UNAPOLOGETICALLY ME

CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and suicide, which could be distressing to some readers.


How has technology influenced our perception of beauty?

Technology has made beauty more accessible to the masses. Beauty ideals portrayed to society in magazines, films, advertising, fashion and social media, are constantly flashing before our eyes. Botox and cosmetic surgery, fake nails and lashes, skincare products, dentistry and teeth whiteners are all more freely available and more affordable. Photoshop distorts natural body forms and holds up a mythical and artificial image of beauty to live up to. Snapchat filters create an illusion of reality that can be so enticing that we undergo cosmetic surgery to conform to these unrealistic beauty standards.


Why do we place so much emphasis on physical beauty when not everyone can appreciate it? If we lost our sight, would that mean everyone else becomes worthless? What happens when our physical appearance changes, whether it be due to genetics, an accident, ageing, pregnancy, or life choices? This can have a huge impact on our mental health. Our self-esteem plummets as we imagine all our “flaws” being revealed.





Body Dysmorphia


In fact, some people feel that they are so far from achieving society’s beauty standards that they isolate themselves rather than face people’s criticism. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder closely related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It causes you to worry obsessively about those perceived flaws, and behave compulsively around them. You may look in the mirror obsessively to make sure you have hidden your imperfections from others, or you may avoid mirrors altogether. You may pick your skin compulsively or bite your nails.


It may start to impact on your day-do-day functioning and get to the point where you are afraid to go out in public, because you feel ashamed of your body image and what others may think of you. Perhaps you get intrusive thoughts that haunt you and that you can't escape. This can easily lead to social anxiety and depression. In its extreme forms, it can lead to eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.


Learning to accept our flaws


So how can we avoid this modern beauty trap? The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for body dysmorphic disorder recommend cognitive behavioural therapy, which is a talking therapy to help identify any unhelpful thinking (in this case, around body image), and teach you coping skills and strategies to reduce the anxiety and help you live your life without obsessing.


One useful strategy is body positivity. It is an ideology that promotes loving your body whatever shape, colour or height it is. Loving it because it is yours, because it is you. Studies have shown that applying this positive mental attitude and following intuitive eating habits reduces body image dissatisfaction and increases self-compassion and acceptance.


However, some people use this philosophy to justify avoiding all healthy dietary options and exercise. This can lead to obesity, which is associated with numerous physical health problems. Whereas, at the other end of the scale, those who take diet and exercise to the extreme, could end up losing their lives to anorexia. Neither extreme is desirable. This is why a new movement has evolved. The body neutrality movement goes beyond body positivity and honours and respects your body for what it can do rather than how it looks. It asserts that we are more than our appearance. Like a gemstone, the way we look is just one of many facets that make us who we are. Our worth and lovability do not depend on how we look.


Being unapologetically you


Body neutrality requires a different mindset. Our body is the vehicle we use to move around the material plane. Our mind inhabits an immaterial dimension, which is where we control and maintain our body. Everything starts in the mind. The famous Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, gave us the following words of wisdom:


"If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place."

Body neutrality helps us change our point of focus from the physical expression of ourselves to the immaterial characteristics that influence how we make decisions and how we act. These are what give us true value and worth as people, and developing these traits should help us build lasting confidence and self-esteem and ultimately bring us peace.


So our focus should not be on our appearance to the point of obsession. Of course, we want to be accepted by the rest of society, because we live in an interactive world and one of its joys is being able to share our reality with others. However, we should also appreciate the life we have been gifted and remember that our body is the physical presence expressing the spiritual being that we essentially are.


Don't question society's beauty standards. Question why society considers outward beauty to be the ultimate accomplishment. Say goodbye to unattainable beauty and be “unapologetically you”, whatever way you choose to express it.