What if you gave yourself permission to be beautiful? Not in the lofty sense of appreciating your “inner” beauty, but in a way that truly celebrates your physical beauty.
It sounds simple but it’s not. At least not for many. Not in a culture that presents messages about the importance of being physically attractive alongside the sins of vanity. We’re fed a prescriptive definition of attractiveness, an ideal standard that we’re supposed to meet, and if we don’t then we haven’t earned the right to claim it. If we do, then we’re not allowed to admit it, as that would be arrogant and self-centered.
I grew up in the ‘80s when the predominant image of female perfection was tall, skinny, blond, and blue eyed. As a kid, I knew I’d never fit the bill. According to my concrete, logical child-mind, if I wasn’t conventionally pretty, then I wasn’t pretty. And if I wasn’t pretty then I wasn’t good enough. By the time I hit early adolescence I was struggling with body dysmorphia and disordered eating. So began a lifetime of body-image issues.
Of course, I can’t blame my mental health challenges on popular culture. It wasn’t Christie Brinkley’s fault that I hated how I looked. Such struggles are a conglomeration of social influences, genetics, and life experiences. Our bodies quite commonly catch our trauma.
Physical appearance becomes a container for self loathing, but it’s not the root cause.
Overcoming negative body image requires a deep dive into the psyche. Sure, wearing a cute new outfit, getting your hair done, or losing weight can make you feel pretty (and that’s great!), but that feeling won’t last unless you heal from the inside.
This type of healing involves going deep into the shadow aspects of self.
Most people would rather put on some make up or buy a new pair of shoes than examine their shadow. It’s not fun to dredge up suffering and deep self loathing. But doing so is liberating, and the healing is exponential–working on body image heals more than just body image.
Consider how you relate to your body. Do you feel comfortable in your skin? Do you honor your body with proper nourishment and care? Do you delight in experiencing through your senses? Or… do you cringe when you look in the mirror? Do you binge on junk food or alcohol? Do you insult yourself and obsess over perceived imperfections? Think about how your behavior and attitude about your body serves you. What is the underlying fear or negative belief? How do your thoughts and behavior perpetuate or mask this belief?
In my case, the underlying fear and negative belief is that I’m not good enough; that I’m hopelessly inadequate. Throughout my life I perpetuated that story by bashing my body. No matter what accomplishments or success I achieved in life, the narrative of inadequacy was validated by the imperfections of my body. I struggled to change the narrative because my ego was strongly identified with it. Without it, I couldn’t fathom who I was. My behavior served me by keeping me stuck (which the ego experiences as safe).
Once you identify the ego’s influence, you can get out from under it.
Now, when my mind lands on my physical imperfections and begins to travel down the road of inadequacy I recognize this as ego. I’m aware of my ego desperately clinging to the familiar narrative. Simply slipping into this state of observation is helpful. Recognizing how the old story has served me ultimately allows a new narrative to take shape. But all of this is a process. It’s impossible to fast forward straight to positive self image without observing yourself and uprooting underlying fear.
Here are a few axioms that support this work:
It’s ok to be proud of physical appearance (it’s a sign of self respect, not arrogance)
It’s ok to experience and delight in pleasure through the body
It’s brave and empowering to examine your shadow
Overcoming distorted body image requires healing trauma
Healing personal trauma heals collective trauma
- There is no such thing as being not good enough
My new narrative affirms that I’m a gorgeous woman. That my body is a miraculous instrument of delight, a holy temple in which to worship and exalt in true divinity. My new narrative gives me permission to experience everything, to love myself fully and completely—both inside and out. What does yours say? How will you lean into your new story?
Give yourself permission to be beautiful, exactly as you are.
With Love & Compassion,
Adina Arden Cooper
I'm a lover, a guide, a supportive companion. A storyteller, an artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals thrive and communities come together through counseling, coaching, and community building. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.