There are a lot of ways to be beautiful. But, like many things in life, it can take time to come to appreciate certain kinds of beauty. This is like when, as young people, we all start off entirely selfish and grow towards ever-increasing empathy (if we’re healthy).
Naturally, our starting place in youth is to begin with relatively shallow ideas about beauty and (if we’re healthy), we expand those ideas to include more and more things and therefore more and more people.
It’s natural for a child, tween, teen or even a young adult, to view physical health as is manifested by our genes and our habits. If someone 10,000 years ago was too lazy to hunt that would be reflected by being underweight, whereas being able to eat a lot would be a sign of success in a pre-money pre-symbolism world.
Especially if we’re raising kids, obtaining food is the bottom –and most important layer– of Maslow’s Pyramid. It behooves us to sort that out before any other thing, so it makes biological sense that we would want to be with others who can look after themselves
To actually have a child a woman would be in competition for a mate with other women and therefore the qualities that denote physical success would be more beneficial to the men who also want to see their lineage move forward in that wonderful way nature has.
As we actually attempt relationships though, we find out they’re about more than just the sexual attraction and obtaining food. That attraction can get a person pregnant but, if sharing the food only lasts a short time then the children are in jeopardy. That means having a male who feels dedicated enough to stay long enough to protect those offspring also makes sense. So then, rather than beauty or money, commitment to the relationship becomes most important.
Again, we grow and we realize that commitment only comes from certain temperaments reliably, so now we’re not looking for looks or money, or just commitment, we’re also looking for the right personality. How nurturing is someone? How courageous? How enjoyable? How well do they parent?
Eventually the child-rearing years are over and now the commitment does not have the bind of the children which is why a lot of divorces happen within a few years after the kids are independent. But if things prior to that have been so enjoyable and secure, it can be in both parties interests to stay linked. This attraction is based on appreciation.
While age forces our hand regardless, it is possible to move quickly through this evolution if we can come to grasp these individual ideas as part of a larger concept; meaning we understand that people stay because we treat them well.
In turn, we treat them well because we appreciate what they bring into our lives. That’s why when we’re young we can wonder how a woman can still be attractive with stretch marks, and yet when we’re older we see those as signs of life’s greatest achievement.
The problem comes in when we compare, because everyone is viewing things from a different perspective. Like the old Indian stories about the four blind men studying an elephant, one can think its tail is like a rope, another can find the legs are like a tree, another finds the tusk is like a spear, and the last finds the trunk like a snake. No one’s wrong, they’re just representing the elephant from their separate perspectives.
In general, a younger person does not yet have the capacity to appreciate the larger meaning of a stretch mark and so they can see it as a scar rather than a symbol. So the problem isn’t the stretch mark on the older woman, it’s an illusion created by the younger person’s limited ability to appreciate what they represent, simply due to having less experience in life.
It’s much the same with anything. Men can historically look at moneymaking (aka food-gathering) as the main skill but, as we come home from some hunts wounded, we come to realize that care and support after the hunt can be what enables us to hunt better tomorrow.
In this way people grow toward each other in mutual interdependence, which is a form of appreciation –the highest form of awareness. Conversely, in a thought-based comparative world, where two people are less skilled at appreciation, they will end up being co-dependent, thereby making the relationship unhealthy for both the parents and any children.
We are better to avoid applying the perspectives of others to views of ourselves. We have no idea by looking at someone where they are on their own shallowness-appreciation spectrum. And we’re all on that spectrum as well, so we shouldn’t lament that someone else is too.
We should not apply others values to ourselves any more than we should use our thoughts to compare who we are today to our younger selves from an earlier time. The comparison itself is what generates pain. This is why people often keep clothes that don’t fit in their closets, and why they can hate themselves as a result.
These sorts of comparative thought-calculations are painful. Meanwhile, there is no comparing in appreciation. There is no room in our consciousness for histories or comparisons to anyone or anything or any time when we’re appreciating. We’re too busy appreciating. Our consciousness can only do so much in any given moment.
No matter where we are on this spectrum of awareness, we should love ourselves as we are. There is no need to hurry, or to cling to any point in life. We each move at our own pace and that’s fine. As long as we don’t use our thoughts to generate the judgments and comparisons then we’re not anywhere on any spectrum –we simply are. And since that is where the present moment is, that is the very best place to be.
So, today and every day, simply go and be. Without comparative thoughts, we can be comfortable with whoever we are right now. After all, that person is beautiful and perfect whether our thoughts tell us so or not.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.