The Problem With Beauty Houston, we have a problem. Miami, you too. Hollywood, it’s big.

London, Paris, Dublin, you’re included. Podunk, Littletown, and Noplace Special—don’t think you’re exempt. It’s everywhere. Invasive and pervasive. Beauty has gotten out of hand. Not real beauty, of course. Not the kind of beauty that emerges, even erupts, like a wildflower in the wilderness, in response to what we love. No, I mean the kind that we are trying to buy, wear, and posses in order to get love. Or prestige. Or even a better “in” with the hottest new spiritual guru. The kind we are sold alongside everything from diamonds to dog food. The version we are told via every magazine ad and television commercial that we will absolutely need if we are to have any hope of being happy in this life. It’s not pretty. And it’s not new. In fact, it’s so old-news, so accepted, so normal, most of us no longer really notice the tactics that steal the soul of beauty. It’s just how things are these days. Even the costs, so obvious in the modern life, are chalked up to “the way of the world.” So while we might say it’s a shame that there is an outrageous number of young women (and men) are starving themselves to death because they think they are “fat”, it’s not really news. And though it might make us gasp to hear of a 5’6” woman checking into a hospital at 94 pounds and feeling terrified to eat, unless it is our own daughter, or sister, or best friend, the conversation quickly sails on. Likewise, we might groan at the truth that women spend billions of dollars every year on beauty products, not to mention diet foods, pills and programs. But we’ve seen enough infomercials and strip mall diet club storefronts, and we have spent enough of our own money at the cosmetics counter, that no real alarm sounds. In fact, while we might all agree that the way food is grown, processed, modified and marketed is actually creating less beauty, not more, given the growing obesity epidemic that kills millions in one way or another every year, most of us don’t feel that’s really any of our business. It’s a matter of personal choice, isn’t it? People do what they want to do, right? Even our very own insecurities, the ones that show up as criticism in the mirror every day—often many times a day—seem normal. The negative self-talk (“Look at those thunder thighs…those puny, sagging breasts…the wrinkles…and that gray!”) is so accepted, so expected, it’s viewed as nothing more than the annoying drone of a radio, the standard-issue background noise of a woman’s mind. The idea that there is something wrong with the message, not the woman, seems almost radical. Maybe even unpatriotic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against physical beauty. Even the striking, wow-ser kind. I don’t think unattractive is better than attractive, or that we all ought to ugly ourselves up to make a point. I love to see the standardized beauty out there. There is a reason we all respond to a form that is easily recognized as lovely, and it is not only conditioning. Yet I also happen to get a rush from nonstandardized beauty—the cracked and edgy, the burnt shadows, the otherwise overlooked. No, it is the idea of selling my soul for society’s current version of beauty, and only that version, at the same time as watching our young daughters sell their souls at younger and younger ages, that gets to me. It’s Global, But It’s Also Personal I remember the exact day I sold my soul for beauty. I was just home from high

school, all of fifteen years old. I don’t recall what happened to bring me to the bathroom mirror. But there I was, sitting on the vanity, my feet in the sink, crying. What do they see that I don’t see? I kept asking the young woman staring back at me. I’m ugly, unacceptable, substandard. Or so they say. I, myself, didn’t feel that way. Sure, I knew I wasn’t going to win any beauty contests. But ugly? Unacceptable? Substandard? Bad enough to be rejected and ridiculed, day after day, like a game with a pre-designated looser? I might have been able to argue the validity of my own opinion to myself, if it weren’t for the fact that there were so many of them. So many standing against me, and only little old me standing for me. It was beyond what I, at that terribly vulnerable age, could pull off. I recall nodding to my image, eye to eye, tear to tear. It was a matter of majority rule, I told myself. They must be right. Not only must I be unattractive and unlovable, I decided, I must not be able to see any kind of beauty clearly. My judgment was obviously as distorted as my body. “Don’t trust your own opinion from here on out,” I said aloud, already becoming angry at myself for not seeing flaws that were so obvious to everyone else. Yes, I would listen to them. I would side with society. I would ignore my own opinions, and I would learn the ways of the world. I would become beautiful, by the world’s standards, whatever it took. I walked away from that mirror a different young woman, and it would be twenty years before I went back to reconsider my true opinion of myself. Twenty years, two children, two plastic surgeries, a wide array of diets, a divorce, and a spiritual awakening had to occur before I would tell myself I had been wrong that day. Twenty years before I realized that they—no matter how great their numbers—had no more right to decide what was beautiful than I did. Twenty years before I realized that virtually every woman I knew had sold out to play the game right along with me. Twenty years, but I did go back. I sat on the vanity, put my feet back in the sink, and stared at the older, wiser woman in the mirror. I asked her, and my younger self, to forgive me. I told them both that I had made a mistake. I really was beautiful, not only before that day at age fifteen, but in all the twenty years between. I also told my younger self I’d make it up to her. I’m doing that here, now, with my reader as witness. The Shaman’s Way Where do we begin to reclaim our true beauty and our personal evaluation of what is beautiful? What will it take to allow an admiration of the organic smile, the odd shape, the off-beat style? To experience the loving acceptance of whatever face and body returns our gaze in the mirror? Just as important, how can we experience being the kind of beauty that knocks our own socks off, makes our toes curl, gives our soul pause and sigh and reason to shout from the heart? I found my way through the shamanic path. It’s not the only way, by far. But it is the one I know and can offer guideposts to. If you were in Africa and went to a shaman for a healing of any kind, the first questions you would be asked would be: “When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing?” Another way to put it might be “When did the light of true beauty that animates you go out?” Especially in modern-day, developed countries, it might be reasonable to ask, “Have you ever known real beauty at all?”

The shaman knows that the soul’s urge toward beauty is not about perfect symmetry and mainstream approval. It is not about opening doors in business, or snagging the right mate, or fitting in at the A-list parties. The shaman knows that beauty is about opening doors to joy, snagging the moment, and fitting into your own life. She knows beauty is not something to buy. It is a path, a way of living and being in the world. The only path and the only way, if you want to keep dancing and singing. The shaman knows that the soul wants to experience everything, not just the “good” things, the easy things and the pretty things. The soul wants depth and meaning, even if it comes by way of some turmoil and stewing. It wants the dark night, away from culture’s fanfare, so that it may find it’s truest places and deepest urges. It wants healing and wholeness so that dark and light are a symphony, not a fight. The soul wants to feel at home wherever it feels at home, not where it’s told home should be. It wants to love who and what it loves, not who and what it is supposed to love. It wants to want what it really and truly wants, to refuse what is good but not good enough, and to embrace the genuine desires that arise after all the superficial desires have lost their luster. It wants a siren’s call, something worth stumbling, begging, stealing, and ransoming itself for. It wants something the consumer culture of beauty doesn’t sell. And, when it finally wants it enough to risk great and profound loss, it will have it. What’s A Woman To Do? As a practicing shaman, my work is in healing the mind, body and spirit. The avenue I work through is the soul, and I find it is the feminine aspects of the soul that usually need the most restoration. So while I wouldn’t dream of arguing that women suffer more than men in the beauty and self-worth department, I will say that women suffer differently, and for different reasons, and different tactics of change offer healing in women. The idea is not to change ourselves, but to learn to be ourselves. Not to change the culture by force or argument, but to become a woman of such refined inner dignity and self-appreciation, we radiate something entirely new in the world. Something our daughters will want to emanate. Something our granddaughters see as a turning point in her-story. Something our great-granddaughters will take for granted. Shapeshift in Perspective Shamans, the natural healers found in every culture and tribe the world over, are often known for the gift of shapeshifting. It is a term that tries to explain the “unexplainable something” that occurs when the shaman leaves her current form and takes on another, or sometimes just the appearance of another. The old stories speak most often of shamans turning into beasts and bats, or leaving their body in order to embody the spirit of the mountain or the river. Yet while lions, tigers and bears might be the “oh my” of shamanic shapeshifting, what about this animal: Wake up, stumble out of bed, pour a cup of coffee, fumble for the shower knob, quick wash, then on with the clothes, the makeup—oh yea, here I am. Isn’t that a shapeshift? Don’t you look and feel completely different walking out the door in the morning than you did before the coffee, the shower, and the accessories?

Shapeshifting is an amazing miracle in the middle of the Amazon. But your morning routine isn’t a bad place to begin practicing. Let’s face it, we live out our routines. (If you don’t think you’re deeply conditioned in ways you never even think about anymore, just consider how hard it is for someone in a hospital to go to the bathroom lying down. Deep inside, their mother is still there saying “No, you don’t!” Without a lot of conscious effort, the body still obeys.) But that does not mean we are our routines. We are not our cars or our homes or our jobs or our roles. Nor are we our advertisements or the products we buy, however much advertisers are hoping we forget that. We are more than these boxes, these small definitions. But how to break free? Start in the morning. Take five minutes with your eyes closed, before all the routine, and simply imagine the routine. Imagine the coffee going down smooth and easy, the shower hot on your back, the makeup being applied to your face. See your “on display” self emerge. Imagine the clothes going on, the perfect accessories, all of it. Give it a true five minutes, then open your eyes. Look in the mirror and see if at least some of the shapeshift hasn’t already occurred—in the mirror as well as your physical energy level—even without your actually doing anything in material reality. Reconsider the degree to which you “need” the coffee (or whatever it is you use) to wake yourself up and get yourself going. Truth be told, once I’d gotten the hang of shapeshifting at will, I gave up makeup 99% of the time. Why bother, if I can save the time, expense, and chemical additives? Oh sure, there are still those very special occasions when I want to put on my more sparkling self. But I know it is the act of intended shapeshifting, and not the actual color on my face, that makes the real difference. Even if you want to keep your routine, it’s a worthy exercise, because the first step in shapeshifting our conditioning is to see it, and to realize how much of it is only in the our heads. From there, it’s not such a great stretch to spend five minutes “imagining” changes you would like to make in yourself that you don’t have a routine for. Changes that there are no pills or make-up brush to create, because they are inner changes. Maybe you don’t want to be a cougar at work today—or maybe you do. Maybe you simply want to shapeshift from the fearful little bunny everyone thinks is so cute to the powerful Elk everyone gives a wide birth to. Or maybe you want to shift from Magdalene Jones to Sweet Maggie, as in this little ditty I wrote for myself years ago… Magdalene Jones was too big of bones To be a pin-up calendar girl. Hid her face in shame, played the diet game Thought love was for the rest of the world. Till one fine day she’d had enough Told the boys they could call her ‘Sweet Maggie’ Put a smile on her lips and a swing in her hips Now they nip at her heels, their tails wagging. Sometimes you have to steal permission Forget the standards you’re fed on TV Lose your mind, use your intuition Create your own finish line, and be free

These shapeshifts can happen if we stop assuming that the current programming is the only one available and remember that it’s a big world, with lots of ways to live in it. We do have the option to shift from how we have always been to how we have long dreamed of being. As the shaman knows, it’s not about changing the world, it is about changing worlds. Start practicing, start imagining, and watch the shapeshift begin with no more effort than that. Robin Rice is a personal mentor to women leaders. Her award-winning, internationally published novels offer personal growth and healing at www.BeWhoYouAre.com. These books offer genuine entertainment through well-woven tales of personal growth in a real world setting. They engage the harsh realities of being human while pointing us all toward a more rewarding and soulful existence. Venus For A Day is a wild ride into love, beauty, and goddess lore. This story awakens the feminine soul and revives the weary heart. "Staggeringly powerful. This is the book I should have written for my patients. At once deeply personal and communal, this mythical journey seeps in, performing it's much needed healing. I was far too busy to read it, yet could not put it down." —Dr. Eve Bruce, Plastic Surgeon and author of Shaman, MD. A Hundred Ways To Sunday (now published in Spanish and German) is a story that explores the arduous journey to becoming who we really are. It speaks directly to the heart of anyone who wishes they could save the world. “One of the most pleasurable and intriguing journeys I have taken... It is sensory, rich and deeply human." ~ Creations Magazine Robin also offers a monthly Ezine, Be Who You Are. www.BeWhoYouAre.com. Sign up at

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