The Real Beauty Barometer

irene-young-photographer_by-sardi-kleinAs a portrait photographer, I am fascinated with beauty. Who do we consider beautiful? Why do we consider them beautiful? Does beauty come from our body or our soul? Where and why are judgements born? Can we discard our judgements and expand our concepts of beauty to be defined as internal elegance, emotional grace, and a full presence. When it comes to changing our physical bodies, we come face to face with limitations. Yet, if we set out to exude beauty through our very being, the sky’s the limit!

Frequent flyer that I have been, I become well acquainted with the contents of most airline magazines. On one cross country trip to California I found a gem. In a Delta SKY interview with actress, Juliette Binoche, she was asked if she was aware of her inner light. Her response was, “Yes, I am…it’s a matter of being present and open inside. I’m not always aware of it. But when there is a close-up, there is a technical, but also spiritual opening I can do, tapping into what’s essential inside of myself, to give off that light.”

Notice that Binoche said that this was something into which she can tap. I suggest that this is a state of connectedness available to each and everyone of us. And while we may not be able to control everything about our physical bodies, nothing is stopping us from refining our spiritual beauty, or an internal elegance. It does require practice, but having guided so many people to invoke their personal luminosity during photo sessions, I can say for certain that this inner beauty makeover is achievable!

How do we discover this courtliness for ourselves? Practice paying attention from deep within, forgive the personality and envision the soul, and let compassion connect you to the people around you. True connection makes an electrical spark that sets off the radiance Binoche, and many other authentically beautiful people exude. Their magnetism originates from within…and that is why we stop and pay attention to women like Juliette Binoche, Maya Angelou, Isabella Rossalini, Princess Diana, Dame Judy Dench, Sonia Braga, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Geena Davis, Hallie Berry, Catherine Deneuve, Jackie Kennedy, Sophia Loren, Katherine Hepburn, and many others who have embodied the glow.

Now it would be foolish to say that these women are attractive only on the inside, but what I can say is that we are compelled to take notice because of something layers deep. We simply cannot ignore their internal splendor. And if we fill ourselves up with our own true being and meet the people around us with a full presence, then we, too, will shine. That light makes us beautiful throughout, and the delineation between inside and out, physical and spiritual, vanishes.

In our quest to surface our own sumptuous joie de vie and meet the world with an abundant spirit, we can extend our exquisite nature even further by practicing emotional grace. In my business, from time to time, a photo lab technician or an assistant will make a mistake. There is not a person on earth who doesn’t get a turn at making mistakes, so I work at inviting the person to get it right, rather than angrily insisting.

Blowing up is never attractive, and if one slips, as we all do, the very least we can offer is an apologize with style. Now, please remember…I am not saying to be spineless. I am saying that if we approach a tense situation with a full presence, emotional intelligence, and respect, other people will want to work with us to achieve our particular vision. That’s beautiful! Screaming at someone is not.

Additional ways to acquire emotional grace are to learn how to listen to someone else’s pain and how to listen to someone else’s joy. Listen with a full heart, keep a strong identity, exercise energetic boundaries, and verbally express loving support. Basically, celebrate the success of others, and align with that energy.

Sound easy so far? Good, because the last ingredient of this potent beauty tonic is the most elusive. It is not something that you add, but something you must cleanse from your system. We were all fed a lot of it growing up. It’s called judgement, and it makes the world a very dismal place.

Fat, skinny, ugly, old, queer, redneck, retard, bum, short, stupid, coward, slut, freak, sissy, bastard, bitch and every derogatory slang word expressing the fear of our beautiful diversity makes this not a very pretty world. So, why not change our vision?

We are millions of souls spiraling toward individual and collective spiritual betterment. Yet, we tend to be kept blind by our dark sides. Our progress is slow, because we step and stumble on each other along the way. Embracing the right of each human being to be unique is liberating not only to others, but to us. Judgement is a heavy burden. Freedom includes not having to make decisions that really belong to other people anyway. If we could learn to come from a more neutral place, the word ugly would not have such a full time job. Keep in mind that neutral does not mean passive. The former has an active, earnest ear. The latter does not.

By expanding our concept of beauty in others, we become more beautiful. When a child is embraced daily, he lights up when he sees his parents coming? If you drag judgement into a room, it’s likely people won’t be clamoring to get a closer look. If you glide in, strongly rooted to the earth, and imagine being escorted by an open-hearted Angel, all eyes will be on you. You communicate, “your soul is safe here.” People gravitate your way.

There is a similar message in this story about actor Sean Connery. The impression he made during his 007 audition was not complete until the producer Harry Salzman glanced out the window to witness Connery with his leopard-like stride turning heads on the street. The actor’s subtle outer style bows to his inner magnificence, and as a result, he, too, emanates a dignified glow, an energetic swagger. Director Sidney Lumet claims, “whatever the width of the doorway, Sean seems to fill it.” This is approaching life with a full presence.

Contrary to popular opinion, people want to be thought of as internally beautiful. On a talk show, supermodel, Gisele Bundchen, was asked in jest by host Craig Kilborn, “Are you more beautiful on the inside or on the outside?” She readily exclaimed, “Inside!” while he countered with a resounding “Wrong!.” As he attempted to move on to the next of his five humorous questions, Gisele stopped the flow of his skit to protest, “Why? You don’t even know me! I would rather be more beautiful on the inside!” She was not laughing, and although this was coming from a woman envied by many for her physical body, she was not willing to go along with the joke. Being outwardly attractive was not enough. It was clear to me that she wanted her soul to be seen, and Kilborn’s slap on the knee was more like a punch in the heart to Gisele. The message here is…what is really chic is soul!

Beauty is not a Hollywood exclusive, nor does she reside only at the peak of Billboard’s Top Ten. Beautiful souls are everywhere. The very act of being human is exquisite, and even among life’s ugliest stories, Aphrodite hides in the recesses waiting to be recognized.

People in my profession have an awesome responsibility. If we choose, we can be messengers of the Gods. The message is that within each of us there is a glimmer of the divine. The assignment is to pay very close attention and wait. The beauty in everyone will come into view, if we shoot with a wide-open aperture of the heart.

Most of us have a wish list when it comes to our physical bodies. I wish I had longer legs and broader shoulders. I cannot change the length of my legs, but I change how I walk into a room. I cannot change the width of my shoulders, but I can expand my breadth of my heart. And no matter the size of my body, it can always be the smallest part of me.

Every Thing of Beauty

Every thing of beauty
deserves its own reflection.
Deserves to be dumbfounded
by the depth of its unmistakable,
unarguable splendor.

We are bound by an oath
we pledged with our first sounds
of becoming human,
to give back what we are given,
to speak up and identify
the holiness in one another.

We have no right
to remain silent.
There is no good outcome from
stealing away each other’s breath
and not giving it back.

Give all my love
to the whole human race,
but first bask in it
as if it were the sun
with its rays wrapped around you.

Bathe in it
as if it were the sea
paying homage to you
by leaving perfectly whole
sand dollars at your feet.

When I’m an old woman
and it’s my time to die,
Let me go whilst
writing a love poem.
Tell every precious friend
I have ever had
it was written
just for them.

Copyright: Irene Young

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