by Matt Jardine
The Perfect, Imperfect you
How do you feel about your body? Is there something about it that embarrasses you, upsets you, makes you angry at the cards you have been dealt? Is there anything you would change, something that, were it ‘fixed’, might make you feel better about yourself, more attractive, sexy even?
If we are honest, few of us have reached the level of self assuredness where we can celebrate, rather than bemoan, our ‘flaws’. We understand it is healthier to rise above self condemnation. Yet, somehow, as we stand in front of the mirror, it often seems impossible to embrace the ‘imperfect you’ staring back.
Delyse Botha, forty-six-year-old divorcee and mother of two teenagers, knows this feeling all too well. And she is taking a stand.
“I want to help people,” she told me, “I want to help them feel good about themselves, to show them some kindness and love.”
Delyse is a photographer specialising in Boudoir images. She told me about her home-based business when I was visiting South Africa with my wife for a family reunion. “What is it?” I asked of the term ‘Boudoir’.
“I try to capture the pure essence of beauty,” she said.
Delyse’s Boudoir photography business piqued my interest for two reasons.
First, I love to see people taking control of their lives, stepping into projects and careers of which they’d previously dreamed and finding the courage to turn them into reality. These sorts of people I call ‘Buddhist Millionaires’, in that they are doing what they love, pursuing a career imbued with meaning, and using it to pay the bills (I wrote about this idea in my book, ‘How to be a Buddhist Millionaire.’)
Second, a very dear family member of mine suffered, in her youth, from an eating disorder attributed by medical professionals to problems with body image.
Before we continue, it is important to say that although I’m writing for a majority female audience today, body image and confidence is not the exclusive domain of women.
“Absolutely not,” said Delyse when I asked her about this, “I photograph men with exactly the same self-image problems.”
Every day marketing and media bombard us with images suggesting our happiness is on the other side of ‘lean, mean abs’, a ‘dazzling smile’, a ‘zero dress size’. Even with the wisdom of age and the understanding that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, other’s views of how we should look still affect us.
In an article on psychology today, author and hypnotherapist, Chloe Brotheridge, writes: “You may not even realise how negative your self-image is, especially if the thoughts have become second nature to you.”
I asked Delyse if you have to have an impressive body and looks to be beautiful: “No,” she said, shaking her head, “absolutely not.”
“Beauty and sexiness is about being confident, about being happy with who you are, how you feel, not just outside, but inside too.”
“It’s not what your body looks like, it’s how you feel about yourself. Beauty has a lot to do with what’s inside your head.”
More than just a ‘company line’, a trite saying passed from parent to child (“sticks and stones may break my bones…” is another example), we can road test this idea for ourselves. Think of the amount of ‘media perfect people’ who are ‘unattractive’ because of the unhappiness or scowl on their faces. As contrast, think of how many ‘not classically beautiful’ people have charmed and beguiled you with the warmth of their smile and light in their eyes?
But it would be disingenuous to ignore the pleasant aesthetics of a healthy body.
“Looking good and feeling sexy is the prize I receive for taking the care and effort to look after myself,” says Vivian Callegaro, Yoga teacher, Applied Positive Psychology coach, and someone who embraces Boudoir photography.
Crouched in a pair of Wizard of Oz red heels, wrapped in a faux fur coat, one shoulder bare, the photograph on Vivian’s social media feed highlights, from one perspective at least, the rewards of health, nutrition, exercise and self-care.
Her words struck a deep chord as I remembered a dear friend, my wife’s Godfather, who died of a heart attack during lockdown. As handsome as his kindness and generosity was, he had been clinically obese for years, ignored doctor’s advice and died of the consequences.
So what are we to do? Do we succumb to modern media and chase the ‘ideal’ size, physique, and healthy regime, or do we say, “to hell with it all”, and live a life that goes against the grain of public opinion regardless of the outcome?
After researching and interviewing many women about this subject, I would like to offer another way, an alternative that runs through the middle of both extremes.
I have practised meditation for over thirty years, beginning as a solution to my teenage angst. It has taught me many things over the years, one of those I’d like to offer as a resolution to the dilemma of body image and confidence.
At the heart of meditation practice is the concept of ‘Acceptance’. We’ve all heard the advice that it is preferable to accept the things we cannot change; illness, death, losing a job, as examples. While on the surface this seems excellent advice, in practice there is a knife edge between acceptance and the state that masquerades as acceptance: resignation.
Resignation is a low energy state, a state where negative emotions reign. In this state we have ‘given up’, lost hope, given ourselves to controlling forces over which we feel we have no influence. It is a state where there are no goals and plans beyond the circumstances to which one has settled.
New York based psychotherapist, Christy O’Shoney, gives examples of the things we might say when we feel resigned:
“That’s just the way it is.”
“There’s no use getting so worked up.”
“I just need to get over it.”
O’Shoney says we use resignation to minimise negative emotions, an understandable tactic, except in doing so, we surrender our right to feel, and the wisdom of the lessons contained.
Acceptance, in stark contrast, is a hopeful, positive, active state, a state pregnant with potential. People who have chosen acceptance over resignation, says O’Shoney, commit to the following processes:
- Acknowledgment of the reality of a situation
- Validation of their feelings
- Identification of their sense of agency
- Active seeking of support
How might acceptance look regarding learning to feel better about our bodies?
- We could, for example, acknowledge that we are overweight (or whatever else you don’t like about your body)
- We could accept the feelings we have about our body image, rather than ignoring or minimising them
- We could look for the things we can control about the situation, (we always have some agency over our situation, no matter how small)
- And, of course, we could seek support and ask for help (possibly having a portfolio of Boudoir shots taken so you can see for yourself the ‘pure essence of beauty’ the likes of Delyse Botha is waiting to show lies within you.)
There is power innate to acceptance, a strength that can help you find confidence, self-belief, solutions, answers, the courage to be all you can be and let go, with joy, to all that no longer serves you.
I write this article sharing the same sentiments as Delyse Botha: “To help people, to help them feel good about themselves, to show them some kindness and love.”
In an ideal world, the next time you look into the mirror, these words will help you to fall in love again with the Perfect, Imperfect you.
Matt Jardine is an author, martial artist, entrepreneur, public speaker, podcaster, teacher, and the founder of Jardine Karate School. His previous books include Mo and Lucy–Choices, The Hardest Path, inspired by his 88 Temple pilgrimage of Japan, and his latest release, How to be a Buddhist Millionaire–9 practical steps to being happy in a materialistic world (out now–published by Short Books £9.99).
Matt has practiced meditation and other Eastern arts for over 25 years and now lives between London and the Hajar mountains of Oman with his wife and Jack Russell.