Unconditional Beauty

You are beautiful. You are already completely beautiful. There’s nothing that needs to change about your appearance or your body for you to be just right. This is the nature of unconditional beauty.

We have been brainwashed into believing that our beauty is conditional, and, unfortunately, we never seem to quite meet the right conditions. There’s some deconditioning we’ve got to do, to see ourselves and each other more clearly. Once we clear our vision, we really are surrounded by beauty.

One important way to support the deconditioning process is to offer ourselves and each other unconditional appreciations. Want to learn how?

View Video Transcript
Unconditional Beauty
Steve Bearman
July 23, 2012

You - are - beautiful. You may be wondering how I can say this given that, at the moment, you can see me and I can't see you. But I know, without being able to see you, that you are beautiful, and I know this because I know that human beings are beautiful, and I highly suspect that you are one of us. Now, I don't just mean beautiful on the inside, though that's certainly true too. I mean on the outside. I mean that your body, exactly as it is right now, is already completely beautiful. I mean that your face is beautiful to behold. Beautiful is what you already are. This way of thinking and talking about beauty is in contrast to how we learn to think about it. We learn that beauty is conditional, that under certain conditions, if you meet them, you are beautiful. And under other conditions, if you meet those, you are not beautiful. We've all come to believe that. We've come to "objectify" ourselves. Objectification means that we get seen by the outside world as objects to be looked upon, as visual objects. And we start to think of ourselves in terms of how we look from the outside, or how we imagine others see us from the outside. This is part of the process of learning that we only look okay under certain conditions. It's part of our brainwashing that has indoctrinated us into the cult of beauty, where we believe that beauty is conditional. A good example of this, is that you probably have learned to think of yourself as a kind of assemblage or collection of parts: body parts, facial parts. And those parts are all individually evaluated to determine, for instance, whether they're too big, or too small, or the right proportion or size in relation to some other body part. We've all become size queens. "Size queen" is a term that the gay community uses to refer to gay men who are obsessed with penis size. But we're all size queens of a different sort because we think that the sizes of our different body parts should be different than they are, which is a really strange notion. I mean most of us, if we're out in the wilderness, don't say things like, "Oh my God, that tiger's nose is too big," or, "Did you see that pelican's wings? That wingspan is so long in proportion to the leg length. That's just not right." We don't evaluate other animals in the wild that way. We may do that with our own domesticated animals, but most of us aren't that heavily conditioned. We can see, that animals are just right. Their sizes of different parts just make sense. They just are how they are, and they're all different, and that's just great. But we do it to ourselves. We think of ourselves as not okay. This is partially because of sexism and racism. These two forms of oppression both require us to join the beauty cult. Sexism operates in part, especially modern sexism, by causing women to be preoccupied and obsessed with looks and weight and body image. If you're a woman, there are so many other wonderful things for you to put your energy and your creative attention on in your life. But if you have been sucked in by this aspect of sexism, you may be very preoccupied and pouring a lot of energy into thinking about looks, which matter very little. Racism also requires us to join the beauty cult, because it requires us to think that we know something about somebody, because we know how they look, and that's just not true. But it does something worse than that, which is it teaches us that there are some ways of looking that are better than other ways of looking, and that there are some kinds of people who look better than other kinds of people. It's a requirement of racism and sexism that we think in terms of conditional beauty. Now, you may think that the solution to this is, if we could just appreciate ourselves and each other more. If you could just be appreciated for the way that you look, that would solve the problem. But appreciation is often a part of the problem, instead of the solution. There are three different kinds of ways to think about how you might be evaluated by the world when you get objectified. The first is that you might not be seen at all. You might be socially invisible, and that's tough, to not really be seen when you walk through the world. You may be seen, but evaluated negatively and criticized. There may be some derogatory objectification, derogating objectification that comes your way, and that's not so fun either. On the other hand, you may be seen, and appreciated and validated for how you look. You may get validating objectification. And of those three, validating objectification definitely seems like it's the best. It's the one that we all want. But it's a part of the problem. This is a phenomenon that many women experience. You may spend a lot of time working on your appearance, making yourself beautiful, so that when you go into the world, people see you as beautiful because of how you do things with your hair and your skin and makeup, and your outfits and your jewelry and accessories. And so then you get seen in the world as beautiful, which is the goal. But what also happens, is that you find yourself being looked at in a way that, for some reason, doesn't feel good. Even though people, and men in particular, like the way that you look, something feels wrong about it. It's like you can tell. that they're not seeing you. They're just seeing some image of you. and they're confusing that with you. And that feels like a violation of your essential nature. And so there's a way that we have this problem. It's the validation as violation problem. You do what you need to get validated. and that feels violating. It just doesn't work. It doesn't actually solve the problem. One solution to this, and a solution that feminism has offered, has been, instead of, as a woman (if you're a woman, in particular, but this could be true for anybody), instead of my commenting on your appearance, if I want to appreciate you, I just appreciate other things about you: your personality, and your behavior, and your relationship to me. I comment on other things that I appreciate about you. And that's a wonderful thing to do, but it leaves the body behind. What we need is to see, is there some way you can appreciate someone's body, and have it be non-evaluative? Is it possible to do both? To both appreciate a person's body, and not evaluate them? Is it possible to offer unconditional appreciation? I believe that it is. And here's what I think it's like. Consider the difference between these two kinds of appreciations. I could offer you a conditional appreciation. I might say something like, "Your eyes are so pretty," or I might say, "Wow, you seem like you've really lost some weight. You look great!" And those things might feel good at the moment, but lurking behind them, there might be these questions. Like, "Okay, well you think my eyes are pretty. Does that mean the rest of me isn't? And you don't like the rest of me?" or, "Okay, you like the way I look now that I've lost some weight. What did you think of me before? And what are you going to think of me tomorrow, or a month from now, if I change and I am not the way I am now?" Consider if instead, I was to say something to you like, "I see you, and I love your body just as it is." Or, if I were to say something like, "I really enjoy looking at your face." Or to say something like, "You are just right. Everything about you is perfect." Those are different. Even though it sounds like those are evaluations, they're really not. That's kind of my expressing my experience of unconditional beauty in your presence. It's letting you know, that I find you, and your body, and your face to be beautiful, but not because you've won in some competition, or because you've met a set of standards, but because I actually see you, as the beautiful creature that you are. Being able to hold this, this notion of unconditional beauty and unconditional appreciation, it's almost a spiritual kind of principle. It allows you to move through the world and start to see people differently. It allows you to really start to see the beauty that is already present in everyone. And that's a good thing, because when you get there, you walk through the world, and through the city, and through society, surrounded by beauty. And you look in the mirror, and you include yourself in it. That is really the goal. To be able to tell that we're all beautiful, already, and so there are a lot of things that we don't need to feel bad about anymore. There's a lot of shame that we can shed, because we're already there. We already achieved it, and we all get to live, as beautiful people, in a beautiful world.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.