There are a lot of ways to be beautiful. Like many things in life though it can take time to come to appreciate certain kinds of beauty. Much like young people start off entirely selfish and grow towards ever-increasing empathy (if they’re healthy), when we’re young we also start of with relatively shallow ideas about beauty and (if we’re healthy), we expand those ideas to include more and more things and therefore people.
It’s natural for a child, tween, teen and young adult to recognise 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. And if you’re raising kids, obtaining food is the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid. You do that before anything so it makes biological sense that we would want to be with someone 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 attractive to the men who also want to see their lineage move forward in that wonderful way nature has.
As we actually attempt relationships we find out they’re about more than just the sexual attraction and the food. That can get a person pregnant but if sharing the food only lasts a short time then the children are in jeopardy, so having a male who feels dedicated enough to stay long enough to protect those offspring also makes sense. So then commitment to the relationship becomes important.
Again we grow and we realise that commitment only comes from certain temperaments reliably, so now we’re looking for the right personality. How nurturing is someone? How courageous? How enjoyable?
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 is based on appreciation.
It is possible to move quickly through this evolution if we can come to grasp these individual ideas as a larger concept: we get that people stay because we treat them well and 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 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 like a tree, another finds the tusk like a spear and the last finds the trunk like a snake. 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 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 realise 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. Meanwhile in a thought-based comparative world where two people are less skilled at appreciation they will end up co-dependent, thereby making the relationship unhealthy for both the parents and any children.
Do not apply the perspectives of others to views of yourself. You have no idea by looking at someone where they are on that shallowness-appreciation spectrum. You were on it too so don’t lament that someone else is, but don’t apply it to yourself any more than you should use your thoughts to compare yourself today to your younger self from an earlier time. The comparison itself is what generates the pain. It is the result of a thought-calculation. There is no comparing in appreciation. There is no room in our consciousness for anyone or anything other than what we’re appreciating.
Love yourself wherever you are on this spectrum. There is no need to hurry or to cling to any point. We each move at our own pace which is fine, because if we don’t use our thoughts to generate the judgments and comparisons then we’re not anywhere on any spectrum–we simply are. And that is the very best place to be.
Go be. Go be whoever you are now. Trust me. That person is beautiful and perfect.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.