Yogi Assignment: Birthday Beauty
It’s my birthday week and I can tell you, I’m not getting any younger. Maybe wiser, but definitely not younger. Lately I have had people tell me that I’m now too old to wear shorts. I’ve had one younger yogi dismiss me and my teaching as just the ramblings of a random 40-year old woman. When a series of hacks were launched on my Wikipedia one them sought to portray my age as a negative. If you haven’t figured it out, I will be turning 41. To many people I am now deemed officially “old”, a “has been” and will be sorted to the “used up” pile and thrown away with yesterday’s garbage. There are brands and yoga influencers who will not consider working with me now simply because of my age.
There are so many flawed structural and cultural assumptions in the framing of the usefulness and relevance of a woman in terms of her age that I could devote a whole book to unpacking that. For the scope of this blog, let me simply crack the foundation that this notion rest upon.
There is nothing more quintessentially patriarchal than the notion of a woman’s worth being rooted in the desirability of her flesh. That her flesh should ideally be young, unmarried by cellulite, white, blemish free, thin, and clean is a manifestation of the colonization of the female body. Anything outside that box is deemed as unruly, and fetishized, tokenized, marginalized to the outside track and excluded from the primary spot at the podium of relevance. The problem with this is that whole paradigm of value is centered around the male gaze. It is men’s sexual interest that determines whether a woman is of value. Women who participate in the system by defining their worth through validation from the male gaze are both complicit to and victims of the system of male-defined standards of female beauty.
We must see the double standard of men and women with regards to age. Statistics show that men reach their peak desirability around 50 whereas a woman reaches her peak at around 25. The characteristics that define male success are often used as critical characteristics for women. If a man is assertive, a woman is a shrew. If a man is confident, a woman is arrogant. If a man is successful it’s a check on his wall of self-identity. If a woman is successful, she’s touted as a “career-woman” with no family values. Add in the intersection of race, class, gender, religion, and ableism and there appear so many unique cases of exclusion that it is daunting. The only logistical conclusion that can be drawn is that the system, the entire system, that is, the very structure upon which the values of our culture have been defined are exclusionary, sexist, racist and classist.
I stand today as an embodied challenge to the status quo. As I turn 41, I invite you to celebrate my age. To all the teens and twenty-somethings out there, this is a wake-up call to you. The moment you buy-in to the false notion that a woman must be young, skinny, white and rich to be accepted you have become a cog in a system designed to keep you (and many others) down.
Race, not just age, also plays a huge role in our subconscious view of ourselves. I grew up feeling ugly while being told I was beautiful by my loving family. There was no model for anyone who looked like me in mainstream beauty. So, I sat with a schism—the dialogue at home told me I was beautiful and I could do and achieve anything I wanted but the reality of my experience was that people didn’t see me as beautiful and many doors were locked. Exotic sometimes, fetishized often, but not the kind of beauty you take home to meet the parents, nope, mine was the kind of beauty you’re afraid to share with your friends, like a taboo or a dirty secret.
My family raised me to be proud of being part Japanese. And I am. My Japanese grandfather lived with us until he passed away when I was nine. He was my hero. It wasn’t until I was much older would I hear the stories about him being in an internment camp and the racial slurs and violence my Mom experienced at the hands of average Americans. My Mom has always felt ugly and would talk about her negative view of herself. She would denigrate herself while telling me how beautiful I was. Well, people told us all the time how much we look like eachother. As a young child my conscious mind accepted the verbal statements, but my unconscious mind learned the generational pattern of self-hatred that comes from occupying a space of otherness in society (as mixed race Japanese-American women).
It’s taken me my entire life to process the way my mixed heritage has impacted my self-worth. No matter how hard I tried as a teenager to fit in, I never really did. The most common question I got was, “What are you?”
It’s no big surprise that I started to feel “pretty” when I dyed my hair blonde. I looked less Asian and more American. Well, I don’t know if you can tell but I’m kind over dying my hair. I’m just letting it grow out and you can see my natural color again. It seems ridiculous, the idea that natural hair color would be a statement of self-worth, but somehow it’s about reclamation. I’ve been on a long journey through the great blonde world and now I feel like I’m just starting to come home.
At 41 year old, as a white-passing mixed race Japanese-Scottish woman, I hereby reclaim my right to exist, my right to be beautiful and my right to be successful. These words are a beginning, not an end.
This week’s Yogi Assignment is Beauty.
1. When you look in the mirror and see ugly you’re telling not only yourself lies but you’re buying into the myth of monotonous beauty that brainwashes billions of people into thinking they aren’t good enough. Stop that right now. Look in the mirror and find one thing about yourself you can honestly compliment. Then look yourself in the eyes and say “I love X about you.” For me, I always struggle with my legs and their size. Now with both cellulite and a new burn scar, I look in the mirror and say “I love you, my legs, you have carried me all my life. You are strong and muscular and yes beautiful, scars, cellulite and all, I love you.”
2. Reclaim your body, age, race, size, gender. Think about the one thing you are most ashamed of or insecure about. It could be your heritage, cellulite, hair, eye-color, sex or shape. See if you can turn the thought of self-loathing around and see how this feature makes you unique, lovable and truly beautiful. Once you find what you want to reclaim, then look at yourself in the mirror and say it out loud. For me, I am reclaiming my age. I’m saying, “Happy Birthday beautiful woman. Rock your 41 years on this earth, in this body with strength and grace. It’s only getting started. You’re not too late, you’re in perfect time. You are the revolution.”
3. Behavior Change—There is probably some activity that you do to conform to a standard of mainstream beauty or attractiveness. Identify both the behavior and the root motivation for it. As for me, I bet you can guess that I am working on being less blonde, letting my natural color grow out. I can’t say I’m done with dying my hair (one day I have to try mint green), but I do finally understand what my obsession with blonde hair was all about in the first place.