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April 18th, 2013

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)


How do labels you put on yourself affect your life?
What about being a feminist, or a black person?
What about being beautiful, or ageing badly?

We should all be feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at TEDxEuston (30'16'')
Dove Real Beauty Sketches (3'01'')

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)
The problem is not so much how others see you! You're likely to sometimes blame society's pressure, as the cause of your feeling bad or inadequate or even as the cause that made you do something you're not proud of. A more primary cause of your suffering though is how you see yourself: who you are, what you look, what you 'deserve' (positive or negative)… And this obviously applies to men as well as women.
Is it not 'funny' that if somebody (even a romantic partner) tells you that you're beautiful, it is most likely that you will think "love is blind" or "it's sweet and nice to hear, but not true"?

This is obviously not to say "let's blame the victims" because their suffering would primarily be seen as coming from themselves… Of course, not! How the victims saw themselves might indeed have played a part in the causal conditions leading to a disaster, but this never ever justifies why other people would then be entitled to abuse the situation!
When somebody else is in dangerous situation, it remains your responsibility to help and provide assistance and safe passage, etc, or to abuse (or ignore the risks, and let abuse happen because you didn't care)… The victim of abuse is never the one who made a conscious choice to be abused. 'Labels' on others simply are no excuse. But they're also no excuse on yourself!

So how do you change labels you give to yourself?

There is a good practice to develop loving-kindness to others, easy to practice in public transports (or other public spaces). Very simply, focus and find something beautiful / positive about anyone you come across. For anyone you see, stick to that person until you found something positive to think —even if it doesn't agree with your own lifestyle: you can appreciate love, compassion, study and openmindedness, willingness, politeness, attention, concentration, even when the 'objects' of such attitude are not your individual "cup of tea" (e.g. I'm not a fan of football, but I can appreciate that practicing football requires the same single-pointed mindfulness than meditative practices… Of course, the competitive aspect is not equivalent to meditation, but that's the thing: I can find a positive, single-pointed focus, in the midst of an activity which as a whole is not so useful in relation to the cessation of suffering).

Well, you can apply this technique to yourself too. Whatever criticism you have towards yourself, don't just deny it, don't just repress it; find what's positive and associated to the trait you criticise! Focus to find something truly good, don't be cynical and happy with 'half-hearted' appreciation. If you struggle, it often is helpful to decompose a complex behaviour in its components (cf. 'concentration' when playing football). If you find a half-hearted answer, decomposing one level further would usually allow you to find the whole-hearted seed.
Then you can use this positive as a wholesome seed to change your attitude (and your behaviour, as they co-arise). If the seed is about concentration, maybe you can find another activity where this plays out. If the seed is love, maybe you can find other opportunities or ways to express love…
So, instead of focusing on what's not sooo beautiful about yourself, focus on what is beautiful… Not that you deny reality, but you embrace it more completely!

Try to get to "things as they are," letting go of "things as you see them."

#Buddhism   #engagedbuddhism  
Video links found via +Susan Hunter and Brett Lipton (, since for some reason the '+' doesn't work)
Image: © +Audrey Kawasaki, 2009,
(artist I discovered via +Kimberly Shoemaker