Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder...

...but from where does the "beholder" get his/her definition of beauty?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Is it the reflection you expected to see? Perhaps a more important question is, why do you see what you see? And when you look at others, what do you see? And Why?

Recently, over a dozen friends and family have lost a noticeable amount of weight. The vast majority are women, but there are a couple of men, as well. I can't tell you what will power and commitment it took for them to get to their current position of overall health. It has been an emotional, physical and psychological challenge, full of ups and downs. I admire them all immensely for braving this journey.

But what I'm afraid many observers don't understand is that the majority of these people didn't just "lose weight." They made life style changes. They wanted to become healthier. Perhaps lower their blood pressure or cholesterol, increase their energy level, improve their heart rates, decrease their triglycerides and lipids, etc. So they didn't "stop eating and drop pounds." They chose to eat better calories, sleep more, exercise safely and effectively, focus on inner peace, remove themselves from stressful situations, spend more time laughing and connecting with loved ones, finding new intellectual challenges, etc.

When we see someone who has lost weight, usually the first thing we say is, "Wow! You look beautiful! How much weight have you lost?" And there it is. That's the verbal weapon of self-image destruction. That's what triggers the misinterpretation and teaches a faulty definition of beauty. Focusing on just one outcome of what these brave, committed, healthy-conscious people did—the losing weight part—tragically obscures their true accomplisment, and more disturbingly, helps to nurture poor self-esteem, poor self-image, poor self-worth for the next generation of young adults who might be within earshot of hearing your "compliment" in the first place.

There are all sorts of body types. For men and for women. There are as many body shapes as there are people. Every single one of the people I've referred to in this post is a beautiful person. They always have been. And they always will be. The fact that their physical appearance has changed does not make them more or less likable, more or less loveable, more or less desirable, more or less funny, etc. Hopefully, their lifestyle changes make them healthier and happier.

Weight alone does NOT dictate health. It can be one indicator of overall health, out of hundreds of other data points. But it's the one data point we fixate on. So if you are physically healthy, don't change your weight to conform to another's definition of beauty. (Just like anything...) (If you aren't physically healthy, then that needs to be your focus. Not your looks.) Is your self-esteem actually rooted in "other-esteem," defined by others as opposed to your own thoughts? If so, spend some time reflecting on that, rather than your image in the mirror.

So we all need to do a better job of focusing on what matters. Not focusing on weight loss and/or weight gain and/or physical appearance. An all-around healthy life balance is much more nuanced than just our looks. So be careful about what words you choose, the conversations you have, particularly around middle schoolers and elementary age children. They absorb way more than we realize. And we want them to look in the mirror and think good things about themselves, not just focus on their weight. We want them to learn to be confident, happy and valued. That their physical reflection doesn't dictate those things. It's the honest and loving interactions they have with others that counts.

What's my value? How confident am I? What idea do I have about my personality, ability, appearance? Am I using my unique beauty—my passions and talents—to help others and to connect with them?

"No one can make you inferior without your consent." ~Eleanor Roosevelt.

So think before you compliment someone. Be aware of how your words might be interpretted by youngsters.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Everyone has his/her own extraordinary beauty. If you look in the mirror using the right lens, you'll see it.