Yesterday I stumbled upon a music video that reminded me of something I’ve always been rather annoyed about; how people choose to perceive others, and themselves, based on physical appearances.
I guess most of my disdain for this came from personal experiences growing up. I’ll save the details for another post, but suffice to say I was not, and still am not, an attractive person. It never got to the point where someone outright said, in a serious tone, “you’re ugly” to me or anything like that, but there were always not-so-subtle concerns expressed by my family members about my physical appearance. Most of the time the concerns were expressed in the context of health, so again, not as bad, but other times it was pure judgement.
It was just frustrating more than anything. As if struggling to figure out the kind of person you wanted to be wasn’t hard enough, society decided to pile on all it’s superficial baggage, imposing it’s ideals and punishing those who didn’t fit those ideals. The punishments as kids could be something like name-calling or bullying while as adults they could mean losing a chance to get to know someone or losing a potential job opportunity. It’s interesting looking back though because in the midst of all that judgement I received as a kid I gained understanding of a concept I was trying to grasp within Buddhism.
Learning about Buddhism I recall various lessons on looking past the material world and seeing beyond what our physical eyes capture. I remember always being baffled by the idea, “these teachings are talking about something that supposedly could only be experienced or understood upon attaining Buddhahood, how could you possibly trust it” were more or less my thoughts. After some time though I noticed something strange about how I perceived others. As corny as it might sound, the only way I can describe it is to say that I was starting to see others’ souls instead of their physical body. Stupid, right? But this is honestly the best way I know how to describe it in the written language. Imagine it: look at someone and instead of seeing distinct physical features – such as their eyes (single/double lid, chinky, big, colored, bags, cat), hair (long, short, bangs, no bangs, colored, flat, frizzy), ears (big, unnoticeable), brows (thick, thin, uni), head shape (round, small, big), complexion (like a baby’s bottom, wrinkly, acne, photoshopped), etc. – instead of all of that, you see their characteristics or traits; quiet, outgoing, insecure, arrogant, lazy, genuine. I feel like this is a much better way to perceive others. From a logical standpoint, at the very least its a more productive perception. We all understand as we get older that we cherish deep relationships and value an individual’s personality more than how they look, but yet we still continue to not only judge others, and ourselves, based on physical appearance, but also base our lives around achieving a particular look. I have no right to tell you what is or is not the correct way to view the world, but at the very least, with this change in perspective, you’d be consistent.
I feel like the majority of us naturally develop this kind of perception, more or less, as we grow older, but I see no reason to wait for time when you can consciously change how you view others now. No guide or walkthrough, just go out and try it. Make a conscious effort to look past a person’s physical appearance. Think about all the people who you might already be subconsciously doing that with. I know for me, when I still generally payed great attention to physical features, I overlooked them when it came to close friends. No judgments, no thoughts, I just saw them as the amazing individuals who I was fortunate enough to call my friends. That was where I started, I thought about how I was able to see past the appearance of my close friends and sought to apply that same perspective to everyone I met. It eventually stuck.
Don’t get me wrong, none of the indirect lessons that were ingrained in me disappeared. When I meet a person today I can spot most of what many would consider to be physical imperfections, it’s not something that I can just un-see or knowledge that I can erase; that mindset is unfortunately still in me. What has changed is the lens I choose to look through and the lens that I choose to act upon. I’ve stopped listening to the judgmental voice in my head and often times, I can’t even hear it. Maybe one day it will die completely.
Honestly, I don’t know what I want to say with all of this. I just know that it’s troubling when I have to explain to others why physical appearances shouldn’t matter and that they don’t need to put all their energy into changing how they look. I’m not delusional, I know that in today’s society how you look can sometimes be the only key to certain doors for you. Really think about it though, are those the doors you want to walk through?
This isn’t any where near what I wanted my first public post to be about, but at least it got me motivated enough to finally start. Hopefully, more to come. It’s just really hard to decide to make something open for all of the world to see.