Can looking at beautiful people can make us healthier?
In a recent post, I made a case and presented some scientific evidence that beautifully designed buildings and objects contribute to our physical and mental health. So I thought it would be interesting to ponder some similar questions around physical beauty in people. Does looking at beautiful people make us healthier? Does being beautiful have advantages? Can we transform ourselves to be physically beautiful? Should we even try? Does what our bodies look like really matter?
I find it fascinating that a picture of an unbelievably skinny, physically attractive yogi gets tons of shares on the internet, while a slightly chubby, less flexible yogi gets almost no shares. I am “guilty” of this type of bias myself, often enjoy pictures of beautiful people or enjoying seeing a beautiful person on the street. I would even argue there are some health benefits to enjoying the physical beauty of others, in the same way that enjoying a sunset causes the release of healthy chemicals within us.
However, I see two places where we can get ourselves into mental troubles when encountering beautiful people. One is when the enjoyment of physical beauty turns into craving and the other is when that enjoyment turns into jealousy.
Beauty, Craving, and Jealousy.
The craving I am thinking of reaches its height in the desire to live up to the airbrushed and manipulated images we see of people in magazines. These images can prompt the mind to imagine an idealized self, a self that is not only physically superior, but a self that is superior in all ways to our current state. This craving causes a rejection of the current “me”, in favor of an imagined future possibility which is impossible to obtain. This useless, unhelpful thinking often results in self hatred and despair.
The other negative feeling that we encounter with respect to physical beauty is jealousy. Multiple studies have shown that humans favor physically beautiful people. In fact, a Texas Tech study of 25,000 people over 40 years found that beautiful people in general, earn more money and are happier than the average person. To the mind, this seems inherently unfair.
Take for example yoga instructor Tara Styles. Tara started as a model, and has gone on to become an incredibly successful yoga instructor. I have heard of numerous teachers who are jealous of her success. When a less beautiful instructor works just as hard and finds less success, and it can be partly attributed to physical beauty, it can be hard to handle. What those instructors don’t realize is that Tara is a talented teacher, and their feelings are an opportunity to practice the yoga of acceptance in the face of a personally challenging situation.
At the root of this issue is our minds. The mind-based ego is great at not accepting what is. We think there must be a way to transform ourselves through exercise, diet, or surgery. These thoughts are a waste of time. Yes, moderate exercise and a good diet can contribute to a healthy life, but they are not going to make you beautiful. Period. So what to do?
From Body Image to Personal Growth.
The key to moving beyond these cravings and jealousies is to practice acceptance. Beautiful people may be relatively more wealthy and happy than the average person, but they are not absolutely more wealthy and happy. This means, there are means by which we can find as much wealth and happiness as anyone else in the world, regardless of exterior physical beauty. The solution? Start with deep acceptance of what is. This will allow you to see the truth in all its wonder.
When we accept and allow what is, we can enjoy a beautiful picture of someone in a magazine without it stirring a need within us to change ourselves. Granted, when we are bombarded with advertisements linking beauty with products, this can be a challenge. Think of this challenge as a yoga practice. Practice not believing the thoughts of your mind when it reacts to images with craving or jealousy. If you disempower your mind in this way, it will become less reactive and you will find a deep level of self acceptance. Practice this acceptance of everything, of the world in all its beauty, including its beautiful people.
I am not the most beautiful person in the world, just like you are probably not the smartest, nor the richest. Instead of trying to change these things, practice deep acceptance. Your truth will arise from within, and your self confidence will increase. Other studies have shown that self confidence is more important to well-being than physical beauty. So from this foundation of inner well-being, you will be able to see things clearly. You may even realize the need to spontaneously make some changes in your life.
When we exist from the space of deep inner truth, those past cravings and jealousies revolving around external beauty will seem silly. You will then be able to answer the question, “what does my body look?” from a place of honesty, and it won’t matter anyway.
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