Shaping the mental before the physical
In today’s societies, there is a big upsurge in the importance placed on beauty. Half-naked, picture-perfect bodies pop up everywhere, from beauty magazines to local billboards. Fashion, plastic surgery, movies, advertising, and the cosmetic industry nurture a society of the petty spectacle, and prompt women (and many men) to go to great lengths in order to follow suit. What many tend to overlook is that society first aspires to shape the mental and through it the physical, not the other way around.
Cracks in a shiny facade
We are bombarded with a barrage of beauty definitions, but they are all primarily rooted in socially constructed “rules” of sexual attractiveness and outward appearance. Fashion often exploits our need to belong and gain approval, forcing intangible personal qualities to take a backseat. Research has even shown that physical appearance has a strong bearing on career success, at times more than ability, intelligence or talent.
Still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all beauty notions are highly subjective. Since these ideas of what’s beautiful are never fixed, and depend upon individual opinions, it’s really important that we each take a step back and think about how we’re really looking at ourselves. At the most basic level, mental tapes we play in our minds impact how we perceive others and ourselves. And if we scratch beneath the glittery surface of our society, we find shaky foundations that could change or collapse at any time.
After all, the prevailing standards of beauty are never set in stone. By today’s standards, the archetypical beauty icons of the fifties such as Marilyn Monroe would be considered “too big” or “not thin enough”. On the one hand, we’re seeing an increase in the promotion of unhealthy food products, chronic diseases and sedentary lifestyles. On the other, the conventional media and fashion industries generate more and more images of photoshopped young women promoting a particular thin ‘healthy’ ideal.
We need to avoid going to either extremes, but focus on a path that leads instead towards personal growth, happiness, and wellbeing. A beautiful body transcends the divisions and labels we have constructed around ‘skinny’ and ‘fat’. It rises above, an epiphany of health and strength. We have different types of bodies, but we can all make the most of the cards we have been dealt.
Lifestyle modifications go a long way in improving your health and quality of life, regardless of what we may look like right now or where we’re starting. It all starts with a mental push, a decision. In the next stage, the psychical changes we make reflect our mental processes. For example, studies show that regular exercise and endurance training routines can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Simple, affordable routines, such as kettlebell workouts or bodyweight workouts (doing pushups, lunges and planks, for example), can go a long way in providing us with effective, healthful movement for our body and ultimately improve feelings of wellbeing, provide us more energy and uplift our self-esteem.
Weavers of health
Mental and physical health are interwoven and mutually dependent. First off, exercise is a powerful booster of mental health. It can melt away stress away and wards off negative moods. As our moods improve, we are then better positioned to manage our social interactions and develop better self-confidence. At last, some studies have shown that mental issues dramatically increase the likelihood of suffering from a physical condition.
It’s also important to take what others say with a pinch of salt, or to investigate it further before simply accepting or believing it. One of the common health and fitness myths, for example, is that intense training bulks women up, but there is no evidence to support this claim. So figure out what you want to achieve and set your own goals. Exercise to be healthier and feel better in your skin, not to impress others. (Yes, you may find that you start to turn more heads and get more attention, but that should be treated more as a bonus, than as the main motivation for adopting a healthier lifestyle.)
Give free rein to yourself
The escalating growth of the fashion and beauty industries, as well as the deviation of cultural norms, has created a world where beauty is an obsession and a struggle. People forget that health and fitness routines need to fit you like a glove, not the other way around; you shouldn’t have to bend over backwards trying to force yourself to follow something that doesn’t feel right.
So, instead of jumping on another bandwagon of fitness and beauty trends or diet programmes, spend some time discovering what works for you. Don’t try to force yourself to fit into something; it should be the other way round, so that you’re opting for what makes you feel fit, energetic and active. Free yourself from cultural shackles and find ways to radiate your personal genuine qualities, from the inside out.