I live in a city of beautiful people. People whose beauty comes just as much from their soul as from their physical bodies. But the problem is that sadly, the internal beauty always comes second to the exterior one.
I am lucky to be surrounded by amazing people. Human beings who are not just fun to be around, but smart and hard-working and motivated. Hustlers who have incredible ideas and innovations and minds just bursting with creativity. Austin is full of these young, driven individuals who are determined to leave a mark on this planet, and who have the brains and the capabilities to do so. And you want to know what else they have? The body to back it up.
Austin always comes in as one of the top ten fittest cities in America — usually being way ahead of its other Texan counterparts. And you don’t need a list to tell you that everyone here is motivated to be healthy. Just looking outside will tell you this. Everywhere you go, people are jogging, hiking, taking the newest spin class, hot yoga-ing (hello!), and lifting heavy stuff until their hands bleed. We Austinites are on a mission, and it ain’t just to be healthy. We want to be the best looking person on that boat come lake season. We want to bare our cut abs and show off our toned arms as soon as the weather goes past 70 degrees. We want people to NOTICE.
Unfortunately, this entire mentality of “being the best looking girl/guy out there” is flawed. Flawed completely. Because it involves comparison. And a very wise woman (hey, madre) once told me, “There is always going to be someone out there who has it better than you and someone who has it worse than you.” In other words, you’ll never win this game. You might be the fittest guy at that pool party, until that dude who does Crossfit six times a week walks in. Then where do you stand? In second place, feeling miserable. And the worst part about it is that you have ranked yourself. YOU put yourself in second place. Because everyone else there is too worried about what THEY look like to care about you.
Have you ever had that experience of looking at a picture of yourself, and all you see is flaw after flaw after flaw? The weird teeth, the bad skin, the cellulite, the pooch belly. It seems like it is all glaring back at you. And then you show the picture to your friend, and what does she see? HER so-called flaws, which you never even noticed. Maybe what you saw was her pretty smile or shiny hair. Why can’t the beauty noticed by others be the first thing we see in ourselves?
Instead, it becomes this endless game of Who Can Insult Themselves More. And there is never a winner. We are all just left feeling terrible that we will never look like the models in the Victoria Secret fashion show. But the real problem is not you. It’s the fact that we are being told we need to look like that to be happy. And we all are believing it.
And it is making me mad.
I look around and see my beautiful friends, the beautiful people in my family. Women and men of all shapes and sizes and hair colors and skin tones. And they all have something about them that I admire. But when we talk about ourselves, all we can see is our flaws. And then I get to my own mirror. I pinch fat and I suck in my belly and pull back skin in disgust and say, “I should probably work out more.”
But I’m sick of thinking this way.
I want to love my body. I want to no longer think that a few marks of cellulite define me. I want to believe that it’ll be okay if my stomach is never washboard flat. I want to embrace myself because this is all I’ve got. And I want the world to come with me.
There is nothing wrong with working out to be healthy and strong and to live a longer life. But when your physical self is all that matters, you’ve stopped thinking about something incredibly necessary — your internal Self. With a capital “S.” The you that actually matters. What about cultivating that part of you as much as you work on your body? Your loving self, your compassionate self, the friend, the partner, the parent, the lover, the sister, the son — where is he/she when the body is cut and defined to its most perfect form? Most likely lost because the ego has eaten him alive entirely. If all you base your happiness on is outside opinions, you will always be let down. If you think that self-worth comes from people complementing your seven-day-a-week workouts, you will soon find out how wrong that is. You are already all you need to be. You are you. And there are so many internal parts that matter so much more than the external. How compassionate are you to your human brothers and sisters? How forgiving? How grateful are you that you even have a working, strong, capable body? How humble do you become when you realize how lucky you are to even afford a gym membership? Take a deep look. Has something been neglected in the search for physical perfection? Most likely, it’s the part of you that knows its okay to not look like a model out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. That part of you that knows that the people who truly love you and care about you don’t give a shit about your six-pack. They care about your heart, your friendship, your company, your spirit.
Listen to this part of yourself. Remember that perfection is an invented idea that shifts with whatever is in style and trending today. That maybe in 50 years the curvy look will be back. Or maybe not, and eating disorders will continue to be rampant among little ones who should be thinking about their first kiss, not how many calories were in their dinner.
I want to try to be more accepting of myself. To love my body as is, because it isn’t bad. “Bad” is a concept created by a dude in an ad agency who thought girls in bikinis would sell burgers (and sadly he was right). My body is my body. It is what it is. There are parts of it which I love and parts which I hate. And I want to be able to turn the hate off. To be able to say that perfection is bullshit and my personal happiness doesn’t come from how good I look in my yoga pants this week. Or from looking better than the 9,000 other girls in bikinis which I will encounter during the summer. I am choosing to give a big middle finger to my internal critic. And to trust that those who truly matter know that defining someone by their looks is as shallow as a teaspoon. That I can still strive to be healthy, but that it doesn’t have to kill my self-worth in the process. That I can love myself throughout.
So, be fit. Go strut in those jeans that once didn’t go up your thighs. Be proud of the work you do to keep yourself healthy and which extends this one life we have to live. But don’t make it your first priority. This should be a spot reserved for your soul. For your friendships and relationships and personality characteristics you need to tweak. Because in the end, we all age. We all will lose that great ass or toned biceps. But we can find comfort in the fact that the love you cultivate in your life won’t fade. Compassion and kindness leave a much more lasting impression. The people in your life who have moved you with their love and sweetness and intelligence — those are the ones we remember.
And washboard abs can’t compete with that.