course, many practices assisted me in my journey, but the ones that helped the most are the ones that keep me grounded in myself today.
If you’re also looking to feel more at ease with yourself, I recommend:
Honor your body
I can never say enough about how important it is to celebrate my body. Every day, I thank it for all that it does, and honor its needs through 30-40 minute runs, long showers, flossing my teeth, and drinking lots of water.
Make a list of the things you need to do to take care of yourself so you feel healthy and grounded, and then schedule them into your day. It’s easier to feel good about who you are when you make your needs priorities.
Maintain a healthy, positive mind
Along with running, creative writing has contributed greatly to my journey. It keeps my mind filled with positive thoughts, and so much of who I am comes out in the characters I write about.
I also love to read, learn new things, and travel to different places, even if just new areas or neighborhoods near my home.
What practices make you feel passionate and positive about the way you’re living your life? Doing what you love is an important step in loving who you are.
Maintain a happy, healthy spirit
Without inner peace, authenticity is fleeting. Consequently, I meditate daily and do my best to live where peace is found—in the present moment. I also make a point of watching a couple of funny movies every week.
Nothing helps my spirit soar as much as laughter. It helps me see the world through younger eyes and reminds me that, no matter what, every moment contains hope and possibilities.
Take time out to nurture your spirit, whether that means practicing yoga, walking on the beach, or simply relaxing. In order to be comfortable with yourself, you first need to be comfortable just being.
And always keep in mind…
Finding your authenticity—finding yourself—will help you feel your beauty. When you endeavour to be who you are and be true to yourself, you will automatically feel attractive and unique.
Also, it is important to remind yourself that beauty is never dependent upon the approval of others. Quite the contrary, beauty is very much self-defined and self-created. The only person who can ever truthfully tell you “you are beautiful” is also the only person who can “make you beautiful.”
You are the only person who can do this.
The power to be beautiful lies not in the eyes of others. It comes from deep within you.
Photo by Hannah Nicole [Aspire]