Beauty is a socially-constructed phenomenon.
I hate to say it but ... I think about my body a lot. I try not to focus on it too much but it's like a screeching monkey on my back. The relationship between me and my 5 foot 9 inch body has seen many stages. It's basically been a love-hate relationship.
My closet is filled with clothes spanning four sizes. I never weigh myself anymore; I simply evaluate the situation based on which size fits at the moment. I try to eat healthy, and usually stick to that. However, occasionally I get fixated on a particular food and can't stop eating it. Lately it's been Jalapeno Doritos. I don't like to cook, partially because I've always known that if I cook, I'll eat more. I've always seen food as a sort of enemy. Why would I create or give life, more power, to my enemy?
When I was about eighteen, I took diet pills and starved myself until my heart rate became so erratic that I had to see a heart specialist. I was embarrassed to tell the doctor that I was (essentially) overdosing on diet pills. He couldn't thoroughly evaluate the issue. What a mess! I was tall, thin as a rail, and working as a runway model. Was I happy?
So you see, body image is a topic that resonates with me. I'm guessing it's also important to you. I've written about Lizzie Miller, the normal young woman Glamour deemed beautiful, and have interviewed Marya Hornbacher about her intense struggle with eating disorders. Now meet Sarah Maria. Sarah is a body-image expert who helps people love their bodies no matter how they look. She shows people how to discover the beauty that is already inside of them, right now, in this moment.
Sarah's book, Love Your Body, Love Your Life, evolved from her 14 year struggle to find peace, happiness, and success by ‘controlling’ her body. She accepted that common, pervasive, and deadly poisonous cultural myth: If I am thin, then I am beautiful … I am worthwhile … I am successful, accomplished, and lovable. She made her self-worth, self-image, and all hope of ever being happy, entirely dependent on ‘external factors’ – primarily, trying to live up to an unrealistic, and ultimately unattainable, set of media-imposed standards for how she should look.
Unfortunately ... I can relate.
You have a passion for helping people accept themselves as they are. Why is this important to you?
I have a passion for helping people accept themselves as they are because I know what can happen when a person realizes that they are already perfect exactly as they are. Conversely, I know what happens when people do not accept themselves and instead live at war with their bodies and themselves. When people do not accept themselves, when they have conflict within themselves about themselves, there is pain and suffering. People live in a psychological prison, unable to create what they want, unable to move in the direction they want to go. On the other hand, when people learn to accept themselves, as they discover that they are already perfect, they can live with an unshakable peace and confidence. They can more easily and effortlessly create what they desire in life, whatever that may be. Accepting yourself totally and completely is the only sane way to live and yields benefits in every area of life. I know what is possible; I know the magic and beauty that is available to people, and it is my passion to help people break free and claim the life of their dreams.
You're obviously an intelligent woman. You graduated from high school early due to skipping grades and then received your first degree at 20 years old. Why is it that even the most intelligent women can't seem to accept that womanly worth should not be based on outward appearance? Can you explain why this happened to you?
This is a great question, and thank you for asking it. In my experience, “intelligence” is a somewhat vague term that often produces confusion. There are many different types of intelligence – academic intelligence, emotional intelligence, kinaesthetic intelligence, etc. There is often no correlation between the different types of intelligence. This is to say that someone might have an incredibly high IQ but little to no emotional intelligence. This is why you can always find brilliant people who do “stupid” things. In my case, academic intelligence did not help me avoid being brainwashed by predominant cultural beliefs about beauty. In fact, my academic intelligence might have aided in the brainwashing. My deepest desire was to be loved, approved of, successful, etc. Since I was academically gifted, I continued to excel in academics and receive approval, without addressing the core emotional and psychological issues that were motivating my behaviour. In my experience, human beings have underlying patterns that drive their behaviours throughout life. These psychological and emotional patterns dictate beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours much more than IQ level. This is why the most important form of intelligence is always self-knowledge. It is when you learn to look inside and discover yourself that you can free yourself from any negative patterns that are keeping you trapped and perpetuating your suffering.
What made you decide to write Love Your Body, Love Your Life? You have gone through your own struggles with body-loathing. What did you learn? And what tips can you share with others undergoing the same struggle?
I decided to write this book because I experienced first-hand the intense pain, suffering, and agony that can accompany Negative Body Obsession, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. I also know that freedom from this hell is completely possible. I want this book to reach people who are struggling with any and all of the above. I also wrote this book to help people think critically about concepts such as beauty, as well as the beliefs, thoughts, and ideas that so many people take for granted.
Beauty is a socially-constructed phenomenon. Different body types, different looks, different sizes are considered beautiful at different times in history. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, curvy and voluptuous was considered stunning. In this culture in this century, thin and muscularly toned is considered sexy. When people recognize that there is no inherent truth in these concepts of beauty, that it is in fact a cultural preference that changes overtime, it helps to dissolve this illusion that how they look is somehow tied to their value and self-worth as an individual. For many people struggling with a negative body image, they believe that how they look is somehow indicative of, or related to, their self-worth as individuals. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When people realize that it is a cultural phenomenon, they can begin to free themselves from the whims and preferences of other people and the world around them, and instead discover and experience their own inherent and unique beauty.
In terms of tips, I would recommend the five steps that I outline in Love Your Body, Love Your Life.
First step: Set an intention to learn how to love your body. You might have no idea how to make this happen, simply set the intention to see your body and yourself as inherently perfect and lovable.
Step Two: Identify and Detach from Negative Thoughts. Become aware of what you are thinking and learn techniques for disconnecting from your negative body thoughts.
Step Three: Discover who You really Are. Discover the truth that you are already perfect, have always been, and will always be. Come to know that part of yourself that is beyond the thoughts you think and the sensations you experience.
Step Four: Befriend your Body. Most people have an adversarial relationship with their bodies. Your body is the very best friend you will ever have. Learn how to relate to your body as a friend instead of foe.
Step Five: Live Your Purpose. Everyone is here for purpose and on purpose. When you learn to live this purpose in every moment of your life, you will transform you life from one of pain and struggle to one of joy and energy.
Sometimes women who appear to "have it all" are miserable while other women seems comfortable with themselves and their lives. Why is that?
There are many reasons for this and it is impossible to make a blanket statement, since every person is unique. What I can say is that “external” signs of accomplishment or “having it all”, such as money, friends, family, health, “beauty”, can have absolutely no correlation to how people feel about themselves and their lives. Everyone has their own story, their own way patterns, their own way of relating the world. When you look at someone else, it can seem like they have everything, yet they are miserable. There simply is no correlation between what you as an observer thinks someone has and what in fact is going on inside their reality.
Body-loathing seems to be rampant, especially in young girls and women. Why is this happening? Is it all the fault of the media and fashion industry?
This is an important question and one that I talk about at length in the book, so I will be brief here. No, it is not all the fault of the media and fashion industry, although this certainly plays a role. The real reason, the underlying reason, is the delusional thought-pattern that says we are not good enough the way we are. Whether the belief is about your body size, your bank account, your lack of love, whatever it is, there is the underlying belief that we are somehow lacking something, that we are not quite good enough, that we would be better if and when we change something about ourselves. This whole thought process is what creates and perpetuates the problem. This belief system is what causes people to look at fashion magazines, models, etc. and then think that they somehow would be better, that they would be more beautiful if they looked that way instead of the way they look, if only they had that body instead of the body they have. This is utter nonsense. It is this fundamental belief and experience of not being good enough that creates the body-loathing and all manner of pain and suffering.
Someone recently pointed out to me that human bodies are like snowflakes. No two are the same; they are exquisitely unique. Why do we see the unique qualities of snowflakes as beautiful and the unique qualities of the human body as flaws? We've not decided there is a perfect snowflake and all others are flawed. This seems too basic, but is it because we must cover our bodies and therefore, we all need to fit into the same clothing sizes?
Great question! The reason we see the unique qualities of the human body as flaws is because of mental conditioning. The problem truly is with our eyes, not with our bodies. The body is inherently perfect. It is the human mind that creates the problems. I love your analogy of the snow flake. In Love Your Body, Love Your Life, I use the analogy of flowers. Can you imagine a rose looking at a tulip and lamenting its existence because it was not as beautiful as a tulip? This would be ludicrous, yet it is exactly what we do as human beings. We lament our perfection because we do not look like someone else. This is ridiculous and tragic.
Simply set right your idea of yourself. You were born perfect, whole, and complete, and you will remain that way forever. If you cannot see this, figure out what you need to do to heal your mind and purify your eyes so that you can see clearly.
What do you think of the recent Lizzie Miller body image craze? I wrote about Lizzie Miller on Aberration Nation before her photos became a big deal, so I'm happy Glamour paid attention to the eventual outcry. I hope we'll see lasting effects in the fashion industry, but am not sure that will happen. Your thoughts on this?
I think it is great that Glamour has been willing to have more inclusive photos. I know Glamour went on to have a photo shoot with a number of plus-size models. I also think it is great that women were so excited about seeing a different type of body in the magazine. However, there is still very much a bias to young. I think Lizzie Miller is in her early twenties, if I am recalling correctly, and the oldest model in their photo shoot was 35. I think developing an inclusive standard of beauty requires much more than what has been done. Yet this is a beginning and it certainly a step in the right direction. Ultimately it will require women to continue to speak out and support those magazines and companies that promote women’s natural beauty. If women will buy magazines with photos of real women, magazines will be much more willing to showcase them. Same is true for fashion, etc. There is a great deal of power in consumer opinion.
Now that you've written a book about body image and are helping others to accept themselves, do you still have days when doubts about your own body creep up? What do you say to yourself when that happens?
This is an interesting and important question. I would say that generally, no, I do not have doubts about my own body. I generally live with a sense of peace about my body and do not worry about it much either way. It is what it is and it is perfect as it is. That being said, occasionally I might notice what I call a Negative Body Thought. For example, when I go clothes shopping, an activity I truly dislike and always have, I might notice a negative body thought creep in as I stand in front of the mirror under fluorescent lights. If a negative body thought shows up in my mind, I simply disregard it and let it go. It has become a so much of a habit that I simply do not pay attention to it. I know the truth of the matter, and the thought does not have any influence over me. That being said, it took me a while to get to this place of effortlessness. When I first started, I needed to be much more pro-active in talking back to negative body thoughts and claiming my freedom. Now it is very habitual and I do not need to think about it. As soon as a negative body thought arises, I counter with another thought or simply disregard it and move on. So at first it can seem very difficult to find freedom from these thoughts, but with time it becomes habitual, just like riding a bike.
Do you have a personal life motto that you can share with us?
Most certainly. I have two mottos that are very much related and that guide my life constantly. They come from the great Indian sage Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
The first one is: “You are perfect, only you don’t know it. Learn to know yourself and you will discover wonders. All you need is already within you, only you must approach yourself with reverence and love. Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors…Make love of yourself perfect. Deny yourself nothing – give yourself infinity and eternity and discover that you do not need them; you are beyond.”
The other motto that I always hold in my heart is “You are love longing for the love-worthy, the perfectly lovable. Find it within and your search will be over.”