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[separator headline=”h2″ title=”by Jennie Marie-Greenough, L.Ac., MSTOM, RYT”]

What’s worse than seeing a person suffering from that actions of others? To me it is seeing someone suffer because of what they choose to do to themselves to live up to some artificial standard of beauty; because the pain and suffering of the “ugliness” they live with is so deep that all they can think about for years is “fixing” it so they can feel good about themselves. I visited a friend of mine recently 1-day post-surgery to remove stretched skin, re-stitch abdominal muscles and enhance her breasts. I hope and pray that the results are what she wants because I love her but I admit that I am worried. I came home from seeing her, wrapped in ice packs, with drainage lines in her belly, doped up on drugs and still hurting so much, swelling everywhere and I cried. I cried for the suffering that drove her to this and that drives so many to these and even more extreme measures.


These are not minor things- this is major trauma inflicted on the body in the name of beauty. Major trauma that is not always benign- I haven’t been in practice all that long and I have treated three women already for complications from their cosmetic surgeries to their abdomens- things like digestive dysfunction, painful bloating, horribly discolored scars- the fine print their doctors never really told them about until after. And this isn’t weeks or months after their surgeries- we are talking years they have suffered with these after affects.


What does it say about us as a people that this is the standard we tell ourselves to achieve? That a mother should be ashamed of her stretch marks, her breasts and nipples changed by nursing? And so rarely are these imperfections as bad to an outsider as they are to the person. It took me years to build up the trust where my friend would show me her belly, because with clothes on I honestly couldn’t see what she saw- the “horrible folds of loose skin”, the “sagging” belly- and when she did I was shocked- because really truly it wasn’t that bad. Yes, there were small folds in the skin, and stretch marks, and no her tattoo would never be quite the same (it’s gone now with those folds of skin, in a medical waste bag somewhere). Same with her breasts, they were small and yes a mother’s breasts but not “sagging and pathetic”.


I routinely palpate abdomens as part of my diagnosis. So many women cringe at first. Many tell me how much they hate their bellies for the stretch marks, the fullness of their lower abdomen, how “ugly” they are. And I am bewildered because I didn’t see them before their baby in most cases, I only see what they are now. And the “huge” marks are often small and hard to see from more than a foot or two away, the “ugly” simply isn’t there. And the truth is age will bring us all less firm abdomens no matter how many children we bear, lines and marks will appear even if children don’t. I know this because I have similar marks even though I have never been fortunate enough to be a mother. And no, I’ve never been overweight- it’s just the progress of time across my body or my body through time. So I pray that we as women can affirm each others beauty, that we can remind each other our bodies were made to be this way and being a mother leaves its marks, but that’s ok. It’s not ugly, it is a testament to the fact that you carried and gave birth to a life.

But what drives this? Our distorted view of ourselves can be so shocking- this video from Dove Real Beauty captures how drastic this distortion of self image can be. How can we hold on to the reality that beauty lies not in some perfect conformity to a media ideal but in the uniqueness that defines us all? Why should an external image of our physical self hold so much sway over our happiness? After all, it’s what we do in life, how we experience our life, that really matters.


These images hold such sway because they are pervasive and distorted. They are not real, they are not even representative of a small minority- they are digitally remastered and physically impossible. Dove Real Beauty did a time-lapse video that shows not only the make-up and lighting effects to make a model look a certain way, but then also the photo editing that occurs. Watch it, it should be an awakening. We need truth in images, truth in advertising, and truth about what it means to be human. I’m sure men are affected to some degree by all of this as well, not only in expecting an impossible physical ideal might be out there in real life but by seeing so many images that simply aren’t real of men as well.[pullquote align=”right”]There is certainly some degree of this pressure felt as a young man. The need to have super cut abs probably began in the 1970s and 80s with infomercials selling weight equipment but Hollywood has increased the amount of imagery and the extreme of it to the point of almost ludicrous imagery (such as the movie 300). It is occasional that it will affect men’s health and happiness, but it would be unfair to say it is equal to the plight of women. Still, there is no doubt that the problem is systemic. ~Shifu[/pullquote]


Health creates a glow that is beautiful, a feeling that reinforces self-confidence. This is where we should focus our goals for beauty. Does our body do what we need it to do? Do we feel good? If the answer is yes, that is beautiful to me. I hope that more people are able to embrace this and to just say “no” the plastic fantastic absurdity of the images that we are flooded with every day. Support those women who refused to be air-brushed and photoshopped into conformity and be proud of who you are. And be gentle with yourself, put down the lens of the critic and take a moment to be thankful that the miraculous workings of your body allow you to be here in this moment of time. When you really think about everything going on inside you at any given moment to keep you alive, it really is amazing.


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