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What is beauty?  What is it that makes somebody beautiful?  According to the everyday understanding of beauty with regard to human beings, it refers to the appearance of the body, and there are usually similar characteristics.  In the West, typical features of what most people would define as a beautiful person include being thin, non-disabled and young, and having smooth skin, symmetrical features, lustrous hair, prominent cheekbones, flat stomach and muscle definition.  And there are lots more rules!  For example, noses mustn't be too long and ears mustn't be too big and women shouldn't have hair except on their head.  These days bottoms mustn't be too flat.  The list of requirements goes on and on.  The details vary over time and place, but it seems as the world becomes more globalised, this particular view of beauty is becoming more dominant.  From this vantage point, beauty is about conformity to a particular set of standards relating to the physical form.  

But why is beauty important?  And why do so many of us strive to be beautiful, and become downcast when we fail to achieve this aim?  Why is it such a big deal to us?  When I was young, I would hear my parents talk in reverent tones about movie stars and models.  There was a sense of awe.  It was as if looking at a person with particular physical characteristics was helping them to experience feelings of wonder.  The same was true when the heroine of the movie would appear, and everyone would gaze at her.  She captivated their attention, and all other thoughts stopped to make way for taking in her vision.  It was as if a certain kind of appearance transported people into a more magical dimension of life where mundane preoccupations and worries were suddenly swept away.

If this is the impact of a beautiful appearance on people, is it any wonder that so many of us long to be a part of creating this magic?  If we are one of those special people that can arouse such strong and wonderful feelings in others, then we can rest assured that we are valuable and our lives have meaning.  And yet, at the heart of this perspective, is a crucial misunderstanding.  As a society, we have mistaken conformity for beauty.  We have made feelings of awe and wonder - the experience of indulging in the pleasure of the present moment - contingent upon ticking a prescribed set of boxes on the 'appearance rules' pro forma!  But, of course, this is all a ridiculous concoction of the collective imagination!  These glorious feelings could never be confined to such a petty rulebook.  

So many of us have suffered enormously because our appearance deviates from the apparent societal ideal.  We believe that a lack of conformity is equivalent to being ugly and unattractive.  We bemoan our fate.  How unfair it is that we lost the genetic lottery, or that we lack the willpower to contort ourselves into the 'right' shape.  If this is you, please take a moment to slow down and take this in:  you are wrong.  You have innocently believed a widely propagated lie.  You have mistaken beauty for conformity.  But beauty and conformity are two totally different things.

So, if beauty isn't about conformity, what is it about?  Beauty is wild and free, and resistant to being contained within a definition.  But in the interests of our collective freedom, I'll take a stab at it!  This will be inevitably imperfect and incomplete, and I reserve the right to expand and refine this definition over time!

Beauty is a trick of the mind.  It is the association of feelings of wonder, peace, joy and love with that which we see.  It looks as if beauty is a property of the person or scene we're looking at, but it is actually flowing from our soul.  It is a projection of our consciousness.  Beauty therefore resides within us all.  It can never be taken from us because it is who we are at our core.  If this sounds a little strange or far-fetched, I invite you to stick with me just a little bit longer.  I have only scratched the surface of the truth of this myself, and I don't always see it.  Fortunately, such glimpses have been enough to relieve me of nearly all my suffering related to how I look.  I therefore encourage you to give yourself the gift of patience and time to consider:  what does beauty truly mean to you?  May your reflections lead you away from suffering and towards peace and freedom.

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