I recently had an interesting talk with my sister-in-law’s niece at a family dinner. She had just come back from six months of traveling in Europe, Africa, and Asia. I asked her what she had learned most from her trip.
Her answer took me by surprise—she said what she learned most was about her relationship with her own body and image. When I asked what she meant, she said she had always been obsessed with how she looked. When traveling around to other cultures, she noticed that teenage girls and women around the world were not as concerned about their looks as women are in America. She started to realize the superficiality of this obsession.
What really astounded me was when she mentioned that she used to spend 90% of her time thinking about her looks and that almost all of her friends did as well. She now realized what a waste of energy this was and the possibility for that energy to be used much more productively for the betterment of society.
What was so fascinating to me was that she is an extremely pretty young woman, fresh out of college and newly married—the last person in the world who needed to be concerned about her appearance!
A documentary called Miss Representation reveals how girls, even from a young age, are constantly bombarded by the media—television, magazines, movies and the internet—with unrealistic and often provocative images of women. Girls often grow up believing that their perceived value is dependent on how they look.
“If women spent more time helping a sick neighbor, or volunteering at a homeless shelter, focusing how to use all their energy to solve some of the world’s problems, if they spent a tenth of the time thinking about those things than they do about their weight, I mean we would solve all the world’s problems in a matter of months.” Katie Couric in Miss Representation.
Self-worth depends on who you are as a person—a whole person—your talents, your accomplishments, your ability to deal with life situations. It also means how fulfilled you are spiritually—are you happy, do you treat others with kindness, respect, and compassion?
In Chapter 17 (“Self Empowerment and Women’s Liberation”) of my book, Let Your Soul Sing: Enlightenment is For Everyone, I highlight my own transformation—from believing that I had to live an image of myself that was not true to my nature to becoming really comfortable and happy with who I am. This transformation came as a result of learning and practicing Transcendental Meditation.
“When I began meditating I noticed that I started to feel more comfortable within myself. During moments of pure transcending, I experienced a very powerful state of being—my unconditional being—beyond any social expectation. This was a huge sense of freedom and relief. I started to feel stronger as a person and started to appreciate my own individuality.”
It is rare for a woman to be totally unconcerned with how she looks, especially as she ages. This is natural. But when teenagers and college girls spend 90% of their time worrying about their looks and when many women resort to spending millions of dollars on Botox, plastic surgery, and face lifts, we need to re-examine what real beauty is.
According to this video of a social experiment on how people perceive their own looks compared to how other people see them, it turns out that most people see us as being much prettier than we think we are. People appreciate those who are kind, considerate, and also interesting. Most of all, people are attracted to others who are happy and really enjoying life.
People often sense when someone is trying to live up to an image of themself and is not true to themself and find this disingenuousness unappealing.
Fortunately, our essential nature, our true self—a state beyond all conditioning—is a state of pure joy, calm, balance, harmony, purity, and fullness. This inner state is experienced innocently and effortlessly during the process of Transcendental Meditation. After meditation, we reflect these inner qualities of the deepest level of our being to our outer environment; To the people around us, this is much more uplifting and attractive than the superficial qualities of our appearance.
Naturally we want to look nice and present our best face to the world. Taking care of our appearance also uplifts our environment. But we will never be satisfied with how we look if our self-image is dependent solely on outer appearance.
When we are content and happy inside, that inner beauty far surpasses the surface beauty of even the most glamorous and beautiful people in the world. True beauty lies within and is perceived by all around us when we radiate it. The deeper within we go and more we can experience our essential nature, the more radiantly that inner beauty will shine!
About the Author
Ann Purcell is a poet, an award-winning author, a songwriter and CD producer, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, and has been featured in podcasts and radio shows. She is an international leader of TM for Women.