by Emily Hightower (guest blogger, Ondalu Owner and Lead Guide)
Despite assumptions I’ve come across with my Yoga of Food work, I’m not thin, vegan, or an extremely healthy eater all of the time. I love beer, barbecue potato chips, and a hearty snack between most meals. In my work I infuse yoga’s wisdom with modern nutrition to help transform our relationship to food and our bodies. I came to this work in part because with a large, strong frame and a healthy appetite, I struggled with body image issues for much of my life. Sports saved me from despair. Being strong and athletic made me feel confident and appreciative of my body. So I was delighted to notice a shift in our culture from focusing on being ‘thin’ to being ‘strong’; especially for girls.
I love hearing mothers say, “eat this, it will make you strong” instead of “don’t eat that, it will make you fat”. But in my current work with teenage girls, I see some problems with this new message of ‘Strong as the New Beautiful.’ It’s a positive shift, but it’s missing a key ingredient that can lead us to trust our bodies and feel beautiful in the skin we’ve got instead of always seeking a different shape or physique to be happy. We’re missing the message that being ‘Real is the New Beautiful’.
Real as the New Beautiful
When I teach wellness to teens, it’s clear we’re not making great overall strides with “Strong is the New Beautiful”. On one local Lacrosse team I talked to, 80% of our girls were not eating breakfast. They thought by skipping calories they could look the part of a strong, lean athlete. After teaching about metabolism and how eating regular, healthy food creates a strong body, I went home feeling empty. I didn’t give these girls anything new or healing to work with. I was teaching them to eat certain foods to get a certain body type, which is more of the same body-focused messaging I grew up with. I just replaced ‘thin’ for ‘strong’.
What I wanted to give them was the message that they are beautiful as they are right now, not just for whatever blessed body they get to live in today but for their real, unique selves. I wanted them to eat! And not because I’d convinced them they could get strong and lean by learning nutrition, but because they felt worthy of meeting their real needs. I wanted them to see the beauty I saw whenever one of them shared their real voices in the group. Their being real was what I noticed, not being thin or strong. The ones who can be real are the gems, and all of us have that real gem inside of us waiting to shine.
What would it look like for our girls to be embedded in a culture that supported them in accepting their real shapes and bodies, voicing their real needs, and filling up on real foods and real conversations?
Real as the New Beautiful would shift our focus from what we look like to who we are. This concept supports real people, real needs, real food, real conversations, and real connections over the current message that external looks and social media ‘likes’ create acceptance or happiness. This empowering paradigm could offer girls and women a way home to our true selves. What more could we want for our kind?
Polish the Gem of Your Own Real Beauty
- Be like the Velveteen Rabbit, who went from being a fake stuffed animal to a real rabbit by opening up to being loved for the way he was. Love yourself exactly as you are; rips, tears, smudges and all. Your nose shape, your hips, your belly, your scars; these are your own Velveteen qualities that make you real. You are not a glossy ad in a magazine. You are an actual human with the blessing of an imperfectly perfect body. As you gently express self-love, your body will let you know what it sincerely needs.
- Trust Your Real Needs. If you are hungry, eat something. If you need rest, rest. Denying our real needs creates mistrust between the self and the body. Listening to and meeting the body’s needs creates self-trust and love. A woman in love with herself who meets her needs in healthy ways is a potent kind of beauty that defies shape, size or age!
- Eat Real Foods. When I eat my BBQ potato chips, they’re made with organic, real potatoes and Turmeric for color instead of Yellow #5. Without becoming fanatical, you can shift towards choices that will support your ability to feel good, listen to and love your body. It’s a high form of self-love to eat real foods which are free from chemicals, processing, and excess sugars.
- Let your Belly Breathe! The belly is the ‘Seat of Joy’ in the body. Sucking in the belly all day is terrible not only for digestion and strength, but also for our resilience and happiness. Wear clothes that fit your natural shape. Allow yourself to feel and accept the joy that flows when you relax into your belly as it is right now.
- Show Yourself by being vulnerable and real with the people in your life. You’ll discover the ones who love you for who you really are while adding depth to your relationships.
- Spread the Real by loving others for their own real selves instead of their external facades. Call it “beautiful” when our younger girls are vulnerable, voice needs and honestly care for others. Focus less on their external body type and more on their internal beauty.
It’s time for us to hold a new torch of radical self-love and respect for Womankind. We can model this by being vulnerable together; by loving our bodies as they are, honoring their needs, and by reminding one another of our actual worth in the way we cherish what really matters. You are most beautiful when you are truly, really, yourself!
Emily Hightower founded Ondalu to empower people to make holistic decisions for their health. She is an author at Wanderlust and creates nutrition programs infused with yoga’s wisdom and healing. She is a Master Yoga Teacher who has specialized in therapeutic and vinyasa flow yoga since 2002. Her integrative programs have helped thousands of people including Wounded Warriors, Teens, and Women in Crisis using yoga, nutrition, and nature. Emily guides in person, on retreat, or by Skype with a studio based in Carbondale, Colorado. She lives in love with her husband, son, chickens, and huge dog.