When we think of beauty, we tend to think about the externals: hair, eyes, skin, body shape.

It’s a habit that has been drilled into us by the culture that surrounds us, but it’s based on a lie.

Beauty is so much more than our physical appearance and it’s time we started redefining it, starting with healthy talk about our bodies. We need to stop pinching, poking and complaining about everything that we perceive as not-good-enough, and start celebrating all that is wonderful about what we have. Not only does this change the way we view ourselves, but it also begins to change the definition of beauty for the women around us.

In her book The Good Body, Eve Ensler describes a time when she was traveling in Africa and asked a native woman named Leah if she liked her body. The woman responded confidently, “Do I like my body? Do I like my body? I love my body. God made this body. God gave me this body. My fingers, look at my fingers. I love my fingernails, little crescent moons. They lead right up to my arms–so strong–they carry things along. And my legs, my legs are long.”

Immediately after hearing this, Eve began to complain about her own body only to be cut off by Leah: “Eve, look at that tree. Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. (Points to another tree) Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree ‘cause it doesn’t look like that tree? Do you say that tree isn’t pretty ‘cause it doesn’t look like that tree? You’re a tree. I’m a tree. You’ve got to love your body, Eve. You’ve got to love your tree. Love your tree.”

Unlike the vast majority of American women, Leah knew that her body was beautiful. She appreciated all of its functions, and loved her body as a result. Just as it seems silly to say that one tree isn’t as pretty as another because it looks different, it’s silly for us to determine our beauty based on what others look like.

Beauty isn’t about what size we are or how shiny our hair is; beauty is what radiates from our souls. The right look might sell magazines, clothes and products, but beauty changes the world. Let’s change the world together by taking small steps toward redefining beauty today:

1. Use positive language. No more negativity when talking about bodies–whether it be our own body, in our head, or the body of a celebrity in US Weekly. As we eliminate the bad habit of negative body talk, we will begin to recognize a wider variety of shapes and sizes as beautiful. Remember, I’m a tree and you’re a tree. It’s time to love our trees.

2. Focus on function. Like Leah, we need to recognize and celebrate the function that each of our body parts bring to our life. Rather than criticize our thighs for being too big, we can choose to practice gratitude for their strength and ability to get us from one place to another.

3. Celebrate qualities. Encourage other women by complimenting their non-physical qualities that make them beautiful. When we get positive feedback about how our hair looks, we are certain to wear it like that over and over again because we know it looks good. In the same way, telling a friend that she is kind, compassionate, loving, or confident encourages her to continue that behavior–which is what real beauty is made of.

4. Live a beautiful life. As we notice beautiful qualities in other women, let’s start to demonstrate that beauty in our own lives. Before we know it, our communities will be bursting at the seams from all of the real beauty we’ll be spreading around.


Photo Credit: ris.lib.unc.edu