Living in LA, as in most places in this country, the struggle to accept our own bodies is real.
Our culture tells us our status and desirability are dictated by how we measure up to a conventional standard of attractiveness: some ideal of how bodies are supposed to look to make others want us.
I remember years ago a friend once said to me, “I’m not the most attractive or most successful guy in the room,” implying he wouldn’t be able to attract a partner.
I remember thinking to myself, “that’s not how it works!”
And yet so often, I find myself living within that paradigm, believing that my ability to find love is predicated on living up to certain standards of beauty or status.
The primacy culture places on our looks, and the status our looks confer, makes it difficult not to take an “outside-in” approach to health, in which we primarily invest in our wellness as a means to receiving external validation.
I call this “performative wellness.”
Performative wellness is the tendency to affect the qualities of physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing externally to appear attractive to others as opposed to wellness arising naturally from a deep commitment to our own physical and emotional health as an act of self-love.
So many of us hit the gym, eat healthy, and do yoga, not as acts of self-love, rooted in our desire to cherish and care for ourselves, but rather as means to appear attractive to others.
In a way, this is an act of self-hatred because, in essence, we are attempting to earn our own and other’s approval through living up to an external standard, rather than loving ourselves into true wellness.
Authentic health is the natural result of loving ourselves as opposed to a pathway for trying to earn acceptance.
On the deepest level, true attractiveness is rooted, not in how our bodies look, but in how we inhabit our bodies.
We’ve all encountered people who fit the bill of what is conventionally attractive, but they seem so vacuous that there’s no real pull to connect with them.
On the flip side, most of us have met people who don’t line up with what we might typically consider attractive who exude so much confidence, joy, and playfulness that we find them irresistible.
This is what authentic attraction is: when we are drawn to someone for who they are in a way that almost transcends their appearance.
We animate and inhabit our bodies differently when we love ourselves. It actually changes the way we look.
Similarly, authentic confidence isn’t based on our bodies looking a certain way, but emerges from tending to our inner being in ways that are kind, compassionate, and loving.
Self-love rooted in intrinsic self-worth creates a deep sense of confidence, playfulness, and joy.
It’s hard to reach inside of ourselves to find this confidence when the cultural voices that are constantly shouting about how we are supposed to look and not look are so damn loud.
That’s when we begin to engage in performative wellness.
An authentic approach to wellness anchors health and self-care in self-love, rather than setting them up as conditions of self-acceptance.
In this authentic framework, becoming attractive is not the focus of wellness but is rather the natural result of a deep love and care for oneself, which has a tendency to transform how we look, feel, and carry ourselves.
But with performative wellness, we seek the external at the expense of the internal.
We performatively affect the behaviors of someone who loves and cares for themselves so that we appear attractive, rather than truly treating ourselves with reverence, kindness, and love.
And the more we relate to ourselves that way, the more we become estranged from ourselves and lose touch with the soulful essence that makes us feel most alive.
I call this “self-commodification”: the tendency to treat ourselves as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than precious beings to be cherished for our uniqueness.
Treating ourselves and others as commodities, as we are programmed to do by our culture, is deeply dehumanizing and alienates us from ourselves and others.
The more we approach ourselves and others in this way, the more it creates a sense of scarcity and fear in a world of great abundance and plenty.
Because if we continuously narrow our definitions of what is attractive, we create a world characterized by insufficiencies: we are never enough to fulfill our own perfectionistic ideals about attractiveness, and there are never enough people who live up to our impossible standards.
For many of us, this comes down to ego. Rather than really tuning into another person’s kindness, character, and energy, we focus on how they line up with our standards and fixate on what others think.
As we engage with the world this way, it starts to feel smaller and smaller. And we start to feel more and more alone.
We rarely realize there is another way to exist because it is so seldom practiced in our culture.
Beginning to see who people are in their essence is a practice.
It means reattuning ourselves to other dimensions of being that are deeper than just the superficial and physical.
And this requires us to attune to our own being in this way too, self-defining our worth in terms of who we are rather than in terms of our appearance.
Like everything, we strengthen this practice with repetition, like a muscle.
The more we invest our energy and time in this practice, the stronger it becomes.
It takes a great deal of focus and tenacity to build this kind of muscle when everything around us seems to be steering us in the opposite direction, which is all the more reason we have to stay steadfast and committed to the journey.
Because that’s how we change the culture.
That’s how we get out of the Matrix.
And that’s how we create the new paradigm.
So let’s reclaim our own intrinsic worth, beauty, and uniqueness as we learn to love ourselves and others as we cultivate this new way of being.
As I began to change my inner voice and the way I related with the parts of me that were in pain, I felt an immediate shift and everything began to change.
I began to speak to myself the way I would speak to someone else I loved: I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this. This is really hard. Of course you’re in pain given everything you’re facing. This is not your fault. You know who you are and you can trust yourself, even when others are being unkind.
The moment I shifted the way I spoke to myself, relief washed over my body.
I could breathe again.
As I began to practice self-love moment by moment and on an ongoing basis, my whole perspective began to change, and the hidden lessons that previously felt so shrouded in darkness came into sharp clarity.
I realized that regardless of what I was going through or what circumstances occurred, the events of my life did not need to threaten who I am.
Career-wise, I began to see that I had unconsciously adopted the idea that I need to share my lessons from the mountaintop of being healed, rather than offering my vulnerability as a part of the process and healing and transcendence.
I recognized that maintaining the feeling that I have it all together was so central to my sense of self, and holding onto that identity was not an authentic, robust, or strong foundation for self-love.
This was transformative destruction at work again: wrecking my ego-based conceptions of who I was and revealing the possibility for deeper healing to forge a stronger firmament as I continued to navigate the complexities of life.
I see a similar process unfolding in the collective as well.
As our society seems to be falling apart at the seams in so many ways, we also see the new paradigm emerging out of the wreckage.
Individually and collectively, we have to burn the old ways of being down so we can recover what is most precious within ourselves and rebirth a new culture.
Even though not all of the hardships have passed, I am finally learning to find solid ground within myself amidst the groundlessness of the inevitable struggles life brings.
And that is the art of transcendence.
Brooke Sprowl is the Founder of My LA Therapy, a concierge therapy practice. With 15 years of clinical experience as an individual, couples, and family therapist, she is trained in a wide-range of approaches, from evidence-based therapy practices to peak performance and flow neuroscience techniques. Brooke is also the host of the podcast, Waking Up with Brooke Sprowl. She is passionate about writing, cognitive science, philosophy, integrity, spirituality, effective altruism, personal and collective healing, and curating luxury, transformational retreat experiences for people who are committed to self-discovery and using their unique gifts in service of the world.
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