Body Love and Body Kindness, Healing Difficult Emotions, Overcoming Self-loathing and Anxiety

The Real Definition of Beauty

I remember the first time I realized that beauty was not what people told me it was.

It was on a plane trip. I was in my early twenties and sitting by an interesting woman. Many people would have called her plain.[1] She wasn’t flashy.

She didn’t wear a lot of make-up, and her hairstyle and clothes just looked comfortable and natural. They weren’t especially stylish.[2]

The Light Within

We got to talking, and she told me about her job and her hobbies. Her face and eyes lit up. I remember thinking, “She is so beautiful”, and I enjoyed that flight a great deal. Much of that was because this gentle, sincere, beautifully simple woman shared an interesting part of her life with me.

This conversation was a turning point for me, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Learning about Beauty

Like most young women, I felt constant pressure to be a certain size or to look a certain way. The message I picked from the media was literally “You need to look perfectly beautiful (the way we define beauty). If not, you are a horrible person, and no one will love you.”

I frequently felt anxiety and shame over this matter.

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A Turning Point

But that day, I was able to see through those messages a little bit. Here was this woman who did not look like a person in a magazine, which is how I thought I had to look.

And yet she was so beautiful. This beauty was a light that emanated from inside of her and lit up her whole face as she spoke.

I realized that day that beauty is not really about meeting some specific external criteria. Beauty is more about being present and engaged with your life and the people around you.

Our beauty shines when we love deeply and express that love sincerely. It shines brighter the more we are clear and authentic emotionally.

I See This in Other Parts of My Life

For example, I have been drawn to people because they do things like…

Speak about their passions with conviction;

Find the absurd and hilarious in every day situations;

Listen with gentleness and compassion to people who are suffering;

Throw themselves wholeheartedly into a pursuit they love;

Exercise their intellect to gain more wisdom, understanding, and deeper philosophical insight;

Admit their failures, shortcomings, and doubts with a simple and unpretentious sincerity;

Speak out for those being treated unjustly and cruelly;

Are vulnerable about difficult and potentially embarrassing times in their lives. 

I See True Beauty

Whenever I see people doing things like this, their beauty shines. True beauty is the state of being authentic and sincere in a way that extends love to yourself and others. It feels real, safe, alive, playful, flowing, authentic, life-giving.

Red flowers

This truth doesn’t mean that beauty never has anything to do with our clothes or hair or bodies or faces. All of those things are a part of us and connected with our light. So, of course, they are a part of our beauty.

But beauty doesn’t come in one size or shape or style.

Beauty Starts Inside Us

If beauty is a light that begins internally and illuminates every part of us, anyone and everyone can be beautiful when they shine this way.

And because of this, true beauty can happen in moments of sadness, happiness, failure, success, laughter, crying, elation, and exhaustion. That is because it is possible to be authentic and sincere and to show love in all these states.

The Opposite of Beauty

On the other hand, there have been times in my life that I was around people who did look like magazine models, and it was painful to be around them. That was because they were mean, shallow, dishonest, and insincere.

No matter what people look like on the outside, when they act in mean, shallow, dishonest, and insincere ways, it’s bad. It feels like they are infected with a disease that sucks the life from the people around them. Not only is their light dim, but they begin to dim the light of other people, too.

Dangerous Beauty

This kind of shallow beauty is dangerous, destructive, unstable, corrosive, explosive, draining.

And this, I think, reveals the greatest power of true beauty. True beauty not only illuminates our entire being, it empowers the light of everyone else around us. True beauty helps other people feel more alive and powerful and real.

Love is Stronger Logo

Anyone can do this. Anyone can have this kind of beauty.

Dear Friend: right now you may worry that you are too fat or too thin. Or that there is something wrong with your face, teeth, hair, or other aspect of your appearance.

You may worry that your clothes are all wrong or that you are too poor or not sophisticated enough to be beautiful.

You may worry that you will never be beautiful enough to have love and that everything that is wrong in your life is due to your appearance. These are really common thoughts because this is what culture teaches us.

Because of this, you may feel a great deal of shame, fear, anxiety, or self-loathing.

You are Beautiful Right Now

In response to these feelings I know you and I frequently have, I want to remind you that you are perfect and beautiful right now.

Furthermore, you don’t need to fret. You only need to act authentically and sincerely with love to yourself and others.

When you do this, your light becomes bright and vivid and shines beautifully. And all of the people whose light are shining brightly, too, will see you. That is a great place to be in.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on social media.

You might also like these posts:

The Worst Beauty Advice

Five Things You Can Do When You Feel Ugly and Gross and Your Confidence Falls Into a Deep Dark Well

Body-Anxiety and Body-Shame: The Epidemic and the Escape

Bonus: To explore the ideas of beauty in this post more in depth and through poetry, you might like this piece by my friend, Infinite Living.



[1] I really hate labels like this, as the rest of this post will hopefully demonstrate, and I only use this adjective here to highlight a flaw in our cultural conceptions of beauty.

[2] And, by the way, there is nothing wrong with fancy clothes, make-up, and elaborate hairstyles.


12 thoughts on “The Real Definition of Beauty”

  1. “True beauty is the state of being authentic and sincere in a way that extends love to yourself and others. It feels real, safe, alive, playful, flowing, authentic, life-giving.”
    I absolutely love this, Shelly. And I love the image of you gazing at the woman and seeing her inner beauty. To see inner beauty I think you have to have it yourself.

    1. Ali, I love this compliment. This is so sweet. In my better moments, I do feel myself illuminated, and I feel beautiful. And the best thing about this feeling, is I know i can return to it any time I want. I just forget sometimes :).

  2. Oh man, M.B. That is one of the greatest compliments ever. If I can bring more joy into people’s lives or help them feel better about themselves, I feel like I am accomplishing just about everything I need to! Thanks for that, Friend.

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