I am a person who has vivid and busy dreams all night long. I think it’s why I’m often so tired during the day! Every now and then, a dream voice speaks to me with a short and powerful statement. I don’t see any images; I just hear the voice and then it’s gone.
The latest message I received was, Experience over appearance.
Thank you, dream voice! Simple and spot on. I’ve spent the past few months using this mantra and it’s been really helpful in keeping me connected to my authenticity and life force.
This mantra came in especially handy recently when my daughter got married and numerous photos were taken of me.
I struggle with having my picture taken. My father was an avid photographer, so nearly every part of my life growing up was photographed. And since I was not in his eyes the “pretty one” of his three girls, I learned to judge myself harshly in all photos. Sure, every once in a while, a photo is taken that I feel good about (like some taken by photographers who have done professional photos for me), but it doesn’t happen often.
I learned to be afraid of cameras, so when one is pointed at me, I pull my head back, smile awkwardly, and hang my arms limply at my side. Doesn’t make for the best photos :) And they certainly don’t bring forth my essence, because what I’m trying to do is run away!
Thanks to the four decades of work I’ve done letting go of messages from diet culture and the beauty industrial complex since I healed from my eating disorder, I’m comfortable with my definition of my beauty and I see it in myself, even as I age. I realized many years ago that my beauty is not static — it’s in motion!
It’s not in the fixed, split second, one dimensional image of a photo. Photos don’t“capture” my wild, authentic beauty. And besides, my wild self balks at being captured!
Even with all of the work I’ve done, seeing photos of myself has been a challenge. Until now.
By focusing on experience over appearance, I was able to seethe photos taken of me during my daughter’s wedding celebration week with a new perspective.
Here’s an example…
A photo was taken of me sitting on the top of a rock in our neighborhood, talking to an eight-year-old wedding guest who was telling me about how she is an adventurer who loves to climb trees and rocks and rooftops. But she doesn’t get to do these things in her daily life. I told her I grew up climbing trees and rocks and rooftops, and that I never stopped. She was blown away. She said, “I didn’t know grandmas could do these things.” She meant people my age! I said, “Oh yes, we absolutely can,” and proceeded to tell her about the wild adventures that are still part of my life.
A few weeks later, I saw a photo of us that was taking from below where we were sitting. In the first split second my focus was on my squishy mid-section, saggy arms and breasts, and lots of loose skin on my neck. And then a voice in my head said, “Experience over appearance, Connie,” andI remembered the amazing conversation with my little adventurer friend. I moved my attention to the powerful moments I shared with her instead of on the static image that “captured” our moment.
It no longer mattered whether or not I looked “good” in the photo. And who the fuck really cares except for me anyway? Everyone is obsessed with how they look!It was obvious in the photo that I’m old (Older? Oldish? I think I’m okay with“old”), and it actually felt good. I’m the “grandma” who climbs rocks and inspires little ones to never stop adventuring out to experience the wonders ofthe world as they grow up.
I scrolled through the rest of the images in the shared folder and saw several more photos where I could have judged myself harshly, but I chose not to do so.I continued to recite my simple mantra and remembered how much fun I had a teach event.
. . .
So, dear readers, I offer you my dream mantra “experience over appearance” if you struggle with how you look, especially if you spend a lot of time a fussing over the changes in your body that come with age.
We areALIVE! And life can be damned hard! So let’s make it a tiny bit easier by choosing to see our beauty (when we can) as an ever-changing landscape that is over flowing with an abundance of life force.
Changing your focus from appearance to experience is a practice, so in many moments it will be bloody hard to do! Some days it will be impossible, and that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means the messages from diet culture and the beauty industrial complex are gigantic forces that have gotten under your skin and started to fester. In these moments, see if you can give yourself a bit of compassion and know that you’re definitely not alone. There is no perfecting anything in these lives of ours, we just keep picking ourselves up when we can, and finding support to keep on going.
Experience over appearance — an adventure worth taking that might bring you a bit more freedom in your life, as it has for me.
Here are a few resources that might help you with your practice:
Bodies of Nature/Nature of Bodies
This is a booklet on beauty that you can find at www.thickpress.com. It’s an artistic exploration of how we can see our aging bodies as works of natural art by connecting with nature. With photos, a conversation of how the project came to be with my co-creator Collin Morrow, and an inspirational activity, you’ll have the opportunity to see your body through amore loving and creative lens.
Lost or Found Podcast, ep.57,“Aging Joyfully”
In this interview I had a deep and engaging conversation with Dr. MichelleChoi on aging joyfully.
Therapy Rocks Podcast, ep. 20, “The Art of Aging”
This 30-minute podcast shares a fun and powerful conversation I had on aging with host, Signe Darpinian.
I love having conversations about keeping life force alive and well as we struggle along in our human forms, so if you’re inspired to share your thoughts and/or questions, I look forward to hearing from you! email@example.com